Open thread

Welcome to Etiquette Daily

This open thread is your space to use as you like.  We invite you to discuss current and traditional etiquette. Feel free to ask questions of each other and the community moderators here.


  1. Teri Brown

    Last name for a baby. I am curious. It was customary years ago for a baby to be given the father’s last name. Today, are there mothers who keep their maiden name and then pass that name on down to their children, even if they are married?

    • Graceandhonor

      Teri, at the risk of starting a brouhaha here, I must say it is still customary that babies be given their father’s last name. While our society allows for many variations, and certainly many families elect to incorporate the mother’s name in some form with the father’s (with, the operative word, not in lieu of), the vast number of children receive their fathers’ last names (and sometimes have their mother’s surname as their middle name, which is a great solution). In this age of diminishment of the father’s role in families, it is important that we support the relationship of fathers to children, regardless of the legitimacy of the parents’ relationship. Studies have concluded, (and were a surprise to me) that the relationship of a child with the father has more impact than that with the mother. The male sex has experienced difficult societal shifts and confusion in the last thirty years or so, and while it is good women’s positions have improved in our society, this needn’t be at the cost of our male citizens. Everyone should be able to win and be uplifted, and while naming a child after its father may seem inconsequential, it is instead symbolic of an historic tradition that has profound tangible consequences.

    • Alicia

      Yes it is customary to give the baby the fathers last name. However, if you and your husband wish to name your child with the mothers last name there is no rule or ettiquette agaist this. Expect questions and having to correct the assumptions people will make regarding the kids name. However, if this is what both parents want go for it!

  2. I am uncertain what your question is, exactly, so if I fail to answer it, I apologize (but that’s why we have so many other knowledgeable/helpful people around here).
    Yes, sometimes mothers keep their last names if they are known professionally by them. These same mothers may want to pass their name down to their child if the father is not in the picture, or if the father isn’t married to the mother. Some choose to hyphenate the last names. In some Amerindian tribes, society is matrilineal, so giving the child the mother’s last name might be common.

  3. occasionista

    Also don’t forget how for thousands of years children have been given the last name of the Father for genealogy and lineage tracking purposes and it should remain such in our times. I am all for women keeping their maiden name if they want, but the child is an offspring of the man too and by honor he should bestow his surname on the baby.

  4. Just Laura

    I originally cited the matrilineal customs of many Amerindian tribes (my mother is Poarch Creek), but it was ignored.
    Personally, I do like the practice of a child having his father’s last name, to prevent confusion if for no other reason. But when a person says that this is how it’s been done for thousands of years and that is very incorrect (on nearly all continents), I feel obliged to speak up. I’m sure people of all cultures read this website, and I wouldn’t want to limit this topic to only one ethnicity.

      • Just Laura

        The term modern is problematic here, but I’m going to try to explain without being a jerk (I do not mean to be). There are “modern” Indians who are American in culture (this is anyone in my family). There are traditionalists who may live on a reservation or in close proximity, and may not even speak English. They would use their mother’s clan names. I am admittedly speaking in gross generalities, like classifying something as “European” would be an extreme generality in that people from Germany have a very different culture than people in Scotland.
        The idea of a surname is a newer concept in the world, in that many people historically went by occupation (Tom Potter, Joe Miller, etc), by clan name, by relationship (Leif Ericson), by marriage status of mother (John FitzPatrick – i.e. John, Bastard Son of Patrick), or even by the relationship to a well-known mother (Fitz Wymarch).
        I have my father’s last name, and am proud of it. But to say that this is the way it should be seems incorrect to me, both because of history, and because of ethnocentrism. I simply don’t see an etiquette issue here.

        • Graceandhonor

          Thanks for your interesting response, Just Laura; this is what I thought. My original post was in response to Teri’s statement, “…it was customary years ago…” I think I was reasonable to assume she was referring to American society as that is where this blog originates. It is still most common, in mainstream USA, that children are given their fathers’ last names. I did note that there are those who do not do so, and that is certainly their perogative. Of course, blended families, adopted children, different fathers, single mothers, etc. render same names a rarity among them; I tried to confine my opinion for that of a newborn of its biologic parents, as I interpreted Teri’s question.

          It is disheartening that, lately, thread discussions on this blog ratchett up so testily and so quickly. No, Terri’s question was not one of etiquette, nor my post a should be; but rather, observations and experiences of my own, antiquated as they may be, and based in nostalgia for a time, in my own life, which no longer exists.

          • Just Laura

            Ah, I did not intend to direct the bold “should be” at you, as you did not say it. That was our new friend Occasionista, and I should have been person-specific when I wrote it. I only inserted the part about how I didn’t feel this was an etiquette issue because this is an etiquette site. That comment was not directed at anyone, nor did I intend it to start any further disagreements.

  5. occasionista

    By no means was meaning to reference only one ethnicity and I extend my deepest apologies for not being as thorough as I should have been prior to responding. I appreciate the enlightening information regarding other cultures and look forward to the opportunity to learn something new about their traditions.

    • Just Laura

      Thank you for coming back and taking time to read. I did not mean anything as a personal attack on you, as most people tend to see the world through their own eyes (it makes sense, right?)
      I do have my father’s name, and if I have a child, it will have its father’s name. That is my culture, as it appears to also be yours. But I do not see anything wrong with those who choose differently.

      • occasionista

        Just Laura,
        Of course, I would never walk out of a room during a conversation. Again, I am terribly sorry, I absolutely did not mean the term “should” as literally as came across. I was merely speaking from the administrative standpoint that surnames have been used for thousands of years spanning our human history, in all cultures either before or after the “first” name, purely as a method of tracking who belongs to what family/clan/group, no more or less was inferred. I will not speak in such generalities in the future to avoid confusion.

  6. Laura

    Yes, Teri, there are mothers who do this and I am one of them.

    Families should choose whatever last name they want for their child. The reasons cited for giving a child the father’s last name are outdated, sexist, and frustrate me. I really hate to think that this is the kind of judgment that people make when I introduce my family. So many families are combined; children are stepchildren, adopted, and raised in nontraditional settings. Plus, leaving other countries out of it, please remember we have so many people living here from other countries and cultures. Open your hearts and minds and remember that a child may have a different last name from his or her parents for many, many reasons.

  7. Lin

    Teri, in response to your question, I have had a few students (when I taught preschool) who had their mother’s maiden name. I even know one particular mother who changed her children’s surnames to reflect her new marriage, even though the new husband has no intentions on adopting them even if their biological/legal fathers decided to no longer be involved with their children. I also went to school with a guy whose last name is just like his mother’s, hyphenated with mom’s maiden surname and dad’s surname. There are many different options, though some of it may depend upon the regulations of the state of the child’s birthplace (for example, in Ohio code 3705.09 “If the mother of a child was married at the time of either conception or birth or between conception and birth, the child shall be registered in the surname designated by the mother, and the name of the husband shall be entered on the certificate as the father of the child.”). I hope this helps!

    • Graceandhonor

      If the wedding is more casual or modern/contemporary in nature and invitations reflect this, or the bride is an advocate of going green, yes. If the wedding is more formal, best stick with the envelope.

  8. Sarah

    I have a fantasy that laws considering this should be: “All people have the ability to choose their name once legal Adults, but birth names remain the legal birth name, and name changes are voluntary, not obligatory. Those who change their names will receive a Legal Name Certificate citing: [Insert name] was born as [Insert birth name].” But that is just my fantasy. And this legal name certificate, can be used as proof that a person is able to work in the United States in lieu of a birth certificate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *