Something you need to think about when you're pregnant is that it's not just the first and middle names you have to think about nowadays.
At two years of age, my parents separated. Years later, Mum remarried but kept my dad’s surname and has somewhat never let it go. It’s so heavily entrenched in her identify I think it would actually be hard for her to change it again.
I remember naively asking her why she didn’t just change it, her response was simply, ‘because of you’. I always put it down to some weird mum thing and never quite understood what she meant – well, not until my wife and I were having our first child together.
Like almost 35% of other Australians, we were due to have our first child before we got married. And the more I look into this, it’s a trend that’s been ascending year-on-year since 1971 when only 7.4% of babies were born ‘out of wedlock’.
Anyway, we were engaged, but the wedding was just this big expensive ‘thing’ that seemed like the lesser priority at the time. We also faced other challenges relating to my wife’s history of breast cancer, but that’s a story for another time.
Creating the new name
Something you need to think about when you’re pregnant is that it’s not just the first and middle names you have to think about nowadays.
I can’t recall the exact time we spoke about it (typical new dad move), but I do remember my wife being quite passionate about her surname when we started talking about what to call our daughter. Not in a forceful way, it was more of a ‘let’s talk about it’ kind of passion – I kind of liked it.
As you’re reading this, you might be thinking – ‘I can see where this is going…she wears the pants in this relationship’…and possibly even that ‘in most cases isn’t the baby meant to take on the Dad’s surname at birth’?
This is such a big conversation for new parents that there is a book (a real book!) – How to Choose Your Baby’s Last Name: A Handbook for New Parents.
We’re not a traditionalist-type of couple by any stretch of the imagination, but after what seemed like no time at all, we were both super comfortable in agreeing that we would combine our surnames.
Our daughter was a combination of both of us, so why couldn’t her surname be the same? Whilst in Australia there are some names you can’t choose for legal reasons, parents effectively have free reign over what their kids are called – first name and surname.
Think about the first few cool names that come to mind, because that’s exactly what I did! Anyone else think of Homer Simpson and Max Power?
Now to what we did. My surname was Ferguson-Hill, my wife’s was Collier, so we grabbed a bottle of wine and decided to create Collier-Hill. Trying to come up with anything other than that just seemed forced – it just didn’t fit. I also still can’t work out if it sounds like a fancy law firm or a pack of cigarette, but it works.
Weirdly enough, Swinburne University research from 2017 found 3 per cent of parents had created a new surname for their child that the parents didn’t share.
Naturally, the next question that arose would hit me like a freight train, would the combined surname work for me?
Long story short, my wife and I also combined our surnames. Largely due to the deep desire to be a ‘family’, and effectively be the same.
Whilst we were comfortable with combining surnames, I’ll admit it felt pretty weird knowing that once we got married I’d have to change it myself. In fact, talking about it and actually doing it’s a whole different ball game.
I was born ‘Ferguson’, and only hyphenated ‘Hill’ in 2014 because of the love I had for my stepdad. I had a deep, warm determination to have the same surname as my wife and kids, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was caught in the middle of no-mans-land. Collier-Hill seemed so natural for my kids, but was it right for me?
If anyone else is in the same boat, I can tell you from experience it’s not a great feeling writing a different name to your child on any documentation. Even though you’re blood-related, there’s still something ‘different’ about you.
I hated that.
The new me
When we finally got married and combined surnames ourselves, I remember a good mate of mine saying at the time saying, “So what do I call you now?”. I won’t reveal what he suggested because I’d walked right into a great dad-joke trap but it rhymes with brick and head….thanks mate.
My nickname and original identity were practically gone. By no stretch of the imagination was I trying to let go of my original surname, there was just something more important now.
For dads in a similar situation, please try to let go of any doubt or confusion about changing your name. It’s hard, I get it (our wives go through it without half the drama we put on). Just because you might change or add to your name doesn’t change who you are. In fact, any change is more likely to represent the ‘new you’ as a parent.
You can still have the same nickname, you can have your old email address forwarded onto the one, and if I’m honest, a lot of people will associate you with your first name and not your last anyway. If you’re that hung up about it, you may as well go full-Prince and give yourself a symbol or single word as a name.
I have a few tattoo’s, and I plan to add another as a reference to my original surname. Its who I am. It’s also a way I feel that I can show just how much it still means to me. ‘Ferguson’ is still a huge part of my identity, but I couldn’t be prouder to be a ‘Collier-Hill’ …because of my kids.