Choosing a last name

Filed under: Divorce & Custody, Activities: Babies, Celeb Parents, Sex

My celebrity news feeds all wanted to share with me the not-so-interesting news that Denise Richards has legally changed her name back to Denise Richards. The judge approved her name change petition Friday, though her divorce from Charlie Sheen was finalized two years ago.

The story got me thinking, though, about family names and what they mean to people. Traditionally, women have taken their husbands' last names when married, and then all the children from that marriage also share the same surname. These days, though, the only rule in last names is that there are no rules. Married women keep their maiden names, or hyphenate to include their husband's names. Children might get mom's last name, or dad's, or both. And that's just for married couples having children. Add single parents, unmarried-but-coupled parents, and step-parents to the mix, and it's becoming more rare to have only one last name on the household mailbox.

Yet just as we change it up and break all the conventions, I think we have to recognize that it isn't just a name. Names represent our identities; our choices about them make statements about who we are. Families who adopt a child change the child's last name in a move that says, unambiguously, "You are now part of our family." The decision to change or keep a name, hyphenate a name, or revert back to a maiden name after divorce reflects some meaning about the nature of that family. Often, the choice mirrors the struggles we have between "me" and "us," between honoring each extended family while becoming a family of our own.

What arrangement do you have for last names in your family? What meaning does that have for you?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.