I've been banging on about surnames for children since 2001. As previously noted, the choice of surname used to be a no-brainer. In fact, it was seldom viewed as a choice per se. It was more like a societal prescription.
The child was simply given the father's surname and that was that. The woman could like it or lump it. It was sexist. It was as if women were second-class citizens. It was all about the men. It was the natural order of the world.
But then people started having children outside of marriage and married women started keeping their surnames, and suddenly things were no longer quite so straightforward. So these days there are options galore when it comes to bestowing a surname on your child. To help new parents navigate this minefield, here are six possible approaches.
1. Give your children the father's surname
Although it's steeped in tradition, sexism and oppression, this option remains popular. Many sectors of society still embrace this quaint custom. Anyone who gives a child the father's surname is clearly comfortable with bolstering the patriarchy. Oh well, each to their own. (Sorry, that last bit was sarcasm. This outdated stroking of the collective male ego really needs to be phased out.)
2. Give your children the mother's surname
It would take an unfortunate marriage between a control-freak of a woman and a henpecked man to allow the mother's surname to emerge victorious. Giving a child the mother's surname instead of the father's is just wrong and should be eschewed by all sensible people. Who would even contemplate acting in such defiance of the natural order? Only militant feminists, most likely. This option should be avoided at all costs. (Just kidding: my thirteen-year-old has my surname and it was just fine.)
3. Alternate surnames between your children
In 2007 I wrote about a Nelson woman who agreed with her husband that their daughters would be given her surname and sons would get his surname. "That seemed fair. It seemed odd to us to accept the fact that your children get the husband's name," she said.
Yet allowing the gender of children to determine the surname is itself somewhat sexist, which is presumably what they were attempting to avoid in the first place. Perhaps it would be more equitable to decide that every second child gets the husband's surname while odd-numbered children get the mother's surname. This option is fair to both parties - provided, of course, the couple concerned has an even number of children. Otherwise that could be awkward.
4. Hyphenate the surnames
I revealed my concerns about freshly-minted hyphenated surnames http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=11250350 in 2014: "the new name is often clumsy and cumbersome. Recently invented hyphenated names don't usually roll smoothly off the tongue." Furthermore, "[t]wo perfectly good and functional surnames can be turned into one unsympathetic double-barreled version with the addition of just an innocent dash."
Additionally, hyphenated surnames are unsustainable. Should two people with double-barreled surnames decide to continue the theme it would mean bestowing a baby with a quadruple-barreled surname - which is surely a step too far. Nonetheless, hyphenation remains a valid, if flawed, solution to the naming dilemma.
5. Manufacture a surname
If the mother and father can't choose between their respective surnames then, instead of linking them with the dreaded hyphen, perhaps they could consider inventing an entirely new surname for the child. You could blend the two names into one or come up with something unrelated to either of the original ones. It's fair, fun and provides the opportunity for a little creativity.
6. Use several different surnames
Before Christmas I heard a talkback radio caller describe his previous partner's approach to surnames. If I understood correctly, this woman's children had a series of surnames, all of which were based on her relationship status.
So the children she had with the talkback caller had his surname - but only for a while. When that relationship ended she gave the children her surname instead. Then when she partnered up again she gave the same children the surname of her new partner. By my count, each child had three separate surnames in a fairly short space of time - which must have been a bit confusing for them.
It might be an extreme example but this woman has simply chosen to define herself (and her children) by her relationship to a man - just like any woman who has ever changed her own surname upon marriage or given a child its father's surname has done.