Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

As Mother’s Day and Father’s Day approach, it’s time to discuss how we could set up a naming system that honors them both.

The most common naming practice in the English-speaking world is that in which only the father’s name is passed on. This patrilineal system keeps things attractively simple but does little to underline our connection to our female ancestors.

An alternative that has gained popularity is giving the children a hyphenated combination of the father’s and mother’s name. But after the first generation, a problem arises. Will that child pass on both names? Only one? And which one to choose? What if his spouse also has two names? Parity in naming is achieved at the cost of a break between generations.

I’d like to propose a solution that takes into account the contributions of mothers and fathers, the continuity of the generations, and the imperative of simplicity.

Let’s take a couple, call them John Doe and Jane Roe.

Upon their marriage, they will combine their two surnames to form a new family surname: Roe-Doe.

(It is important that the society as a whole settle on whether the man’s or woman’s surname comes first. In accord both with hidebound chivalry and with the more misandrist strains of feminism, I favor giving precedence to the woman’s.)

Say they have two children: a daughter and a son. Both will grow up with the family name of Roe-Doe, but upon their marriage, each will shed one of those names and take in its place one of his or her spouse’s names. The Roe-Doe son will pass on the family’s paternal name (Doe) even as his sister passes on the maternal name (Roe).

So say John and Jane’s son, Brent Roe-Doe, falls in love with and marries one Nicole Vergara-Loeb. The name that they will take upon their marriage—and hand on to their children—will be Vergara-Doe. Each of their daughters in turn will pass on the maternal name (Vergara) and each of the sons will pass on the paternal name (Doe). Over the course of generations, patrilineal and matrilineal names alike persist and interweave.

This system, like reproduction itself, assumes the male-female difference, but it is not designed to be exclusionary. For same-sex couples, transgender couples, etc. it poses no greater difficulties than the systems now current.

Harder hit will be the preppy sons who suffix Jr., III, or IV to the same names that their fathers have. I regret to admit that under my system, their time is no more. In recompense, I propose a fulsome cut on the capital gains tax bundled with some kind of sartorial RFRA guaranteeing their right to put gold buttons on their blazers (with four rather than three monogrammed initials), haul canvas totes (similarly initialed), and otherwise perpetuate their queer rites.

Meanwhile, we all can enjoy a surname system that combines tradition with equality and remembers the gifts of our mothers as much as those of our fathers.

Addendum: Any credit for this idea must be shared with Audrey and David Schaengold, who, as their names suggest, have sadly betrayed it. 

Matthew Schmitz is deputy editor of First Things.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles