Tell Me About It

My husband won’t let our child carry both our surnames on the birth cert

My mother-in-law has swayed him to break our deal that the child have both our names

PROBLEM: I’m writing to discuss something that might seem relatively minor to other people. Essentially when I got married, I didn’t take my husband’s name, keeping my own surname. There was no issue with this. I’m in my 30s, enjoy a good reputation in my profession and it went without saying that I wouldn’t be changing my name.

I am now eight months pregnant. We discussed naming our daughter and had agreed that on her birth cert she would have both my and my husband’s surname. Again, this was all agreed upon.

The issue arose, however, when my husband mentioned to his mother what the name of our daughter would be. She is highly conservative (she didn’t speak to me for a month when she discovered I earn more than her son) and she was apoplectic. She called me and said all her other daughters-in-law (my husband is from a family of several sons) “toed the line” and changed their name. She said that there was absolutely no way my daughter was having my surname as well as her son’s surname on the birth cert.

What has happened to my lovely, open-minded husband?

My husband has now changed his mind and says the same. He says it’s an important tradition. What upsets me is that we agreed something as a married couple and, after interference from his family, he has done an about-face on something we had discussed. He is now saying there is absolutely no compromise on the matter.

What has happened to my lovely, open-minded husband? I even overheard them speaking in our kitchen; his mother said when I’m in hospital after giving birth, he could register the baby’s name without me, if he has my PPS number. I checked this with the Registrar of Births and, unbelievably, it is true. This is very important to me. I am an only child and my unusual family name ends with me. But I’m exhausted. I’ve had a very difficult pregnancy and feel very alone on this.

My husband and his family tell me it’s just a name and I’m being silly.

ADVICE: You are not being silly. Naming is very important to us (as you can see from your mother-in-law’s response) and you have equal rights to your husband regarding your children’s names. Of course, it is hard to continue pressing your position when you are so run down and vulnerable, but this is a matter of principle that demands your attention.

As an only child the continuation of the name rests with you and it would seem fair and logical for you to exercise this possibility. However, even if the continuation of the family name was not in question, the right of naming still rests equally with you and your husband. It seems you have been outnumbered and hijacked by the pressure your mother-in-law has exerted. She has previous experience of success with her other daughters-in-law but you have won at least one battle with holding on to your own name, so there are possibilities here. It may be that your sisters-in-law either did not mind or wanted to change their names (as is their right) but that does not mean they might not be sympathetic to your position.

I wonder if you could host some kind of conversation with them where you could garner support – they will have knowledge of your mother-in-law and the politics of the family and may be able to help you.

Asking him to choose between you and his mother may only lead to further conflict and angst. Have faith that you and he can work this out

It is worth considering why your mother-in-law is taking such a strong position – what is she afraid of? Is she afraid her son will be emasculated by a partner who earns more than him or that he will lose some of his authority and position if he is not in charge of the family name?

Your husband may have picked up (unconsciously) some of this fear and is now demanding that his position take priority. This fear may need to be addressed before he is able to speak reasonably with you. Can you ask, and ask again, why this is so important to him? Usually by asking (without malice) you can uncover the truth of the situation and then deal with the real issues, which may not be the ones on the table. The bulk of your focus needs to be on your husband, but asking him to choose between you and his mother may only lead to further conflict and angst. Have faith that you and he can work this out and demonstrate the strength of your family unit.

She is trying to keep her son close by creating a division with you, but ultimately this will not work

There is also the possibility that your mother-in-law has set herself up in opposition to you in terms of importance in your husband’s life. The fact you are about to have a baby and consolidate yourselves as a nuclear family may be threatening to her previous position as the most important person in his life. She may not even be aware that this is going on, but attacking her is likely to raise her opposition. Compassion may be a more appropriate and successful approach. She is trying to keep her son close by creating a division with you, but ultimately this will not work – when we love someone we do not become possessive, we want what is best for them, and she is trying to hold on out of fear that she will lose her son.

Together with your husband, you can begin to show her that this is not true, your child will have both your names and will be rich in love, heritage and family.