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My Son Wants Me To Take My Husband’s Last Name — But I Want to Keep Mine

“Mom, will you change your last name so we can be a family?”

Usually, the mom with all the answers, I had nothing. I wasn’t sure I could give my son the honest reply his serious voice demanded. When I became a parent, I knew he’d ask the hard-hitting questions, but at 8 years old I figured it would be more along the lines of why the Tooth Fairy and Santa have the same handwriting or explaining (again) why daily bathing is a thing. Lately, though, he has become increasingly aware my last name does not match his and back-to-school time has made this revelation worse.

Reminders come home in my kid’s backpack–all addressed to the wrong person. While I heave a heavy sigh wishing for my true identity to be revealed, this misprint confuses my son. In our close-knit mom, dad, and kid trio, my son now sees me as the odd one out and it hurts. My husband and I may have exchanged rings, but we didn’t exchange last names and I had no idea this would lead to such a weird identity crisis for me—and for my little guy.

When I made the decision to keep my maiden name, I thought my then fiancé would be the only person who might have an objection. Really, though, we were so on the same page about life, love, and the grievous Star Wars prequels that I felt confident he’d understand why this was important to me. But I still stayed up nights worrying my decision might feel like a rejection of his family—or worse yet him. Ultimately, though, I didn’t think it would be a problem—and then it was a problem.

“How can we be a family if we don’t have the same name to connect us?” he asked in earnest. 

I stared at my soon-to-be husband. Sharing the same name meant more to him than I’d thought and while I understood his way of thinking, I tried to figure out a better way to explain why I wanted…no, needed to keep my name.

“Changing my last name feels like I’d be changing who I am. I want to keep my name because, well…it’s me.” 

While my fiancé patiently listened, I could tell my words did not compute. This was the total opposite reaction I was getting from my girlfriends. In spite of the fact that I was the only one in my inner circle who wanted to keep my name, my friends supported me, just as I supported them. Some friends wanted a new last name because it symbolized a fresh start, others felt it was romantic, and some even had the forethought to know if they had kids their last names would match. Maybe I should have thought further into the future.

So I asked my fiancé if we could keep this subject open for future discussions. I reassured him that I’d revisit my feelings on the matter periodically and if I ever wanted to change my name, of course, he’d be the first to know. With a sigh of relief, he agreed and the tension between us vanished. As our married life went on, my husband began to understand having the same last name wasn’t necessary to feel connected. It never occurred to me that school notes and newsletters would reopen this subject for my 8-year-old.

“Mom, don’t you want our names to match? Don’t you want to be part of our family?”

When my son first started asking about our names, it was because he recognized the difference in a preschool family tree project. At the time, he shrugged off this new information, but he never forgot it—even becoming my 3-foot-tall Knight in (kid-friendly) Plastic Armor correcting his pre-K teachers when they forgot. I’d thank my knight for his “chivalrous assistance” and we’d share a good giggle. But the giggles stopped in grade school when he realized our family wasn’t the norm.

“Mom, don’t you want our names to match? Don’t you want to be part of our family?”

My son’s pleading tone pulled my heart out of my chest and slammed it onto the kitchen counter next to his juice box. I scrambled for a way to fix his confusion and hurt as I’d always done. Knowing another juice box wouldn’t do the trick, I wondered if I really could change my name for him—a choice I’d barely considered when my husband asked. But this was different. I didn’t feel an overwhelming need to protect my husband like I did my son. At no time did I want my little guy feeling separate from me or to feel like we weren’t a family. I told him I’d think about it.

Over a decade later, I was awake again all night worrying my son would feel rejected like his father had if I kept my maiden name. I tried to imagine how I’d feel if I changed it. I looked at the emails addressed to the wrong person his school sent me and my body tensed. It was the same feeling I felt when I’d see my “married name” arrive on pieces of junk mail—I’d cringe every time. Back then, I knew I’d made the right decision because I felt thrown off trying on that name even for the short time it took me to toss the junk mail in the recycling bin. But was I making the right choice now?

“Hey kiddo, do you like your name?” I asked my son gently.

“Yes! I love my name!” I watched his eyes light up with his response and now I had mine.

“I love my name too,” I began, “so I think I’m going to keep it.”

I knew I could never be excited about changing my name. I held my kid close and whispered in his ear how much I loved him and our family. I explained that my name held a special place in my heart because his grandparents gave it to me—just like his dad and I gave him his. I got a kiss on the cheek and a wink of understanding, proving this mom may still have some answers.

I’d do anything for my son, but apparently changing my last name is where I draw the line. My name reminds and connects to who I am at my deepest core. When I’m lost in all my different roles: mama, wife, daughter, sister, personal chef, or dog walker I have my name to ground me. I wonder, though, if this subject comes up again, would my husband finally be willing to change his?

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