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How My Wife & I Created a Surname of Our Own

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When we talked about starting a family, my wife and I considered what to do about our last names. We thought hyphenated names were rather unwieldy, not least because both of our last names have two syllables. Saddling a baby (or, indeed, an adult) with a four-syllable hyphenated surname seemed rather unfair. (And if you think to the future, what happens when a person with a hyphenated last name wants to marry or start a family with another double-barrelled person? How many hyphens can you have in one family name?)

But it seemed equally unfair to choose one of our last names over the other. How would we decide which name to prioritize? And what would we lose if we picked one name and not the other? My wife’s maiden name is very English; there are towns in England that share her name, and there are people with that last name across the UK, as well as in Australia, New Zealand, and the US. It seemed a shame to give up the Englishness that characterizes her, and to remove the connection to her background.

Meanwhile, the last name I was born with, Epstein, is typically Jewish. Sure, it was probably randomly assigned to my paternal family when they arrived in the US, but that didn’t make it any less meaningful to me. “Stein” is one of those common Jewish surname parts, like “Berg,” or “Rosen,” or “Baum,” that signals ethnicity clearly. “Goldstein,” of course, refers to gold, “Silverstein” to silver, and “Bernstein” to amber. I’ve never been clear on whether “Epstein” likewise has some reference to stones or metals. Some people have told me it does, but they don’t know which stone, while others have said “Epstein” is actually a corruption of “Abrahamsson.” Still, other information has suggested that “Epstein” (or “Eppstein,” or “Ebstein,” or “Epshtein”) was a town, or perhaps a street, from whence various Epsteins sprung–though others have said that it’s just a common name for Slavic Jews.

All I know for sure is that it has marked me as Jewish my whole life, and though I’ve certainly faced anti-Semitism, I was reluctant to get rid of this marker.

Ultimately, my wife and I decided to honor both our heritages and our birth families by combining our surnames. We created something completely new from old parts. We took the first part of her English name and joined it with the Jewish “stein” from Epstein. And this is the last name our daughter has. It reflects that she’s English and Jewish, and that she’s part of a new family.

It’s not a traditional name, but then as with so much else when it comes to same-sex relationships, we like challenging and improving on tradition. I did have a momentary worry that we were going to cause problems in the future for our daughter by giving her a Jewish name (albeit an entirely new Jewish name), but I’ve become a stronger person through dealing with anti-Semitism, and hopefully she will too, though we fervently wish that she won’t have to.

A shared new surname to go with our new family makes a lot of sense. It binds us together while also recognizing our pasts, creating a firm foundation for our triad of two mothers and a baby.

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