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Reality Check: Last-Name Dilemma

Q. I'm seven months pregnant. My husband and I have different last names, and we can't agree on whose last name the baby should have. How can we resolve this?

A. Your options are straightforward. The baby can have your last name, your husband's last name, a combination of your two names or an entirely new last name. But you and your husband are the only two people in the world who can decide, and the only way you can do that is to talk about it. A lot.

Some new things to talk—and think—about regarding this decision: Be aware that a compromise may not satisfy anyone. If you both have to settle for your second or third choice just to strike a bargain, you may always look upon your little John Abramowitz-Hernandez with a wistful, "What were we thinking?"

Second, keep in mind that, according to Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher, Ph.D., "our American custom of using the father's last name stems from European tradition. Historically, children had to be named after their father in order to inherit his property." In some cases, there are other cultural norms for naming, such as the Spanish custom of giving a child both the mother's and the father's surnames.

Personally, although I didn't take my husband's name, I had no qualms about giving it to our two girls. (I did, however, give our firstborn, Madeline, my last name for her middle name, so my lineage is represented.) My strictly amateur-anthropologist point of view is that while a mother has always had the advantage of knowing that her child was her own, a father has had to take his partner's word for it (before the advent of DNA testing). So giving a child the father's last name is a kind of territory marker for the parent who didn't have the benefit of growing the baby in his own body. Good luck. May this be the toughest dilemma you face as parents.