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This morning as I was scrolling through my morning Twitter happenings I came across a tweet regarding The New York Times article, “Children of the Hyphens, the Next Generation”, written by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, November 23, 2011.  This caught my attention and sparked my writer’s momentum!  The author writes that she was born to a second-wave feminist who held strong beliefs that women should not lose their identity to a man, therefore, when the author was born she was given a hyphenated last name – a combination of her mother’s surname and her father’s surname – which was starting to gain popularity in the seventies.  Fast forward to marriage and child-bearing years: if two people who have hyphenated last names marry, what will they give their child as a last name?  Dilemma: how many hyphenated last names can one person have?

I have always been passionate about last names.  Now, let me point out to you that I am a feminist, by definition, a person who advocates equal rights for women.  However, I also believe that some feminist issues are purely in the eye of the beholder, case being surnames.  It is here that I usually have another passionate feminist approach me and question me in pure disbelief about how I would hold such a view.   Easy.  I see things from the view of an alienated child.

My mom and dad never married, but had a relationship for a few years.  By the time I was born this posed a dilemma: what name to give the baby?  When I was born, my mom was married to another man (you can read more about that here) therefore – and I can not prove this one way or another – NJ law in the seventies states that a child born to a mother who is married requires that her last name be given to the child.  (Personally, I think it may just be a story that my mom made up…but I haven’t bothered to research it enough to find out.)  Well, I was given my mom’s last name, which was her current husband’s surname, not my dad’s.  My dad petitioned the court to have it changed, and it was changed to my mom’s maiden name.  No harm done, right?  Let us see…

Growing up I was perplexed because of the differences from my last name, my mother’s last name, and my father’s last name.  I also had a different last name from my three older sisters, who were born of my mom’s first marriage (to a kind man, who I refer to my as my step-dad), but I did have my mom’s maiden name and I shared it with my grandmother.  Growing up, from birth to the age of seven, I lived with my mom and visited my dad.  My dad’s side of the family would refer to me by his last name, which was okay by me because there was love and happiness attached to that last name, as well as many people in the family with that very same last name.  I felt I belonged, I felt connected, I felt part of a family.  I didn’t have that cozy feeling with the last name I was given when I was with my own family on my mom’s side.

So, when I got married I knew immediately what last name I would take; my husband’s.  I wanted to wash my hands of my old last name, and at the same time wash away all the hurt and pain I experienced from “not feeling a whole part of any family”.  The moment I received my social security card, my new license, and other important documents with my brand new last name I finally felt like I belonged.  I was a part of a clan, and a loving clan at that!  My children and I have my husband’s last name, and I have absolutely no qualms about it.

Now, you should also know that my husband was previously married.  His former spouse is also a staunchly idealistic feminist.  When their child was born, my husband’s former spouse chose a name quite that veered far from traditional.  When I first came into my stepdaughter’s life, she was about four years old and one of the very first things that she said to me is “My last name is__(her given last name)__, but Mommy says I am really a __(her mom’s family last name__).  I was floored!  Here, this small child came to ME, and confided in ME that she wanted to feel connected, by way of a last name!  At the same time, I witnessed the very first signs of Parental Alienation!  How ironic is that??!!  Sadly enough, fast forward ten years, my dear step-daughter has succumbed to Parental Alienation Syndrome and has cut off all contact with my husband and the entire side of his family.  In addition, she has since legally (from what we heard) changed her last name to her mother’s last name.

This tells me two things: 1) a last name that shows family relations is very important to the child and their self-confidence, and 2) the alienating parent can use a child’s name as a way to gain control “of ownership”.

My story ends like this: same last name or not, my husband knows I’m a feminist and he fully expects to be treated as an equal in this house, as I expect the same.  He supports me in all I do.  He cooks, he cleans, he changes diapers, he takes care of me when I need help.  My husband is also a feminist and he rocks!  (However, you also should know that my favorite feminist is Jesus!)  We are also a family that shares the same last name and I feel darn good about that!  I am dealing with my own feelings about my mom and dad and how I was brought up, while at the same time dealing with the loss of my step-daughter. What else is a woman in this situation to do but advocate for change?  That is what this blog is intended to do.