Who's Your Daddy

Playing the gay name game

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For some reason, people think that naming a kid is a participation sport. Everyone feels like they can offer an opinion on the name you’ve chosen.

When we first gave Gus his name, one of Kelly’s friends thought it not only appropriate to express her distaste for it but she also offered alternatives.

We’re obviously not the only parents who have experienced this. What’s different for gay parents, however, is that there’s almost always a follow up question to, “What are you going name him?” It’s, “Whose last name does he get?”

For the most part, in America, children carry their father’s surname. Even when the mother has kept her “maiden” name, the kids end up with dear old dad’s moniker.

So what happens when you have two dads? Well, our kids are hyphenates; they have both of our surnames.  Kids with hyphenated last names weren’t all that unusual in California, but in Utah they seem to be few and far between.

Hyphenated last names can pose challenges. For example, our kids have a 15-letter last name. It’s not unusual for us to run out of room when filling out name boxes on forms, or for organizations to randomly drop letters. On their old insurance cards, my part of their name was cut simply to “Ka!”

And for some reason, people tend to decide which name they’re going to use. At swimming class the kids only had Kelly’s last name; at Greek class they only had mine.

Even though the name game can be a pain, it hasn’t ever really been a big deal for us. Kelly and I joke about it all the time: I tease him that when the boys grow up they are going to choose the unique ethnic name, and he counters they’ll definitely choose the easily pronounced “American” one.

But something occurred recently that has me thinking maybe we should make this whole name situation a bigger deal: Gus started playing youth hockey. (Butch, I know!)

He’s registered, of course, under his actual hyphenated surname. But when the team decided to have their names embroidered on their jerseys like the NHL players, we learned that to fit a name that long on a 10-year old’s back would require the letters to start and finish somewhere on the sleeves.

Gus – on his own – made the decision just to be “Katis.”

Now, I think part of his reasoning stems from the fact he digs sharing a first name with his grandfather.  Having the exact same name would be even cooler. I also believe that he thought about the aesthetics of a shorter versus longer name running across his back.

What concerns me is the possibility that he chose my portion of the name because he identifies more closely with my side of his family.  With a handful of notable exceptions, many of Kelly’s relatives are pretty much strangers to him.

It was very similar to my childhood: my dad’s relatives were an everyday part of my life, while most of my mom’s side might as well have been fictional characters. As an adult, I am still firmly ensconced in my dad’s side, but I’ve often wondered what I missed out on by not knowing my mom’s family. I don’t want my sons to have similar questions about Kelly’s side.

I’ve decided that the next time the boys’ surname appears on a certificate, report card or jersey, I’m going to insist it be their full name. They deserve it because whether they recognize it now or not, they’re carrying the names of two terrific families.

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