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Is it wrong for a dad to want to pass on his surname?

A man is sad because he wants his children to have his surname. He wants it so much that he wrote an article in the Telegraph about it. I’m not sure this is the traditional way to solve an argument with a loved one, but if that’s what we’re doing now then I’d love a column in which I can explain to my Mum why she’s wrong about which way the knives go up in the dishwasher.

Anyway. He is sad because traditionally kids take the name of the guy in a relationship (and because traditionally of course relationships consist of one man, one woman, some kids and a dog called ‘Bunty’), yet because of the rapid erosion of patriarchy, and the towering inferno of feminist rage that is currently decimating our society, he has NOTHING LEFT TO CALL HIS OWN NOW. All he’s asking is to give his kids his surname. Please will we just let him have this one little thing that’s really important? Is it too much to ask? IS IT?

Let’s explore.

No, it’s not too much to ask to want your children to have your surname. That’s a lovely thing to want, and I can understand why you want it. Names are quite important to us, and culturally your name carries with it all your years of ancestry and etcetera etcetera. No one is a shit if they want their kids to have their name.

But (and this is one of those massive ‘BUT’s that if you saw it hurtling towards planet Earth would cause you to summon Bruce Willis and his giant space drills), there’s a big difference between wanting something and feeling like you’re entitled to something.

The gentleman who wrote the article explains that although he wouldn’t insist on his wife taking his surname:

“when it comes to my kids, it’s somehow different, like there’s a powerful, natural urge to force my name upon my children. I’m not sure what it is, but somehow it feels like my right – one of my only rights – as a man. I mean, I don’t ask for much. I’m a really good dad, much better than those dads from years ago, and I keep quiet, stay out of trouble, and do my share of the washing up.

“Can’t I keep this one thing? Just this one tiny shred of normality?”

Uh oh.

I wanted to pick this article apart piece by piece, and explain to the author -Tom Fordy – why he’s so clearly not the modern man he thinks. But I have other things to do and there is something dodgy in almost every single sentence, so let’s just examine that one tiny passage.

“there’s a powerful, natural urge to force my name upon my children.”

Slightly awkward use of the word ‘force’ there, but I get what you mean. We live in a society which tells us that sharing a surname means sharing a bond (blood’s thicker than water and all that) and so this ‘urge’ is fairly easily explained.

“somehow it feels like my right…”

Oops. You sound confused, but it’s actually very simple. It feels like your right because for all your life someone has told you that it is your right. Society has led you to believe that passing your (male) surname onto your children is the only possible way to name your children. That’s why it feels like it’s your right.

The way you can tell if this is a genuine right or just another of patriarchy’s cruel and vicious tricks is to test whether the same is true of your wife: does she also have this right? Or, in exercising your ‘right’, are you going to have to trample over someone else’s ‘right’ to pass their surname down? Yes? OK. Not a real right then. That was easy.

“one of my only rights – as a man.”

Jesus fuck, someone get this guy a lawyer. If the ability to name his children is one of his only rights as a man, then he must be in some serious trouble. I cannot imagine how he managed to write this column from the prison in which his wife keeps him, where she denies him any of the rights and freedoms that other humans enjoy.

Alternatively, perhaps this isn’t ‘one of his only rights’ as a man, and he’s employing that sneaky trick that children use when they’ve opened all their Christmas presents. Sitting in the middle of a sparkly, papery nest, watching one or two others open their final gifts, they burst into tears and wail: “Why do I NEVER get any PRESENTS!? THEY’VE all got presents! It’s NOT FAIR!”

“I don’t ask for much.”

I don’t know you, Tom Fordy: maybe you don’t. But given that you’ve mentioned patriarchy in your article, I hope you understand that part of what it does is give you a lot of shit without you ever having to ask for it. The patriarchy is not some system by which all the guys get together and conspire to keep all the good stuff for themselves: it’s more complicated than that. It’s a system whereby some people (even nice people like you) get more stuff in virtue of the fact that they fit a particular characteristic.

Patriarchy makes it so that you don’t need to ask: you get. And you get it so frequently and easily that the one time you feel like you’re not getting what you want, you are so powerfully horrified that you go and write a Telegraph article about it.

“I keep quiet, stay out of trouble, and do my share of the washing up.”

Well done on keeping quiet in the Telegraph. I often find that when I want to disappear out of sight or tiptoe away from things, the best way to do it is to hide on the website of one of the largest broadsheet newspapers in the UK.

Re: the washing up. Congrats! Have you ever in the entire history of your life heard a woman explain ‘I do my share of the washing up’ in a tone that implies she deserves a pat on the head or a biscuit? No? Ponder long and hard, my friend.

