And Last Shall Be First


When it came to naming our baby, the first thing we had to decide was what the kid’s last name would be. I’ve always resisted the convention of the hypenated name (smacks of English-style faux aristocracy to me), and the unruly combo mouthful of Wilson-Neufeld or Neufeld-Wilson seemed especially dissonent. I mean what if our kid someday meets and has a child with another hyphenater? Their baby would have a last-name-times-four! Plus, when I asked my intern Sara, who has a hyphenated last name, her thoughts on the subject, she was adamant. “Don’t do it! It’s confusing, schools always get it wrong, and me and my friends with hyphenated names all think it’s a drag.” So there you go.

We also thought of giving the baby one of our mother’s last names, but Feuer and Rosler don’t go together any better than Wilson and Neufeld, and it seemed like an uncalled-for dis to reject our father’s names that way. (The patriarchal system exerts a powerful hold, even on supposed free-thinkers like us!)

One bright idea I had for awhile was to make up a hybrid name, some kind of mixture of our two last names: e.g., “Neuson” or “Wilfeld.” (I preferred Neuson. Especially if our baby turned out to be a boy. Get it? “New son”?) And from what research I was able to do, the hybrid last name seemed like a legitimate legal option. Some people argued that this could cause problems for our kid because he/she would have a different last name from either of their parents. My answer to that was, since Sari & I have different last names anyway, this would be a way of making us all unique, without making the kid feel preternaturally connected to one parent over the other. Separate and distinct, our child would feel free to explore all options life made available. But then I realized — mostly due to Sari scoffing at the whole idea — that the hybrid name thing was pretty goofy.

I consider myself a feminist and the last thing I would EVER want is for Sari to take my last name. And even though I’m not a huge fan of my own last name, I wouldn’t change my name either. For one thing, my career, such as it is, is based on people knowing my work through it. Either way — male or female — I just can’t imagine giving up your last name to symbolize your commitment to your spouse. It’s just so obviously a symbol for changing “owners,” from father to husband (or father to wife, as the case may be).

But when Sari brightly suggested giving the baby her last name, my hackles rose. The thought of it felt totally emasculating. Turned out my feminist impulses only went so far! I mean, I actually worried that if the kid didn’t have my last name, people wouldn’t know who the father was. (And don’t talk to me about Spain or other “matriarchal” cultures — this is America, kiddo!) Fortunately for me, however, a friend pointed out that if the baby had Sari’s last name, it de facto had Sari’s father’s name, the Oedipal implications of which being creepy enough that she dropped the suggestion.

In the end, after much consultation with friends and family, we’ve decided to go with “Wilson Neufeld,” unhyphenated, meaning that the middle name is Wilson and the last name is Neufeld. This way both family names are officially included, but the kid will have his/her father’s last name. Long-standing cultural traditions are powerful things, and when even my mom, the O.F. (“Original Feminist”) herself, signed off on it, Sari grew reconciled to it as well.

Next: Genesis 2:19-20

0 thoughts on “And Last Shall Be First

  1. A friend of mine has the kind of name you want to give your baby, and it’s worked out fine for her – partially because, like yours, her parent’s surnames are relatively compact (Todd and Harper, in her case). She uses her full name professionally but doesn’t mind if people refer to her by just her ‘last’ name.
    When I got married it was at City Hall, where all name choices have to be permanent, so I’ve been thinking about this a lot, as of late. Thanks for giving us a peek at your process.
    BTW, I saw a retrospective of your mother’s work at the (old?) New Museum of Contemporary Art, and she is indeed the O.F.! Very inspiring.
    Ellen L.

  2. O.F. made me laugh. I keep seeing a gang of old feminists living the thug life…
    As for the naming… we haven’t had one, but the first thing we’ve worked out are the first and middle names. We’ll cross the last name thing if we ever come to it. Right now, it’s not looking likely, but you never know… and if it happens well, at least we already have the name picked out. LOL

  3. Well, in spite of what you said about “don’t talk to me about Spain”, what you ended up doing is just the Hispanic double last name thing, except backwards. Every so often I have to talk to one of the clerks at the clinic to explain that the patient’s last name is “Hernandez Vargas”, not “Hernandez” or “Vargas”. The kid may encounter the same problem but what the hell… some confusion is unavoidable… sounds fine.

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