Baby’s last name: How do mamas decide?

A record number of American women are keeping their maiden names when they marry. Whose last name do their babies get?

Baby’s last name: How do mamas decide?

A record number of American women are keeping their maiden names when they marry, The New York Times reports.


And unlike in earlier generations, when some women chose to keep their maiden names for “political” reasons, a Times study indicates that women today are more likely to keep their names when they marry out for professional reasons, or to retain a sense of their own identity. It’s all about the SEO, baby.

The study finds:

“Roughly 20 percent of women married in recent years have kept their names. . . An additional 10 percent or so chose a third option, such as hyphenating their name or legally changing it while continuing to use their birth name professionally.”

Fascinating stuff. “Women with an advanced degree were five to 10 times more likely to keep their names. Asian and Hispanic women were more likely to as well,” the Times found. There is also research to suggest that the older a woman is when she marries, the more likely it is that she keeps her name.

The majority of married American women still do change their last name when they marry, citing tradition, a desire to feel like a single family unit, or even (occasionally!) when a woman is not particularly fond of her maiden name. But the rise in women keeping maiden names suggests that for many brides, that decision is increasingly a conscious choice, and one not necessarily made in immediate deference to convention.

Consider some of the more widely used options for modern spouses. We’ll call the lovely couple Amy Smith and Chris Winston:

Woman takes man’s name Amy Winston and Chris WinstonMan takes woman’s name Amy Smith and Chris Smith
Couple creates new hybrid last name together Amy and Chris WinstonsmithCouple hyphenates new last name together Amy Smith-Winston
and Chris Smith-Winston

Woman uses hyphenated version of name while man keeps name Amy Smith-Winston and Chris WinstonWoman uses maiden name as middle name Amy Smith Winston and Chris WinstonWoman takes man’s name privately but uses maiden name in professional life Amy Smith/ Amy Winston and Chris Winston

The dilemmas do not necessarily end when the couple is married; choosing a last name for your children can also evoke similar discussions. Should a baby girl get mom’s last name? Should a baby boy take a hyphenated one? What happens when a couple isn’t married? When did this all get so complicated?

Let’s take Amy and Chris again. They’ve had a baby! In fact, they’ve had two. So, what are the commonly used naming conventions for their children? Most women give their children their male partner’s last name. What are their other options?:

Children take father’s last name Grace and Charlie Winston

Children take mother’s maiden name (more common if Amy and Chris had never married) Grace and Charlie Smith

Children have hyphenated last names Grace and Charlie Smith-Winston

Children have blended last name Grace and Charlie Winstonsmith

Children (or just daughter) has mother’s maiden name as middle name Grace Smith Winston and Charlie Winston

Sure, it’s complicated. But modern American families seem to feel more free than ever to craft an identity that works for them.

How did you decide whose last name to take marriage and for baby?

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