“Can’t I keep this one thing?”

This sentence implies, again, that everything this man has ever had has been cruelly ripped away from him. I don’t know who ripped it, because earlier in the article he makes reference to ‘feminism fighting hard for gender equality’ and even utters the phrase ‘right on, sister!’ I can’t believe he could be being sarcastic, so if he’s as supportive of gender equality as he claims to be, then the blame for this poor man’s downfall must be laid at someone else’s door. But whose? I guess it’s immaterial – the most important thing is to release this poor guy from the prison cell in which he has NO RIGHTS WHATSOEVER and get him a hot dinner and a birth certificate on which he can proudly scrawl his surname.

Look: I get that this article is almost certainly an elaborate troll, designed to wind up people like me. But behind it there’s a shimmer of an argument that I’ve seen time and again: I support feminism and everything, but do we really have to go this far? Do we really have to hurt men’s feelings in order to be equal? Because you’ve got all the shit you want now, women – we’re even doing the washing up! Do you really need to continue to crush us with your added surname-based demands, or can you let us sit here in this tiny patch of the glorious world we used to run, sucking our thumbs and passing on our lineage? It’s a bullshit argument because you fucking know that’s not how it is. We’re not horrible meanies punishing you for the sins of your patriarchal forefathers, and you are not the put-upon servants of our matriarchal revolution: you’re sad because you feel like something’s being taken away. You feel like the right to give your name to your children is being cruelly snatched from your fingers. But that right isn’t being snatched away: you never had that right in the first place. You just didn’t realise it.

Let’s move on to the final element, because it’s my favourite. Having spent the article adding nods and nudges towards the fact that he understands the issues really, and he knows why the idea of children having their dad’s surname by default might be a teeny bit sexist, the author decides to pull out the big guns. Having demonstrated that he’s a modern man, that he supports feminism and understands the struggle for gender equality, he pleads in his most polite voice:

“Can’t I keep this one thing? Just this one tiny shred of normality?


Fuck this to pieces, I’m done.


  • RB says:

    Love the total rage flying through this one – and the URL!

    The Telegraph is catnip for this sort of shit. Men decrying some vaguely hypocritical aspect of feminism/something they object to, whilst whining like a snotty brat that THEY FEEL OPPRESSED WWAAAAHHHHHH

  • ValeryNorth says:

    Sorry, but this line: “one of those massive ‘BUT’s that if you saw it hurtling towards planet Earth would cause you to summon Bruce Willis and his giant space drills” somehow just conjured a Chuck Tingle kindle book cover image. Going to take a while to clear…

    Other than that, not a lot to add to the analysis above.

  • Vida says:

    *nods exhaustedly*

  • Tom says:

    While I get where you are coming from and I know that he’s wrong in the way he writes, the sense of entitlement etc. but why is it anymore right for a child to have its mother’s surname? Why is she anymore entitled to anything than he is?

    Maybe they have it right in Iceland.

    • Aj says:

      My grandmother always used to say “It is a wise child who knows who their father is”. I think the surname being passed down the paternal line was a nice offset to the fact that a father can never be certain he actually is the biological father.

      • Girl on the net says:

        I don’t think it is any more right for a child to have its mother’s surname. You misunderstand: I’m not saying ‘give kids their mother’s surname’, I’m saying ‘they shouldn’t automatically have their father’s’ – what’s best in each situation is going to depend on the individual family (see Ruby’s comment below). If we have a convention or rule about it, then it should be gender neutral, but I think my preference would be to have no rule and let families work it out for themselves.

        • TomOD says:

          That’s how it’s worked for me/us about to get married, asked whether I want her to take my name and I said it was entirely her decision and she has decided that she will – it kind of removes the question when it comes to kids surnames I suppose but I would have been equally happy with either way.

          I get that people’s sense of entitlement can be more of the issue than the thing they are asking for.

        • Aj says:

          Oh, I didn’t mean to suggest that you were suggesting that should be the rule. I was just saying how I understood the paternal line convention to have arisen in the first place. (Personally, I think it should with the more awesome name that gets passed on.)

  • Liz Hurst says:

    Great article!

    I remember when I got married and changed my own name, without having a clue that there was NOTHING WHATSOEVER that tells me I had to do that, it was purely a cultural habit we had got into over the centuries.

    Well, the moment I got divorced, I went back to my maiden name, and I have to tell you, it was such a hassle, I have now vowed that even if I am daft enough to get married again, I will NEVER change my name. Any bloke that can’t deal with that is not the kind of man I want in my life anyway.

    (I should point out here that my ex husband and I didn’t have any children, so thank goodness the situation above never came to pass…)

  • Broken kitten says:

    ‘Fuck this to pieces’ exactly my thoughts about this guy’s article! !!!!

