Time for children to take the mother’s name

by Feb 17, 2022

Is it time for children to take their mother’s name?

As our cultures become more diverse and gender-balanced a hot topic for discussion is whether it’s time for children to take the mother’s name at birth.

In some cultures, children traditionally take the family name of the father. Patrilineal surnames became entrenched in common law in England. The practice dates back to the 1800s when women became the property of men (yep! no kidding. Property. ) and were not allowed to own land. This was also assumed in the U.S which followed the English legal system. Today there seems to be a shift, with many heterosexual couples choosing not to marry, and same-gender couples voluntarily assuming both names, or even creating a new name for their offspring.

Sexism and stereotypes starts at home 

In Spanish-speaking cultures  (Spain, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and Mexico) children culturally assume the last names of both parents, creating a double-barrel surname. The children with double-barrel names have combined the name of the mother and father is common to give a double-barrelled. In Spain, until relatively recently it was the father’s name that was cited first. What rarely happens unless the child has a single mother, within a heterosexual couple, is that children take the mothers’ name alone.

Time for change

Women clearly spend 9 months nurturing new life and then obviously go through the actual childbirth. They also do most of the child care and parenting with mothers recording more time than ever on these responsibilities during the pandemic. Girl babies take their father’s names only to relinquish them to assume their husbands’ names. Some women even keep the name of an ex-husband. One of the most common reasons a woman might  keep an ex- husbands’ last name, is for consistency with the children, although this can get contentious with subsequent wives!

So doesn’t it make sense that children take the mother’s name? Pablo Ruiz Picasso used his mothers’ name for his famous signature.

Role modelling matters for working dads in so many ways

Completely new name

As our societies change there are different possibilities so maybe it’s time to be a bit creative and it’s now time for children to take the mother’s name.  This is already happening in China where the percentage of children taking women’s names is increasing as couples are starting to experiment. In 2018, 8.8% of babies born to couples in Shanghai assumed the mother’s family name. Couples also can give the father’s surname to one child and the mother’s to another.

Other couples are creating a blended name. Like any change, those experimenting and departing from long-standing traditions observe glitches. Fathers report that when they travel with their children who have a different name, there can be problems at passport control. Those with double-barrelled names share that many bureaucracies don’t have enough fields in their admin systems to accommodate them. But hey-ho -that’s easy to fix.

The only reasons that children assume the name of the father are for historical or cultural reasons which may not be applicable today. Maybe it’s time for children to take the mother’s name.

What do you think?

Take time to listen to our Podcast with Ian Dinwiddy and Dorothy Dalton who share their expertise on ways to create gender balanced home






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