Is It Okay To Change Your Baby’s Last Name After A Divorce?

December 31, 2013  |  

 

There’s been a lot of talk on this site lately about married women who, after divorcing their spouse, deciding to keep their last names.  Brooke Dean wrote an excellent piece discussing the predicament that some women face post marriage, and how their identities are held in a name they had for years.   I’ve been soaking all of these articles and conversations in, while also trying to figure out:  What about the babies and toddlers?

Now first, there should be some ground rules for discussing this scenario.  When I’m talking about children, I’m not talking about kids who are in school, or who have an identity in their surnames.  No one over the age of five.  I’m talking about infants and toddlers.  Those who might not even be cognizant of their last names.  Let’s be honest, how often do you call a family member’s baby by their full name?  That name doesn’t hold weight for them as it would if a child is in a daycare, preschool, school and any environment where they consistently hear their full name.

So here’s the scenario, you’ve had a contentious marriage that ended in divorce when your child was still going from infancy to being a toddler.  You have been the sole provider for this child, and the father does as little as possible that makes him one notch above a sperm donor.  He has no problem with you changing the baby’s name, so do you?

Or what about if he does have a problem with changing the baby’s name, would you consider something equally embracing as hyphenating said child’s last name?

I believe that if the situation ever arises, you should consider the intent behind it.

In my own situation, when I first got married, I kept my last name.  It wasn’t an intentional, feminist move.  It was due to putting it off.  Once our daughter was born, she took the name of my husband.  It wasn’t a problem, because I always assumed that we would always be married, but reality had a different plan for us.

I’ll be honest, I have often thought about changing my daughter’s last name to my own, or at least hyphenating it.  Now hear me out before you jump to the comment section and berate me.

My intention of changing my daughter’s last name isn’t rooted in any type of malice, or attempt to diminish the role of her father.  My idea came from past experiences of working in schools.  I remember working with children who had multiple siblings, and they had different last names, especially from their mothers.  I never thought anything less of these children, but some of the people I worked with would make snide remarks about them, and developed hypotheses about the environment the child was raised in.

I don’t want that for my child.  I don’t want for her reputation with future teachers to be marred due to them making a judgment on a black child, and  a single black mother.   So, I thought about hyphenating her last name, to show that her parents are co-parenting.  That way my ex-husband is still represented.

Now what about the women who have children with their boyfriends and give their children the boyfriends’ last names?  If the relationship ends, would you feel comfortable with your child having his name if he’s not in the picture?

Now, let’s make this clear before I continue.  This article isn’t to encourage women to remove any and all ties that a man might have from his child.  I believe that no matter how the relationship ends, that if a man wants to be involved in the child’s life to encourage it.  Just because the parents didn’t work out, doesn’t mean that the child should not have the presence of his/her father.

On top of that, I also believe that people should be careful with the information that they give about each parent to the child.  Let the child make a decision of what they think about said parent for themselves.  Otherwise, the child can grow to resent you.  But, back to the topic:

My thought process about this evolved even more when talking to someone who used to be married, but was in an abusive marriage and had a child.  After leaving the abuse of her husband, she tried to encourage him to be in their child’s life, but he’s barely there.  He doesn’t call, visit, and her fear of him (and his threats) caused her to not even file for child support.  Her child is still a toddler and isn’t in school yet, and she hates the fact that her child is carrying the name of a man who not only used to beat her, but doesn’t even care about their child to check up on him.  The fear that the father will continue to be absent, but may attempt to claim ownership of him if he becomes a success, haunts her.  The option to hyphenate is an insult to her, because there is no co-parenting, just her.

A name can carry a person’s identity, and is very important.  So, when the child’s identity is still being formed, how would you handle it?  Do you think that the child should always keep the father’s name before they become knowledgable about it, or should changing even be an option?

I leave you good people to discuss.

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