What’s In A Last Name?

I spent the day with a father who took his wife’s last name when they got married.

He didn’t think it was a big deal. And it wasn’t uncommon where he grew up.

While he patiently answered my inquiries, he more or less shrugged it off.

His parents didn’t seem to care. His three children know nothing different.

He noted one plus: he has his own identity apart from his younger brother, a well-known athlete.

But that isn’t why he changed his last name.

He did so because his wife asked if he would. She preferred her last name.

And he was fine with that.

In his telling, it didn’t even sound like he and his wife had a protracted discussion about the change. Or that he cared that he’d lived and worked for three decades with a different last name.

What he came back to was this: where they live, a man changing his last name when he got married wasn’t uncommon. It happens.

I imagined his decision as similar to when my wife said she wasn’t going to change her last name when we got married. It didn’t bother me. In fact, I can’t remember us really discussing it. She said she liked her last name. Fine by me!

What’s awkward in our suburban town – and rightly frustrating for her – is people call her Mrs. Sullivan. That person was my grandmother and she died in 2000. Or they misspell her maiden name – even on bills! I’d be frustrated too.

I’d like to think our nonchalance around last names is setting an example for our daughters. For a year or so, our middle one has talked about her husband using her last name when they get married. She’s 10 and a romantic. I always said sure, without really thinking about it. I figured maybe when she’s older it wouldn’t be a big deal.

Now I’m thinking about it. My new friend is a deeply involved dad. He works in sports marketing. His brother is one of his clients but having a different last name hasn’t hurt him. In some ways, he said it’s reduced constant questioning like, ‘Are you so-and-so’s brother?’

Frankly, his nonchalance about his name change was thrilling. When I think of the single unifying principle of all the various things The Company of Dads is doing, it is to normalize the role of a man being the go-to parent in a world where women too often remain the she-fault parent, to quote my friend Eve Rodsky, at home and at work. This guy was certainly challenging norms!

(Note: my new friend is not American; he’s from Sweden, which regularly trounces the U.S. with better provisions for working parents, including leave for new fathers.)

For those wondering, what kind of dude changes his last name, here’s a picture of the four of us. Can you guess which one has his wife’s last name now?

(For those who recognize the background, all the dads hit the green with their first shot – cosmic payback for our Dad Day Out at one of the world’s most famous sporting venues.)