By Frank Golden
We’re in a changing world. It’s interesting- as gay marriage became legal and more gay couples are getting married, heterosexual couples are delaying marriage or may reject the concept of marriage entirely. It’s not an issue of causation, not by any means. It’s just that we’re becoming a more liberal world. The notion of marriage might seem outdated to heterosexual, Cisgendered young women and men, but seems bright and exciting for gay couples. I’m overjoyed to be a part of this world; albeit scary, it’s becoming more tolerable for unique family structures.
This leads me to the purpose, or the subject of this blog: Choosing a Last Name for Your Family. As I mentioned before, this subject pertains to many individuals. I’m writing from the perspective of a gay man, but I encourage you to apply this blog to your life, regardless of your personal story.
Many of our Intended Parents have two different last names, some of them gay, some of them heterosexual. Women are not expected to take their husbands last names anymore, and like I mentioned before, many couples are avoiding marriage entirely. I’ve noticed that heterosexual couples don’t put as much emphasis on last names- at least they don’t address the issue with me. Our gay Intended Parents, however, frequently ask me for advice on the subject. Some of our Intended Parents, during the second or third trimester, start to panic. As the baby’s arrival nears, it’s natural to start imagining your baby being born and leaving the hospital as a parent. You start to imagine signing the birth certificate with your partner. And then it hits you- you’ve discussed first names, and maybe even middle names, but failed to consider the last name. In heterosexual relationships, it’s assumed that women and children take their husband’s or father’s last name. I’m not saying that this is the way things should be, but it is typically considered to be “the norm.” In gay relationships, there isn’t “a norm” to follow, or a standard practice. We have to make our own rules, so to say, based on our relationship and personal values.
Adam and I got a civil union a few years before gay marriage was accepted on a federal level. We were lucky to live in Illinois, a state that made it easy for us to legally validate our relationship as well as change our last names. I was grateful for those opportunities, but there were other, more personal factors to consider before we came to a decision. One of the reasons we decided to legally officiate our relationship, one of the factors that made me want to spend my life with Adam, was our shared views on having a family. We both knew we wanted to have kids. Our shared goal made it pertinent for us to discuss, and ultimately come to a decision about a last name for our future family.
Adam and I discussed different options for our family’s last name. We considered hyphenating our names, but eventually decided against it. We felt that our combined names would be too long, and we worried that it would become a source of frustration for our future children. For Adam and I, it basically came down to what our last names meant to us. Adam felt a sense of pride, a connection to his last name. Personally, I didn’t. My last name, Testa didn’t mean that much to me, and ultimately I was willing to change it for my husband and for our future family. Before doing so, I did check in with my mother. I wanted her support before I made a decision that affected the entire family. My mom was incredibly supportive of my decision.
Personally, I was happy to take on Adam’s last name. As a gay man, it did make my relationship feel “official.” I felt like Adam and I were part of a team, especially after Sophia and Silas were born. We’re now “Team Golden,” and that makes me very proud. We could have just as easily been “Team Testa” or “Team Golden-Testa/Testa-Golden.” For our family, Team Golden made sense, and rest assured, you’ll discover what makes sense for you and your family.
Although challenging, this conversation needs to happen, and ideally should happen before your baby is born. When discussing last names with your partner, keep an open mind; there’s no right or wrong way of doing things. Be sure to discuss exactly what each last name means to you and your partner. Sometimes it’s a matter of heritage, or a matter of carrying on the family name. Discuss all potential compromises. Perhaps you can hyphenate your name, or incorporate a last name into first or middle names. Try to be patient, bring family and friends into the discussion, whatever works for you. Most importantly, remember why you’re having the discussion in the first place- you’re starting a family, and that’s a beautiful, exciting, wonderful thing.
Adam and I had multiple discussions regarding our family name, and we recommend that you do that same. For two gay men, it can be especially challenging. To some, changing your last name might suggest that one man is submissive to the other. It might suggest that one man is really “the woman” of the relationship. It might suggest that one man “won over the other.” Even in our changing world, even in our own gay community, these stereotypes exist. I chose to change my last name for Adam, and it didn’t make me feel like less of a man, not even slightly. Adam didn’t “win” the last name battle. If Adam won, that would mean I lost- and I most definitely didn’t lose anything. I’m a gay man with a loving husband and two beautiful children- I most definitely won.