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May 12 2011

My Girls Have My Last Name

By at 2:02 pm

Jordana’s recent post about baby names got me thinking—about last names.

You see, I’m married to a hyphenate and I have one of those last names that everyone spells wrong, all the time.

So, when I was pregnant with our first, we had to have the last name conversation, and I just wasn’t sure what to do. I’m as much of a feminist as the next hippie Jew Mama, but I’m also a pragmatist. As someone who has worked hard to trace my family’s genealogy, I appreciate convention in these areas.

We belong to a progressive synagogue, full of families of all shapes and types, and the standard “Daddy’s last name” plan just isn’t an option for some of them. Other families just want something different, for any number of personal reasons. So, I spent a little time in our synagogue’s directory, and found a number of ways to go.

First, there’s the hyphenation option—this is the one my in-laws chose when they got married over 30 years ago. On the one hand, it’s a wonderful way to acknowledge both parents. On the other hand, it requires two hyphen-friendly last names that sound good together, and it’s not a great multi-generational option. If I was going to saddle my children with a hyphen, I wanted it to reflect both sides of their heritage, not just their father’s.  So, the hyphen (and even tri-phen) were out for us.

Another possibility I found involves taking parts of both parents’ last names, and making a new one for the kids (or even the entire family). Now, sometimes the new name is much better than either of the originals. The major downside is the disruption in family continuity. Not unlike many other Jewish families, my great-great grandparents changed their names when they came to the States from Germany, and it made tracing my ancestry difficult, although not impossible.

More than a few families decided to give one parent’s last name to one child, and the other last name to the other child. This is a great way to make sure that the original names live on in the family, but you could be setting yourself up for some confusion when your kids’ schools don’t realize that they’re actually siblings.

So, after much searching, we still felt at a loss for options.  I was willing to take one of my husband’s last names (if he also dropped the other one), and we could also give it to the kids, so the whole family would have the same name. Josh didn’t want to part with either half of his name, but he also didn’t expect me to change mine. We were stuck.

Until Josh came up with the solution. Josh would keep his name, in all his hyphenated glory, and we would give the girls my last name.

That’s right. My brilliant husband came up with that idea, and although I was a bit worried about spending much of my life explaining to people that Josh is, in fact, the father of my children, it seemed to be a good solution. So, the girls are Naumburgs, and it won’t be too long before we have to start teaching them to say, “N (as in Nancy), a, u, m (as in Mary), b, U, r, g.”

The truth is that there is no great solution to the last-name debate. There is no name that will adequately capture the diversity and strength of a family’s history. So, we went with something that was part of our family history, and not too annoying. Ok, it’s pretty annoying, but it’s a Jewish last name from Eastern Europe. What do you want?


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