The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Husband is upset that daughter has dropped his last name

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
3 min

Dear Carolyn: When my husband and I married, I kept my last name, and when we had children, we simply gave them both our last names, with my last name in the middle and his last.

My son, who is older, basically has dropped the middle name and just uses his dad’s last name, which is fine with me, but my daughter, who is in high school, has now decided to drop her dad’s last name and use mine. She says she likes it better.

For context, she has a strong feminist streak, and although I have not encouraged her to do this, I don’t have a problem with it either. I feel as if it’s her choice.

Her dad, however, feels as though it is a rejection of him and his family. Her view is that she likes the sound of my last name better, and it’s a way of sticking it to the patriarchy. And although I am secretly proud and honored by her gumption, I also am trying to keep the peace between her and her dad.

I think, in the end, her dad is going to have to learn to suck it up and deal, but is there any way to broker some peace here? He is really upset, and she dismisses it as toxic masculinity. For what it’s worth, he is pretty progressive when it comes to women’s rights, but he is also from a deeply paternalistic culture, so I am sure it’s an adjustment for him.

— What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?: Please point out to him that you, thanks to your own experience in a paternalistic culture, didn’t have to make any adjustment to being erased. Because you’re so darn used to it.

As gratifying as it is to make a political issue of this, though, it’s already been needlessly politicized. What both of your children are doing is normal kid stuff. They are figuring themselves out and making choices that are beyond the reach of their parents’ preferences, ideologies, corrective measures and long-cherished visions. You’re shrugging, your husband is smarting, yes, but you’re both trees falling in a forest debating how loud you each were.

Your husband will have to suck it up and deal in the end, because that’s the end of all these child-grows-up-and-makes-own-choices stories. Good, bad, neutral. And your daughter is sending him that message through her “strong feminist streak,” because, like almost every child, she is a certifiable genius at knowing how best to deliver that message to each parent at maximum velocity.

Not that her views are for show; they can be real and valid and still be deployed strategically, developmentally, to differentiate herself from her parents.

So if he’s receptive to words that are more useful than reassuring, feel free to tell your husband that, in so valuing his name as a symbol of himself and family, he may have handed his daughter the means by which she could declare her independence — and if he wants to keep her as close to him as possible, his smartest move is to drop the issue completely and trust his love and authority to exist independently of their trappings.

If he’s not, then stick to making sympathetic sounds — “This is hard for you, I know” — or to reminding him that it’s an accomplishment, yours and his, to raise a child with her own beliefs and the strength to stand up for them. Or urge him to model maturity and leadership by being patient in his responses to her. Ahem. Power struggles and peacemaking rarely bring power or peace.