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My wife and I have kept our different surnames, but for our first child we're unsure which of those to give to her.

Excluding the hyphenated option, we don't mind if she gets either my surname or my wife's. All we want is to avoid making certain interactions/services cumbersome, when the family bonds aren't obvious from the names.

I mainly have in mind interactions with authorities such as checking into hospitals, or travelling. For instance, we have friends who for years have kept having to produce (expensive) notaried documents when only one of them (the one not bearing the same surname) was travelling with the child across borders.

We live in Austria now, but we are Romanian citizens (and so will our daughter). Because of our jobs, we will likely move again, to some other EU country, in a few years.

Advice from both Austrian and Romanian authorities hasn't been helpful: namely, either that this is a subjective choice that we need to make (duh!); or that one of us would be well advised to change their surnames if we want to make things easier - but without details of exactly which situations would otherwise not be easy. At this point it wouldn't be optimal for either of us to change our surnames, but ultimately we'd consider it, to avoid the kind of hassle potentially up the road.

Ours is certainly not an uncommon situation. Indeed, I found a similar question on here, but I think the answer to mine would rather address potential scenarios of complications that can arise in such a situation within any EU country, or during travel between them.

Thanks for any opinions!

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This will depend heavily on the country, so I can only give US-centric advice. However, my wife and I are in the same boat you're in here - we don't share a surname.

We decided to go with hyphenated, but I haven't run into anything where hyphenated vs. single-parent would have made a difference. I was worried about it at first, but now realize it really doesn't make much of a difference.

The keys are to make sure you have both parents listed on the birth certificate, and to make sure you keep copies of that birth certificate handy. Any time it might be complicated, you can always provide that to establish your parental rights.

Some specifics:

  • Border crossings: at least in the US, you need both parents to be present to get a passport for a child, and once you have one, it's generally expected to have a notarized letter of consent to leave the country with only one parent (see this page from US Customs and Border Protection for example). This doesn't have anything to do with last names, and is focused more on a parent not absconding with a child to avoid a custody dispute. Definitely bring the birth certificate in addition to the passport for younger children, particularly those who can't talk or can't answer questions from a government agent.
  • Schools: For schools, you'll need to have a birth certificate to enroll, and that should list both parents. It is likely that secretaries/etc. may have some confusion from time to time if your last name is different, but it should be minimal as long as the school has both parents listed on file.
  • Other situations where a parent must pick up the child may be a little more complicated, if they don't have a solid record system and it's more just a person looking at your ID. Think summer camps, that sort of thing. I'd recommend having both parents drop off the child in those cases on the day they're picking the child up or earlier - that will make it easier at pickup.

Otherwise, I haven't seen it make much of a difference, and honestly it has been far easier than I thought. It's so common now to have multiple last names in a family that nearly everything, at least in the US, accommodates it; so you really just need to worry about very official things mostly which can be handled with the birth certificate. Do get used to the idea of having mail come to "Child [wronglastname]", if not from family (both of ours do) then from other organizations; my recommendation there is just to accept that people don't have to be perfect, and it's okay that they get it wrong.

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  • In the EU I once travelled with an acquaintance (was a coincidence we were booked on the same plane) and she was a british national (while we were in the EU) and her son a French national with a french ID card. She got quizzed at the border as to why/how she was english and he was french.
    – R Davies
    Apr 7, 2022 at 7:58
  • Hyphenated surnames are standard practice in many places (particularly but not exclusively Hispanic cultures) and thus very common, so that shouldn't raise any concern. Apr 7, 2022 at 14:34
  • Thanks a lot @Joe for your answer!
    – Francisc
    Apr 17, 2022 at 8:48
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Speaking from European experience here (living in the Netherlands, living the UK when it was still Europe, and travel around Europe and beyond).

My partner, my child, and I each have different surnames, and because of the same fears you have, I have always carried his birth certificate while traveling. However, I have never once been asked for it in any country, across three continents, and including the USA. I've never been asked to prove my relationship to him with regards to nursery or school in the Netherlands or UK, in hospitals in both countries, or in any other context than the initial registration when we immigrated to the Netherlands, and I would have had to share his birth certificate then even if we had the same name. There has never been a problem or question ever.

On the other hand, my surname and part of my partner's surname are in my child's surname (my partner has a hyphenated surname and we chose half of it) which means that although we don't have the same names, it is clear where our child's name comes from and who he belongs to. I think that prevents the problems you describe.

One option that you might wish to consider if you do not like hyphenated names is to use one of your surnames as a first or second middle name. Thus both of your names will be on your child's passport, it will be obvious who the child belongs to to any border guard, but you don't have to have a hyphen. In many countries, multiple middle names are normal (here in the Netherlands, no lie, people have three or even four, it is wild) and it ties everyone in the family together.

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  • Indeed, hyphenation is worth considering after all then. Thanks a lot!
    – Francisc
    Apr 17, 2022 at 8:51
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I would recommend at least having the other parents surname as a middlename. My son have my wife's surname, and I have on severa occasions been questioned about it when crossing a border. I has never escalated beyond that, but it would have been much easier if there somewhere in his name was a reference to me.

It happened as recently as last summer when he was 15 and we went to Norway. We were questioned individually and our stories correlated.

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  • Thanks for sharing this!
    – Francisc
    Apr 17, 2022 at 8:52
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We were in a similar situation. Eventually we decided for the child to take the father's surname at birth and soon after I took his last name as well, hyphenated with my maiden last name. In other words: I'm the one with two last names, of which one coincides with the rest of my family members.

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  • Multumesc Iulia!
    – Francisc
    Apr 17, 2022 at 8:52

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