The Sunday Edition

Why aren't most women represented in the last names of their children?

In the old days, there would be no debate. Father's last name. Case closed. But now that many women are keeping their own names, why aren't they represented in the names of their children? Julia Pagel's documentary is called "The Tricky One".
Julia Pagel had a big decision to make: What name should she give her baby? Last name, that is. (Submitted by Julia Pagel)
Listen20:43

When it was time to name her baby, CBC Radio producer Julia Pagel was surprised by how much she cared about the baby's name. The last name, that is.

"Now that many women are keeping their own names, doesn't it make sense that they're represented in the names of their children too?" she wondered.

After batting this issue around for most of her pregnancy, Julia and her husband Stefan Banjevic struggled to come to a solution.

"I just feel like there's this really strong association with who I am and this name," she told Stefan.

The symbol of that makes my skin crawl.- Julia Pagel

"So the idea of having a child, everything that I am being in this person, and then it just being your last name on this body that I've literally grown inside my body … it just doesn't seem okay to me."

"For you, your last name is political," Stefan argued.

Stefan sees it more as an issue of familial connection than of gender politics. He's been able to trace his family ancestry back generations because of his last name, and says it would be a shame to have it end with him.

On the other hand, Julia can't stomach the fact that all the women in her family have had to give up a part of their identity when they became mothers.

"The symbol of that makes my skin crawl," Julia said.

The options

At an impasse, Julia and Stefan decided to ask around. Surely some of the thirty-something parents they knew could shed some light on their dilemma?

"It's a tricky one. It's one that we gave a lot of thought to," Julia's friend Cate Ahrens, said.

"I consider myself a good problem solver, but this is just one of those things I don't really like any of the options."

She and her husband entertained the idea of their son, Clayton, having a single last name - hers. But they reconsidered at the thought of their family opposing. In the end, they settled on giving their son Dave's last name. Cate's last name would be Clayton's middle name.

"I just didn't feel that strongly in that decision to take that on," Cate explained. Until it was her part of the name that kept getting cut off in the interest of space.

"It bugs me. It still bugs me," she said.  

Cate Ahrens with her husband Dave Campanella and their son Clayton Campanella. It bugs Cate that her last name is the one that gets cut for space. (Submitted by Cate Ahrens)

Anh-Thi Tang always knew she wanted her son to take her last name.

Even though Anh-Thi was raised by solely by her mom, she had her father's last name. When she got older, her mom asked her to change it to Tang.

"Why should your father have any claim on you when I'm the one that raised you all these years?" she asked.

Anh-Thi changed her last name, and she wanted her son to have that name too. Only that name.

"It isn't about logic, it's about emotion," her husband argued. He could see her point, but he still wanted to be part of his child's name.

After much back and forth, they compromised on Weston Tang. Weston is her husband's last name, and Tang is hers.

Anh-Thi Tang and her baby Weston Tang. Anh-Thi always knew she wanted her son to have only her last name. (Submitted by Anh-Thi Tang)

Another option, Julia found, was amalgamation. Martha Solomon and her husband Wilson Bell combined their last names into Belomon for their children.

For Martha, it was really about not having a singular identity as a family. The idea of being called "the so-and-sos" made her uncomfortable.

"Becoming subsumed in that family identity, especially for heterosexual women, can feel very suffocating," she explained.

As for Julia and Stefan, it wasn't until they were filling out the form after the birth of their baby boy that they came to a decision: Pagel-Banjevic.

Click 'listen' above to hear Julia Pagel's documentary "The Tricky One."

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