What's in a surname? Plenty of confusion, with all the modern options

There are a lot of options for a baby's surname now.

Not that long ago, it was the norm to give a child their biological father’s surname, often no matter the family situation.

But now there are more and more options for name combinations on offer – and they’ve sparked debate over where to draw the line.

More women are choosing to keep their own name when they marry, instead of taking their husband’s, and it has seen an increase in the amount of babies given their mother’s surname or a double-barrelled version of both parents’ names.

But that’s not the only alternative on offer.

Lorelei Vashti, the author of How to Choose Your Baby’s Last Name: A Handbook for New Parents, told the ABC that she reckons there’s no one rule for everyone, with individual families making naming choices that reflect their own values.

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Read more: Study finds men whose wives don’t change surname ‘less powerful’

She claims some find family unity and identity the most important factor when choosing a name, while others prioritise gender equity and fairness.

“No perspective is better or worse than the other, but within couples there can be disagreement,” she says.

According to babycenter.com, the popular site for parents-to-be and new parents, there are six main options when choosing a baby’s lastname:

  • The father’s name
  • The mother’s name
  • A combination of both in a double-barrel name
  • A different name for each sibling
  • Blending parents’ surnames in to one new one
  • A completely new name
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While taking a father’s name is still the most common choice, according to Vashti, the next most popular trend among Australian families is to alternate the parents’ surnames between siblings.

“Some people are concerned that if their two or more children don’t share surnames then people won’t recognise them as being part of the same family, but what we’re seeing now is a recognition that a name is not the thing that makes a family a family,” she told ABC.

Vashti claims it can prove a difficult decision, particularly for men, however, as many see a lot of power attached to their surname and prefer to see it passed down to their children. The story didn’t address what the choice of a surname meant to grandparents, who may also wish to see the family name continued.

“For many men to start thinking about this and to have it challenged, well it might be very confronting for them,” she added.

Meanwhile, according to Swinburne University research, 3 per cent of new parents chose a completely new name for their child, rather than one of their own. The uni’s study also found double-barrelled names or creating new names were more popular for same-sex couples.

What do you think? Have we gone too far by blurring the lines? Or is it good to embrace more options?