    I changed my name when I was pregnant with my son, we didn’t get married I said no but I wanted to have the same name as my son. SO I CHANGED MY NAME! !! Can you imagine! Now I regret it so very much I wish I had been stronger and not felt the silent pressure to do it. Lesson learned. Erghhh *annoyed face *

    • Girl on the net says:

      Argh, that sucks. And yeah, I can see why you did though – silent pressure is horrible, and articles like the one this nob wrote only contributes to that weird feeling that you’re ‘wrong’ if you don’t do things in a certain way.

  • Mr Archer says:

    If this op-ed piece in The Telegraph is genuine, then this article is a good reason why his kids do not have his surname. He’s a selfish, self-centred bellend, who is not really in love with his family, but in love with his legacy, his own legend.

    Sorry, but it’s true.

    I imagine those who know him are rather embarrassed by the matter.

  • This whole name changing thing is a nightmare when you want to trace people, particularly girls. Trying to find girls you were at school with is almost impossible. My name is a pseudonym and so is my husband’s, Peter Stone, but in our real identities I have maintained my own name. I value it and wish I’d never taken my first husband’s (the abusive one) when we married. For some crazy reason I continued with his name for business reasons until I retired.

    So, I think it is a great idea not to change your name when you marry. Keep your own name. No one has the right to take that from you. However, what the hell do you do with children’s names. I have two friends. She was called Jessica Henry and he was Michael Jones. When they married they both changed their names to Henry-Jones and it works fine. They have a son and two daughters with that surname.

    But what happens when Sandra Henry-Jones marries Mark Godfrey-Winters. Should their children be named Anne Henry-Jones-Godfrey-Winters?

    Do you see the problem?

    I have no idea how this can get resolved and ancestry researchers in a hundred years time are going to have a nightmare trying to trace who is whose father and mother, especially if Sandra and Mark get divorced and the kids want to adopt the step-father or step-mother’s names.


    • As I understand it, in Spain, people have two surnames. No one changes their name when they marry. When parents have a child, the child gets one surname from each parent.

    • Girl on the net says:

      I see what you mean, but I actually think it’s a lot more simple than just double-barreling forever. The Spanish system mentioned is a good one. or merging names. Or just picking one or the other. We don’t generally consider the problems tracing ancestry through female lines (although it is hard!) because we’re so conditioned to accept that male surname is just the way it is. Not to mention the issue of illegitimate (hate that word argh) children, or unregistered births, or name changes for other reasons. Basically I think the answer lies with each individual family, and what works best for them.

    • Lee says:

      I don’t think that the convenience of hypothetical future genealogical researchers should be the overriding consideration for what people do with their lives here and now. Also, if you think that the mere custom of patrilineal nomenclature makes it easy to do that kind of research now, you don’t know anyone who does it.

  • So when Em and I got married, neither of us changed our name. Not much of a big issue for anyone, until we decided to have a child.

    The assumption in our redneck-hole-in-the-wall-Tory-loving English town would be that our son would have Em’s name, since she’s the “man in the relationship” (or so we were told..that’s a story for another day). They were totally echoing the troll-speak in this article.

    The assumptions were right, but certainly not for that reason.

    First, since I’m our son’s biological mother, we decided that we would use her surname to ‘balance’ things out, hopefully give her family a greater bond with him. But the bigger issue for me was that my surname is VERY ethnic sounding, which didn’t go over well in said redneck-hole-in-the-wall. Without getting into to much drama, I deffo got slack from just about anyone who asked me what my surname was. Em’s is very much not ethnic sounding. I figured our son would have fewer issues moving forward if he didn’t have my surname.

    The funny thing is, the town we moved back to in the US? Lots of folks have my surname.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Thank you SO MUCH for posting this Ruby – I got into a discussion last night with a guy on Twitter who was outraged that my blog post was ‘incomplete’. ‘But how,’ he asked plaintively ‘are people POSSIBLY going to decide on surnames if there’s no rule to go on?’ and your comment’s the perfect example of the fact that people just work it out based on what seems right to them at the time.

      Massively depressing that crappy Daily-Mail-reading nobends in an English town would be so tediously bigoted, but I guess unsurprising. I think also we become so used to having a set ‘rule’ about a thing that we forget that sometimes the answer is just ‘well we work it out like human beings, by having discussions and deciding what’s best’ because realistically anyone who is a parent is also a grown-up, and able to decide =) Thank you! x

  • Yingtai says:

    Thank you. Just thank you.

