Hi Duana,
How much should we take our last name into account when choosing names?

My wife is due mid-June and we are trying to figure out how to best pair the baby's first name with our last name. When we married we decided to both hyphenate our last names into one common family name. The resulting last name is a 3 syllable name starting with soft sounding letter, hyphen, 1 syllable name with a hard sounding first and last letter. Think “Halitskai-Jack”. The last name is unique and has caused us the expected issues in terms of misspellings, mispronunciations, and negative comments from service workers.

My wife and I can’t agree on whether we should keep the first name of the child classic in deference to the more challenging last name. Though we haven’t settled on any name favourites yet, my wife is tending towards classic names like Mark or Mary arguing that there will be enough complexity in explaining how to pronounce/spell the last name and the last name will make the child unique among its peers. Whereas I’d like to see something a little more interesting like Darius or Dalya arguing that we mostly go by our first name in our day-to-day lives.

We’d love to hear what your thoughts are on this. We have agreed that we will use your insight to help end our stalemate and seriously start narrowing down name possibilities.

Note: we don’t know the gender of the baby Thanks, David Halitskai-Jack



I kept David’s name (okay, fine, pseudonym) in here for a bunch of reasons. One because I am always delighted when I get a name question from a man — please, dudes, send us more! Two, because we needed to understand the kind of last-name sounds we were talking about. And three - and maybe most importantly— because these kinds of questions about blended family names and how to nomenclature a family continue to be a conundrum for people starting families these days.

I love that you made a decision to blend your names together, and that you’ve found a way to make a ‘family’ name that makes sense to you. As I’ve written before, there’s no easy way to do this in a time when more and more married people want to keep the names they were born with, but when we nonetheless were raised with the idea of “The _____ Family” existing as a single-named unit.
I know this isn’t what you asked, but I would like to point out that the misspellings and negative comments you’re receiving are not a given, even if you think they were to be expected. That is, I can believe there are misspellings and surly service staff who grumble at it, but I believe that would also be the case if your surname was, oh, say, Lui. Or even Hax, for that matter. A lengthy name isn’t in and of itself a problem, as we know from how much people love to pronounce names like “John Fitzgerald Kennedy”. And of course as Uzoamaka Nwaneka Aduba (better known as Uzo Aduba) learned from her mother: “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka

So, from a ‘difficulty’ point of view, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t go with a more unique or interesting name — you’re right that we go mostly by our first names in daily life, and I am charmed by both Darius and Dalya (which I assume you would pronounce like ‘Dahlia’) as choices.
That said, from a length point of view, there are conventional rules (though I’ve said before that you don’t always have to abide by them.) Anecdotally, names flow best when the syllable count in each name is different from the one before. You already have that in ‘Halitskai-Jack’, so in an ideal theoretical world, a two-syllable name might work well for optimal flow. So, Dalya Halitzkai-Jack is teeeeechnically three syllables beside three syllables, but maybe you’d like Daphne or Damon or Liesl or Malek or Zelda.
Note that all the above names are five or six letters. Not difficult to write or spell. Neither are Gamal or Jaya or Zainab or Kaito or Da-eun.

What they are, though, is not super-Anglo in all cases, and I think that’s what your wife is trying to mitigate by looking for ‘easy’ names like Mary and Mark. But, depending on where you live, even if you name your kid Mary or Mark, they may well be in classes with Jaya and Liesl and Malek. And that’s just when they’re small — who knows where their lives will take them and who they’ll interact with? If Mary is a world traveller, she may be Marie or Maire or Maria or Maritzia or... you get the idea.

So ultimately, with a four-syllable last name, I can see why you might want to avoid Bartholomew or Felicity, Wilhelmina or Kilikikopa (an international variation of Christopher — what, you didn’t know?); there is absolutely no reason why you can’t give them more ‘interesting’ names, since you’re right that their first names are going to be what they use most, and that the days of the set number of letters on forms are going to be long gone by the time they’re a problem.

And if you don’t believe me, remember that the patron saint of long names, Lin-Manuel Miranda, has had immense success despite the hyphen in his first name — and he named his children Sebastian and Francisco. It’s worth noting that Francisco Miranda violates the ‘syllable’ rule I was mentioning above, but who gets the last word on how to manipulate syllables? Some random rule I’ve heard, or Lin-Manuel Miranda ?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.