Deciding on Baby's Last Name

Will your baby take your last name? Your partner's? A combo of the two? Use these tips to select your baby's surname.

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    His? Hers? Ours?

    Last names may be a hot topic for wedding-planning couples, but many parents-to-be find themselves revisiting it when discussing what to name baby. Even if you and your partner decided to keep your own last names, you may reconsider the surname for the product of the two of you.

    For some families, deciding on a last name for baby is as difficult as coming up with a first. Many parents strive to have their child's name maintain connections to family history; others choose accordingly to sever those ties. Some families look at surnames more practically -- they feel adamantly about a first name ("Ilene") but it doesn't work with the last ("Dover").

  • Alexandra Grablewski

    Most Popular Last Names

    Sometimes, a last name's popularity becomes a factor. Expectant mom Stephanie Jones Wagle didn't mind relinquishing her name over her husband's for her baby. "I just don't think we need any more Joneses," she says -- only half-kidding.

    It's hard to track who's taking whose surnames in any official manner -- in fact, the U.S. Census bureau only releases name data every 72 years. But according to statistics taken in 1990, the top 10 most popular last names in the country (in descending order) are:

    Smith
    Johnson
    Williams
    Jones
    Brown
    Davis
    Miller
    Wilson
    Moore
    Taylor

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    All Names the Same

    Situation: You and your partner have the same last name, which you also plan to give baby.

    Pros: There will be no question about whether either of you are his parent on official documents.

    Cons: Whichever partner's last name is not used will have that name fall even further out of the public sphere.

    "I Did It": Parents-to-be Stephanie and Joe Wagle dubbed their baby NewPerson Wagle, with complete conviction about what their son's last name would be. "We both come from traditional families. Even if Joe and I didn't have the same last name, we'd have chosen Wagle for the baby," Stephanie says.

    Giving the baby her husband's last name also makes Stephanie feel like she's sharing with Joe a bond she already has. "This baby is connected to me because I'm carrying him," she says. "Joe is amazing right now, but even the most committed dad couldn't have what I have already. But ultimately, it's also Joe's blood, and the last name is just another way to honor him and his family."

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    Creating a New Family Name

    Situation: You and your partner create a new last name that combines both of yours, which both of you and your children will use.

    Pros: A new name, a new life -- there's an inherent "clean slate" feeling to creating a new last name, even is all you've swept away is the headache of deciding whose last name baby will take. Also, there's a definite pride factor: You're pioneering a name legacy!

    Cons: Similar to how many brides feel that taking their husband's name negates their pre-marriage identities, creating a new last name may strike some parents as letting go of the lives they led with their old names. Also, the extended families of parents who create a new last name may feel a bit "abandoned."

    "I Did It": Colleen Kaplin and Matt Kleinerman both grew up with mothers whose last names were different from their own. When they got married, the couple decided to combine their names, to Kapklein. "We were looking ahead to when we would have children, and were clear we wanted to have one family name," Colleen says. "Society just isn't set up to deal with families with different last names."

    Thirteen years later, Colleen can't recount any problems with her revised surname. "It's a nice cohesion for our family," she says. "We've invested our last name with meaning."

  • Alexandra Grablewski

    Baby Shares One Parent's Name

    Situation: You and your partner each kept your own last names. You plan on giving baby one of those.

    Pros: Baby holds on to the family name lineage of one parent.

    Cons: Unless your child decides to incorporate the other parent's last name into his own child's name, that surname is gone for good from his blood line.

    "I Did It": Although Sasha Emmons kept her own last name when she married Justin Oborne, the couple decided to give their daughter Chloe Justin's last name. "His father was an only child," Sasha says. "It was important to me that Chloe have his last name since that's the only way it will be passed on." (As a nod to Sasha's lineage, Chloe got Sasha's grandmother's name, Josephine, as a middle name.)

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    Baby's Name Gets Hyphenated

    Situation: Either you or you and your partner hyphenated your names when you got married. You plan on giving baby that hyphenated last name.

    Pros: There'll be no mistake who baby's parents are, ever.

    Cons: As you and your partner know, filling out official forms can be difficult if there aren't enough boxes to accommodate letters. And some parents believe it can be tricky to teach baby to say and write such a mouthful. Plus, if your child decides to hyphenate her name when she, herself, marries...talk about a tongue-twister!

    "I Did It": There was never any question that bride-to-be Erin Quinlan would keep her last name when she married her husband Dan Rendich. And when their son, Alistair, was born, hyphenating his last name was the only option in their minds. "We both produced him. We thought his name should reflect both of us," Erin says.

    She says that public reactions to Alistair Rendrich-Quinlan's mouthful of a name tend to be ones of astonishment -- "Doctors and daycare providers tend to struggle with it," Erin says -- but she doesn't regret the decision. "Go with what sounds good," she advises.

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    Using Both Names for Baby

    Situation: You and your partner each kept your own last names. You plan on giving baby one of those as a middle name, and another as a last name.

    Pros: As long as you use his full name on documents, there should be little confusion as to his relationship to you and your partner.

    Cons: You may find yourself often answering, "Wait...that's his middle name? Or last name?"

    "I Did It": Denise Tilles kept her last name when marrying her husband Douglas Hanau, but decided to use her own last name as the middle name for her firstborn, Leigh. (Leigh got Douglas's surname.) "My entire family is made up of girls, so I wanted some sense of my family name to live on," Denise says. But her second daughter, Honor, didn't get mom's last name as her middle: Denise and her husband decided on Claire, instead. "She had such an unusual name I wanted her to have an alternate if she wanted when she got older," Denise says.

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