The question, in a nutshell

Son Owen and I were on a donut run this morning when I told him his babysitter, Molly, was coming over later. “Which Molly?”  he asked. (He has a cousin named Molly, too.) “Molly Smith,” I replied “Why is her name Molly Smith?” he asked.

An answer like, “because of the patrilineal traditions that prevail in 21st century Western society,” was not going to go down with a three-year-old. But how to boil down to his level the question that is the crux of this whole blog endeavor? I started to say, “that’s her dad’s name,” but realized that would simply reinforce those patriarchal traditions that we are trying to balance with our family name choice and me with this blog.

“That’s what her parents decided,” I answered. But my belief is that few parents DO make an active decision about their children’s surname in favor of doing the easy and expected. This 2000 Salon.com article by Carol Lloyd explores the question, but a solid answer is still elusive.

Owen, I’ll have to get back to you on that. Or maybe, if we succeed in teaching the lesson, you’ll be asking it of yourself when it’s your time to be a dad.

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