My partner and I are unmarried and so have different surnames. Neither of us feel particularly strongly that our (first) child should have one surname or the other. We've considered giving it a double-barrelled name, an entirely new name, one surname as a middle name or something crazy like an Icelandic style name based on our first names.

What other options are there and what downsides might each option have?


7 Answers 7


My wife and I have different surnames. I do not particularly like hyphenated surnames so we chose hers as the surname and mine as a middle name. Our children's names are:

<firstname> <secondname> <mysurname> <mywife'ssurname>

You almost never have to specify the full set of names; my 6 yo is not even really aware that he has four names.

Works for us.

  • This might be a cultural thing I'm not aware of, but can't you have both parent's surname considered as one surname where you live? Without hyphenation?
    – David S.
    Jun 18, 2014 at 10:41
  • I'm sure that varies, @DavidS., but it's what we did (the opposite, my wife's surname then mine, both as last names). This is traditional in some cultures (South American in particular, such as Gabrial Garcia Marquez, whose last name was Garcia Marquez). It's less common in the US and such, but it's legal (at least in my state).
    – Joe
    Jun 18, 2014 at 15:09
  • 1
    Nowadays people with 4 or 5 components to their name are common. In the US (not sure about the OP's native UK), a different last name spawns legality questions when going to schools, doctors, etc. The State, though, seems to allow tagging on names ad infinitum... though, 14 years ago, there were only 3 spots for my daughter's name: first, middle, and last. Jun 19, 2014 at 4:12
  • This is what we went for in the end.
    – Tamlyn
    May 10, 2015 at 8:44

Many countries have laws that govern how surnames are given. Have you checked the laws that apply in your country?

To name a few examples I'm familiar with, a child of unmarried parents usually gets the surname of the mother but with a small amount of paperwork the father's surname can be given instead. I'm not sure whether it's even possible to give the child a combination of both parents' names, or even that Icelandic style you mention.

Also consider the implications on the feelings of identity of the child. If it's common to have the parents' name then the child might feel as an outsider if given a nonstandard name. It can be a cool detail, a conversation starter, but also a disruption and an annoyance. It can also make everyday interactions with daycare etc. complicated when the family bonds aren't obvious from the name.

  • I am in the US and when I filled out my daughter's birth certificate, I was not required to provide any explanation for her last name. I was actually a bit surprised (and honored) that as the father I was allowed to sign! Jun 19, 2014 at 4:06
  • 2
    Valid point about the laws varying between countries. In Turkey, the child must have the father's surname.
    – dave
    Jun 20, 2014 at 0:06

How do your parents feel about the surname? Do either of your parents have strong feelings about the family name being passed down? Is your child a boy or girl? I would reach out to the extended family and see what they think. Grandparents tend to get a little crazy about grandkids

  • 3
    While respecting family is important, my wife's family wanted my child named after the grandmother... a "tradition" they had decided on a long time ago. Since their tradition offered zero consideration to my family, we opted for no-family-tradition as a basis for naming. To each their own, right? Jun 19, 2014 at 4:19

You and your partner may not feel particularly strongly about this, but depending on where you live, those around you may. They may make some assumptions about you based on this decision or they may not see it as a decision you made but as a symptom of a different route to familyhood. In North America, you would likely see people concluding:

  • 3 different last names: the child was born to the mother but fathered by another man, whose last name the child carries and who is involved in the child's life as a father. You are the step father.
  • 2 different last names, child has hers: as above but the bio father has been out of the picture since before the child was born
  • 2 different last names, child has yours: she is a "career woman" who doesn't put family first
  • all 1 last name: "normal"
  • child has both parent's names, hyphenated: normal, but in some geographies (eg small towns) might be seen as stuck-up or snobbish, or that you aren't married
  • mother and child have hyphenated last names, father has one of those names: normal but again possibly stuck up or snobbish, though in this case it will be assumed you're married
  • all three have hyphenated last names: back to just "normal" since it's possible that was the father's name all his life and the wife and child have taken it.

These are pretty sweeping assumptions to make but they do get made. (People judge very quickly and on very tiny things, and don't bother learning the actual truth most times.) You will also find that doors open to people with the same last name as a child, whether it's at the school, hospitals, etc. Further, if you have another child it's useful for the children to have the same last name.

I know some couples who have chosen a new last name for themselves and their children, and while their own parents may not have been happy about it, it certainly made them feel empowered and at the same time simplified dealing with the rest of their day to day existence.

  • No idea where you are based on your profile, but if the mother has last name ABC and the father last name DEF and the child ABC-DEF, that's commonly understood in the US (well, absent actually being consecutive letters of the alphabet.) Jun 19, 2014 at 4:08

1) try to match the syllables names are easy to remember when the syllables match, it's an old advertising trick

1:1 James Black

2:2 Mur ray Pot ter

3:3 O sa ma ne ver mind

4:4 Eb in e sa Ei sen how er

2) Think about what it will sound like when you yell it down the hallway.

3) Will people shorten it

4) Will it have connotations later in life.

I hope you put this much thought into what you will teach him/her throughout its childhood, best of luck .

  • To be honest (my natural state), the consideration of an "advertising trick" in naming struck me as... something I wouldn't put into my basket of consideration. Now, that said, my daughter's name is so unique that I won't post here (I've looked, there aren't others), so I am all for uniqueness... it's just the advertising bit that wigs me out. Jun 19, 2014 at 4:15
  • best you remove matching colors from your garden, art from your walls, never make a comparison and say everything as literally as possible, never rhyme any words either . People remember things in certain way and advertisers use this, you should also forget your times tables as they were taught by repetition, another 'advertising trick'. :) Jun 19, 2014 at 4:53
  • I think you took that as a bit personal. We're talking about a human, not a garden, named art, etc. I didn't say it was bad -- I won't... just something that wigs me out (a totally personal preference). You didn't see a vote one way or another from me, just a comment as to my own views... trying to help by adding to the conversation, not be rude or inconsiderate. Jun 19, 2014 at 4:59
  • 1
    Oh , maybe it's the way I write, in hindsight it does look like a rebuttal to an argument, the smiley face at the end should have conveyed something. I'm not upset at all. I totally get where you come from with regard to the ad industry and manipulation of the truth etc. Just trying to point out that just because syllables are engineered in advertising it does not mean its a bad thing. Anyway , no harm done :) Jun 19, 2014 at 5:16

You do have a number of options. In my opinion, a double-barrelled name would work best but what is best is what you can both agree on (Yes I live in the real world and know that's not always easy).

On a side note, if you and your partner have plans to marry and she plans to take your surname, then it's a no brainer really.

  • +1 for respecting each others' wishes, looking toward the future, and acknowledging that agreeing as a couple is rarely easy! Jun 19, 2014 at 4:17

First, google for any applicable rules in your country. There are huge differences.

The obvious choices are the family name of the mother, or the family name of the father. If you intend to get married, or there is at least a good chance you will get married, think which name you will have after being married, and pick that name for the child (avoiding questions like "why do Mr. and Mrs. Smith have a child by the name of Jones"). If you intend to separate, or there is at least a good chance you will separate, think who will mostly raise the child, and pick that name for the child.

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