  • The first of my friends to get married was the hairy one. Just before he went off to the States to get hitched in the middle of Grand Central Station (it’s a long story), he wrote a blog post of his own on the subject of “It’s my name and you can’t have it!” – essentially a diatribe on marital norms, especially that of the assumption that a woman would take the man’s surname upon marrying him (and thus eliminating her unworthy line, carrying on the male surname with any children hence born). As a result, when they eventually did get married, he kept his own surname and she kept hers.

    The Americans living around them are finding this difficult to comprehend, apparently.

    As more and more of my friends are getting married, and now some of them pregnant (and some expecting next month JESUS CHRIST IT’S NEXT MONTH), I myself have been wondering about surnames. I’ve never thought about it before – not in any particularly serious concept. I still think of people as “Miss X” while they refer to themselves as “Mrs Y” (or vice versa), but thankfully for me and my “things never change” brain, most of my friends have chosen to go with a double-barrelled surname, or three separate names in one case, so I now know a Mrs X Y and a Mr and Mrs X-Y. And one Mrs and Mrs X Y, who are in a lesbian marriage but couldn’t decide which name to take, so it was a “fuck it, we’ll use both” situation.

    In a moment of idle curiosity, I recently asked one of my married-and-pregnant friends if she’d chosen a surname yet. She replied that she had, and that it was the dad’s surname, because that’s how it’s done. Strange thinking, since the hairy friend is her brother. Nevertheless, from her tone I could tell that that’s actually her choice.

    In Scotland, the tradition is to take your mother’s maiden name as a middle name (similar to the Spanish tradition). My Scottish grandmother has “Parker” as a middle name, even though her own maiden name and married name were different. I don’t know if that makes anything easier to trace, but I think it’s a sweet custom!

  • Hasini says:

    This is something I have thought long and hard about since I was young without it being knowingly from a feminist perspective. The way I’ve seen it is that I am a Sri Lankan born and living in England so the likelihood of me meeting a fellow Sri Lankan who I feel compatible enough to have children with is less likely than my parents who were born and lived a large proportion of their lives in Sri Lanka. So if I was to marry someone whose ethnicity is anything other than Sri Lankan then by this patriarchal tradition my children would have a non-Sri Lankan surname, thus would lose the heritage which I am so proud of.

    From this idea, I thought that if I married a non-Sri Lankan then I would want my children to have my name. At the same time, my partner’s heritage would also be a huge proportion of my children’s identity so I would want them to have my partner’s name too. Nonetheless, ‘Ranasinghe’ is a long-ass name to be double barrelled.

    Since in Sri Lankan culture there are family names that are carried on at the beginning of the name as well as the end – although parents chose not to pass on my father’s other family names onto me or my brother. One option that I feel strongly about having is for my name to be put as either the family forename or surname and my partner’s name to be the other. I also feel that if I get married, or have children (without marriage) I would want to legally change my name according to the same principle and would like it for my partner to do they same. For example, I would be ‘Ranasinghe Hasini Blank’ and my partner will be ‘Ranasinghe Alex Blank’ (or vice versa) and our children will follow the same pattern.

    Although this idea stemmed from a desire to keep my Sri Lankan heritage in my children’s identity as well as my own, I have come to feel even more strongly about this from more of a gender-equality manner. Now even if the person I choose to have children with is Sri Lankan I would still like to follow this idea.

    I think there is something incredibly beautiful in every member of the family sharing the same fore- and surname.

    We will be united as one.

  • In mild defence of the good Mr Fordy, he does recognise in the last two paragraphs that he isn’t actually entitled to pass on his name, he just wants to:

    In truth, it’s nothing to do with rights

  • Craving Coraline says:

    This, combined with the many sexy pieces you share with us, is one of the reasons why yours is one of my favourite blogs. Thank you for presenting yourself in your multidimensions, it’s genuinely thrilling.
    And yes I agree with every complaint you have uttered.

  • There are a couple of points rarely mentioned in relation to last names for our children. We can name them anything, they don’t have to take a parent’s name. A couple I know made up a lovely new “family name” for their children.
    Secondly the thing about taking a man’s name has its history in ownership.
    The male used to own his wife, his children and his slaves so they all took his name.

    I think the ownership of children, treating them as if they were possessions instead of people in their own right is rather unpleasant and can be related to some of the nastier things in our society.

    GOTN, as for his comments they are so beyond ridiculous I don’t know how you managed to write something so restrained!

  • This was really entertaining to read you slowly ripping apart that crap. But I’m still angry that I read his whining about how he has no rights.

  • Cheryl Kaye says:

    I have friends who when they got married picked a completely new surname for them both. He didn’t take hers, she didn’t take his. They picked a new one together…..i really like that idea.

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