I love your blog and how fairly you weigh everyone's options. I have been thinking of writing in with our surname problem for a while and am curious to see if you have any suggestions.
So, let me give you the basics first. I'm Holly Sch1ltz (rhymes with stilts) and my husband is V1gnesh "Vic" Vij@y@kumar (pronounced Vih-jai-yah-koo-mar--emphasis on the jai and mar syllables). We've been married for 2.5 year and I still have my maiden name.
I like my name and will probably just keep it, but I also have no problem changing my name for the sake of our family having a common name (husband included--we could be the so-and-so's or the so-and-so family). I haven't changed it yet because we don't have a clear choice for a family name. Vic doesn't care at all about what name I keep as a surname and has joked w/ his dad about giving all future kids my name. We've talked about it with them and though I'm sure they'd prefer us to keep with tradition, they aren't very forthcoming with opinions. So, the decision is ultimately ours without fear of repercussions.
The problem lies in his family's South Indian naming tradition. There is no family surname. Once a man (Firstname Lastname) marries, his wife and kids all take Firstname as their surname (Wife Firstname, Kid #1 Firstname, etc.) and the man will always have a different last name. Boys then keep their dad's first name (pass on their own first to their kids) and it's assumed that girls will take on their husband's first name. So, Vij@y@kum@r is my father-in-law's first name. So, I'd become Holly V1gnesh if we followed tradition (as would our kids) and Vic's name would stay the same. We've been told that you can trace family lineage way back to a certain priest's family that had a surname that is very long but this hasn't been used for generations and wouldn't really tie us to his family at all.
The actual question is what last name do we give our future kids?
- Option 1: We follow tradition and give them my husband's Indian first name, V1gnesh, and I take that name on as well. In this scenario, my husband would have a different last name than the rest of the family.
- Option 2: We give them V1gnesh as a surname and Vic and I retain our respective "maiden" names. If I change my name, I'd prefer that my whole family ends up with the same last name, as a group. We will probably always live where this naming tradition is not practiced and would forever have to explain it, so wouldn't it just be easier to have different last names than to go through the whole schpeal any time someone asks?
- Option 3: We ditch that naming tradition and take up a family surname, Vic's last name. His cousins plan to do this (different last name) and his sister already has. But, Vic doesn't really want to pass on Vij@y@kum@r since hardly anyone can pronounce it and there's a lot of rhyming potential for kids in those first three syllables.
- Option 4: We hyphenate. Hyphenating seems like a nightmare, this is not an actual option.
- Option 5: Friends have suggested we all make up a new name using an anagram of both of our last names, but that seems like trouble with all of the strange consonants: s_c_h_i_l_t_z_v_i_j_a_y_a_k_u_m_a_r
- Option 6: We shorten Vic's last name to Kumar. He's brought it up a couple of times in the 100's of times we've had this same conversation. It's a more common name than his last name.
- Option 7: We give them my last name. I do feel a little weird about this. My family has a patriarchal naming system, my in-laws may be moving back to India in the next few years, and Vic doesn't care to teach our kids to speak Tamil or Hindi, so I don't want to cut out such a strong family tie if I'm not adamant about my name being passed on in the first place.
We plan to name our kids American names rather than Indian names--resulting in names that will be radically different than the list of surnames of men in the family before them. They can carry on the South Indian naming tradition if they want, but we figured the pattern would be broken our generation or the next. How bad would it be to make up a new name? Are there any identity issues involved with kids having different last names than both parents? Our kids will be ours and neither of us has strong feelings about them representing our family through surnames, but I'm concerned about how they'll feel growing up. Do you have any other options you'd recommend?
Thanks for any advice you could send our way!
My favorite option is to use the names from your husband's side of the family, combined with the surname traditions from your side of the family and the culture in which you live. That is, all of you become the Vij@y@kumars---or the Kumars, as your husband prefers. This seems like the best compromise for a complicated issue: it keeps a part from each side of the family while also giving you a unified family surname.
Another possibility is to give all the children V1gnesh (the name that would be their surname in South India) as a middle name or second middle name. Then they would have their complete South Indian names, but with another surname you would all take (Kumar, perhaps) tacked onto the end for ease of usage in your culture and for unity of family surname. Perhaps your original surname could be the first middle name, for ultimate inclusiveness.
If you were going to combine the names, I don't think I'd try to use all the letters. I'd use Schi1tz-Kumar to hyphenate, or something like Schilmar to combine.
As for the other questions (is it a problem to make up a new surname, are there identity issues involved in having an assortment of surnames in a family), those fall outside my area of experience. I suspect you will get anecdotes from across the entire spectrum, from "Everyone in our family had a different surname and I never even noticed, and no one else ever had a moment's confusion about it" to "I had a different surname from my mom and step-dad and it always made me feel excluded."
So many other issues contribute to such feelings: the cultural norms of the area the family lives in, whether there are other reasons a child might feel the surnames are symbolic of family cohesiveness, the personality of the particular child, etc. It seems like in this case the explanation of the issues involved in choosing a surname (and the exposure to the various surname systems of both sides of the family, as well as living in a culture where many families have assorted surnames) would be enough to make any solution untraumatic to a child.