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The writing on the wall: what to do about your baby’s legal name

It’s easy to toss off “What’s in a name?” when the question of surnames comes up, but even when Juliet first said it, the question was more of a way to try to convince herself than anyone else – names are important. They’re the way we present ourselves to people before we even meet them, and they can be a tie back to our families and our histories when life is rushing forward. There’s plenty in a name, and as a new parent you’re in a position to pick that very thing out for Baby. More than that, you and your partner’s choice of surnames may fall into a place between tradition and something new. 

All of which you already know. So when it comes right down to it, this is another one of those ‘what’s right for your unique family is the right thing to do’ situations. Maybe you or your partner are only children, and care about passing along a family name. Maybe you’re a couple who is strongly pro-hyphen. And if a donor is involved, then maybe passing on the name of the non-biological parent feels like a balance that would work well for your family’s sense of balance, or maybe your choice doesn’t get to be entirely your choice at all – some families are limited by state laws when it comes to giving children the surname of anyone but biological parents.

If you and your partner are married, you may have already discussed all of this, particularly the way having a shared last name can be an easy shorthand for the official, legal recognition of your family, and can save time in emergencies. On the other hand, the taking or giving up of last names can be associated with historical heteronormative traditions that may not fit into your perception of your relationship. But making a decision that’s right for your identity as a couple is one thing, and figuring out what’s right for your family when that family includes a child can feel like something else.

Having the same last name as your child can be useful on a purely practical level, especially as he grows up and starts school, goes the summer camp, or needs medical attention unexpectedly. This is true whether the name you and your child share is your surname, your partner’s, some hyphenated combination, or an entirely different name you’ve adopted to share with Baby. However, with careful attention to the legal ins and outs of custody, it could also easily be a precaution you could do without. As long as you’re thoughtful about things, which we know you will be, you’ll be able to figure out what’s best for you and your family and give baby a full name that’s uniquely their own. 

There are so many considerations when you’re trying to find the perfect name for your little one. And if you’re still thinking about first names, Ovia Pregnancy’s My baby names feature is designed to make choosing one easy and fun! We’ve collected thousands of names, along with their meanings, popularity, and associated nicknames, to help you find one you love. You can sort by gender association and first letter, discover new options, and save all your favorites. 

Click here to start swiping, and find My baby names any time in the “more” menu!

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