Even before I thought about what it would be like to be married, I thought about what it would be like to take a spouse’s last name. And I vetoed it.
My mother is the only sister of two brothers. Collectively they produced ten cousins–eight have the same last name and two don’t (me and my brother). It’s a slightly strange feeling to hear people talk about “The Coe Family” and feel like they’re talking about me and they aren’t… or to see that block of addresses in a family group email that end in Coe, with a couple of McConnells stuck in like interlopers. But my mom tells me she was happy to take my dad’s last name. An aunt told me she was thrilled to get rid of hers after she married, since it only reminded her a father she didn’t like.
I do like my father and I’m happy to have his last name, although it doesn’t exactly come with a dynasty. My Grandpa McConnell never really knew his father. My dad was 58 before he learned his grandfather’s first name. So a man who is a stranger to us all marked generations with his last name. I can buy a pillow with my “family crest” stitched on it, but a truer representation than that noble stag on the shield would be the hollow outline of a bartender in Laramie, Wyoming separated by thick lines from an unmarried young woman and the baby neither of them raised.
Deservedly or not, a last name denotes lineage. When it’s an obviously ethnic last name, it denotes that as well. “That’s a good Irish name,” is a thing I’ve heard all my life. My first and last names are Irish-y, and if you follow select branches on my family tree back far enough, one of them will get to the Emerald Isle, but stick to less distant branches and you quickly end up in a number of Midwestern farms populated by recent immigrants from Scotland and Russia.
If you ask me to define myself based on place, I’ll tell you I’m a Californian, and more specifically an Angeleno. Honestly, being a Californian kind of means more to me than being a McConnell. But when I get married, my last name isn’t going anywhere, because it’s my name. My future wife and I have never even talked about taking the other’s last name. My Irish-American last name would hang strangely on my Mexican-American future wife and vice versa. Hyphenate them? Too long. Neither of us want to bubble in 19 characters on the “last name” line of a form.
So what kind of last name legacy will we stamp on our next generation? Maybe just “TBD.”