Whose Last Name?

Our Situation

Being involved with two men has often brought up the question of whose last name me and the kids should take. Or should the whole family just make up a new last name or should we hyphenate? Or if we want to reject the patriarchal ways of society, should everyone take my maiden name?

At this point, my legal husband, me, and his two biological kids all share a last name, while my boyfriend has kept his last name. Which all makes sense because my husband and I got married and had our first son before we even discovered polyamory, and then of course had our second son follow suit to keep things uniform. However, the whole last name thing really comes into question when we talk about my boyfriend and I having children in the future (which don’t even get me started on some of our families’ opinions on having more children/my boyfriend and I having children – that could be a whole other blog post in itself).

Do those children grow up with his last name, a different last name than their siblings and I? Will that be confusing for schools or other documentation if my last name does not match some of my children, especially if the school and other parents are still under the impression that I’m in a monogamous marriage with my husband? Will I be able to travel with a child with a different last name?

A last name generally shows who a person’s family is, which is why I think I (and other polyamorous families) get caught up on this question. Having multiple different last names may make you feel like you aren’t representing a united family. Of course, there are many examples of parents and children having different last names that have nothing to do with polyamory. For example, when a mother keeps her maiden name and a father keeps his surname, and then the children are given one or the other. Or when a woman gets remarried and changes her last name to her new husband’s while the children keep their biological father’s original last name.

I personally am a fan of hyphenating my husband and boyfriend’s last names. However, then that creates a ridiculously long name to have to write and sign, which none of us really want. And even if we were to hyphenate, whose name goes first and whose goes last? NYTimes parenting blog from 2010 brought up making one of the last names as a middle name, so that it’s still incorporated but you don’t run into all the problems of parents and children having different last names. I think this is an interesting idea to explore. Though, following the trend of wanting to pass on the family name, both of my partners prefer for their biological children and themselves to keep their respective last names.

Problems with Having Different Last Names

People’s Assumptions

My (prospective) third child having a different last name than me, my legal husband, and my two older kids is going to cause a lot of raised eyebrows from people who do not know we are a polyamorous family. Though we are out to almost all of our family and friends, there are still a few members on the outskirts we haven’t specifically told. And what about once my kids start having friends and playdates with kids from school – what are their parents going to think? I really don’t want to be the subject of PTA gossip (though I guess living polyamorously signs you up for being the interesting and weird subject of people’s conversations).

I feel like I’m either going to have to just start explaining it to people who seem confused or I’ll have to accept that they are going to judge me as having cheated on my husband and had a child with another man. (I would choose the former; I’m all about people knowing the truth rather than making up their own truth about me.) Or I guess I could make up a story for the people that really don’t matter and say that my husband and I separated and I’m now with the new child’s father but haven’t changed my last name (this was my husband’s idea). But this one wouldn’t fly if I was having my kids’ friends over for a playdate, especially as the kids get older and their friends will obviously notice both my partners either being present in the house or our family pictures including us all that are hung on the walls. It’s all a little too complicated for my liking.

Travel

I honestly hadn’t thought about the issues of my legal husband, I, and the kids traveling without my boyfriend present, but it does happen. Just a couple months ago, we flew to Texas for a week while my boyfriend stayed home because of work. And the same thing happened last summer when my son and I went to California with my husband on a work trip. If we were taking along one kid with a different last name, we might have been subjected to extra questioning, even on a domestic flight. Especially if it was an infant.

Though traveling domestically shouldn’t really create an issue (though it is smart to always carry documentation such as birth certificates, etc.), what about traveling internationally? ThePointsGuy aptly points out that international travel with a child requires both parents’ approval. Therefore, if one parent isn’t going to be there, there must be a notarized and dated letter providing consent.

Kid’s Confusion

One thing I worry about is the third child feeling left out or like the odd one out because his/her last name doesn’t match his/her siblings’ or mine. I worry that having different last names will create an ‘us vs them’ dynamic between the kids. Of course, my partners and I can combat those problems in the way that we raise them. If we never act like it’s weird, it won’t seem weird to them until someone else points it out. Hopefully there are just enough blended families in their school at that point to make them not stand out for being siblings with different last names.

Family Favoritism

A problem specific to the polyamory aspect of our relationship (though I guess this could also be seen in families with adopted children or step-children as well) is our worry that certain family members will favor the children that our biologically related to them over the other children. Of course, for my family, that does not apply; all of the children are biologically mine. However, for my husband and boyfriend, we are afraid we might see some favoritism from certain members of their families towards the biological children. The children carrying the last name of their biological father is going to blatantly point out whose is whose. And really the only way we can reduce favoritism will to be very clear to those family members that it will not be tolerated.

One other way to combat this would be to have everyone have the same last name and never disclose whose child is whose. We originally meant to keep it a secret that our second son was biologically my husband’s, in preparation for when my boyfriend and I decided to have children. We wanted to keep people guessing so that we could see how they would react to the idea that he could be my boyfriend’s offspring. However, my husband and I admittedly (and regrettably) chickened out with some of the more opinionated family members.

For now, the plan is for the kids to have their biological father’s last names. Check in a few years and find out what we actually decided to do!

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