This article was originally featured on What to Expect, a pregnancy and parenting brand helping every parent know what to expect, every step of the way.
My son has a ridiculously long name. At seven syllables and 24 letters, his full name sounds more like a law firm than a bright-eyed, chubby-cheeked infant.
I take most of the blame for this, as I insisted on giving my son my last name as his middle name. And no, it's not one those tidy Anglo surnames that doubles as a first name, like Taylor or Bailey or Henry. It's kind of a mouthful, actually. It's a name that I've probably heard butchered more times than I've heard uttered correctly. It's even got a Q in it. But I love my son's name — especially his middle name — as unwieldy and impractical as it may seem.
The idea for my son's name was conceived well before he was, while my husband and I were honeymooning in France. Awash in a haze of starry-eyed optimism that was equal parts post-marital bliss and Pinot Noir, our conversation turned to our future kids. We'd decided that once our unpasteurized-cheese-and-wine-fueled romp through the Burgundian countryside came to an end, we'd try to start a family.
As the contents of our glasses dwindled, we batted around potential names. I paired our favored boy's name with my husband's last name and practiced saying it aloud — it was the mom version of writing "Mrs. [crush's last name]" all over your notebook. When I heard the name roll off my Pinot-stained tongue, I paused as it occurred to me that my hypothetical kid and I would have different last names.
I didn't take my husband's name when we got married. It was a decision my husband never questioned and I made without regret — even when the woman filing our marriage license asked for a third time, "But are you sure you don't want to change your name?" I'm attached to my last name. I see it as an extension of my identity. It's a name that yielded many affectionate monikers growing up and anchored many bylines as I built my career as a writer.
"Why shouldn't our kids have my name too?" I remember imploring my husband that night, before, I think, slurring something about toppling the patriarchy. (Because nothing ignites romance on your honeymoon quite like invoking patriarchy-toppling.) By the time we bid the bar au revoir, I'd declared (many times over) that our nonexistent child would have my last name.
While most drunken schemes disappear into the ether — which is, frankly, for the best — I felt more strongly about my decision to give my son my name once I got pregnant several months later.
Despite the challenges of pregnancy, I came to cherish the intense closeness I felt to my son while he stirred within me. For nine months, he was my constant companion. It felt wrong that as soon as he was outside of my body, he and my husband would share a name, and I'd be the one on the outside. I didn't know if he'd inherit my eyes or my laugh or any number of my annoying habits once he was born, but I wanted to impart some kind of a reminder of this bond we'd always share.
Besides, I consider my husband and I to be equal partners in all things. Shouldn't my son's name reflect that? It seems arbitrary that most children get their father's last name. As we move toward gender equality in so many ways (albeit slowly), perhaps one day defaulting to the dad's name will go the way of wicker bassinets and cigars in the hospital waiting room.
For me, incorporating my last name into my son's middle name was the most elegant solution. This way, he'd have both his parents names. So often middle names seem like filler. They're like first names that weren't quite good enough to make the varsity team. But my son's middle name is full of meaning.
Sure, I've gotten a few strange looks when I've shared my son's middle name — but I've gotten a lot of compliments on it, too. It has practical benefits as well. Although my son and I have different last names, I never have to explain our relationship once anyone sees his full name. This has been surprisingly useful when dealing with day care forms, gate agents, and doctors' offices.
If my son hates his middle name when he grows up, he can always do what the people with embarrassing middle names have done since the beginning of time and refuse to acknowledge it. Or he can simply use his middle initial. Hey, it's worked for Samuel L. Jackson and George R. R. Martin (and maybe by the time my kid's old enough to make this decision, Martin will have finally published the newest Game of Thrones installment).
But I hope he won't discard my name. I hope that even when his hand is cramping from endlessly bubbling in Scantron sheets (if those still exist in the 2030s), or when he's fending off grade-school taunts, he'll understand that there's significance behind his weird middle name. That a little bit of pride will creep into his voice when he has to inevitably re-pronounce or spell his middle name. I hope he'll come to appreciate having such a conspicuous connection to his Mom (but you know, not in a Norman Bates kind of way). That when he's grown, it'll remind him that he'll always be part of me, and I'll always be part of him.
In the meantime, he does also have a concise three-letter nickname to fall back on.