Why do (don’t go there) most children(don’t go there) still end up with (don’t go there, don’t go there, don’t go there!) their father’s surname?
Let’s first acknowledge the existence of and look past the invisible electric fences, rumble strips of social convention and cattle prods of ”please don’t question our convenient answers because behind them is a scary place we don’t want to see”, and ask why, in 2010, most children in Australia (it’s impossible to find the figures but let’s have a conservative stab and say 95 per cent) are still given their father’s surname?
I asked women who never even considered changing their own surnames, but whose children ended up with the father’s surname, with little or no discussion in 95 per cent of cases.
Answer: ”It’s just traditional.”
”But you’re not married/re-married/work full-time/are assertive. That’s not traditional.”
Answer: ”It’s convention.”
”But you’ve kept your own name. That’s not conventional.”
Answer: ”It would upset his parents.”
”What kind of people would be upset by their adult offspring and partner making an informed choice to promote equality, or just because they wanted to? How healthy is it to conform to someone else’s medieval preferences and not do what you want?”
Answer: ”I didn’t really care.”
”Why? You cared deeply about the colour of the napkins at the wedding, the colour you painted the house and keeping your own name. Why didn’t you care about this?”
Answer: ”We didn’t even have the discussion.”
Answer: ”We had the discussion.”
”So that’s enough? How deep did the discussion actually go?”
Answer: ”Neither of us really cared.”
Well, why, at the very least, didn’t 50 per cent of the kids whose parents said ”neither of us cared” end up with the maternal surname, a hyphenated one or a hybrid? Not 95 per cent paternal.
Answer: ”I hate hyphenated and hybrids.”
”Well, what about the maternal?”
Answer: ”Both of us were adamant we wanted the baby to have our surname. But in the end (INSERT EASILY DISMANTLED REASON HERE) we used his surname.”
Here’s one I heard: the deal was the children got his surname but had to barrack for her football team. And can I ask those fathers who ”didn’t care either way” why they got their way in the end? Occasionally women say: ”My partner is very conservative.” Really? Not according to the porn history on his laptop. Or better still, without even realising, they said: ”I didn’t want to have the argument.” There. Stop there. You just said it. You knew there’d be an argument. Why didn’t you want to have that one? The surname is extremely important – hence the prevalence of the father’s surname in our society.
But the real issue is the denial, the self-delusion, the mutually accepted ”don’t go there” zones that inform the decision and the reluctance to rationally discuss it in depth. Discuss what we are still getting out of this primitive decision – the paternal surname providing proof, or illusion, of paternity and the hope of protection for our progeny and the genes we are hitching our wagon to?
Why are so many people still clinging to this convention in this day and age of divorce and DNA? A convention that insidiously reinforces power, control and ownership.
It’s a patriarchal minefield we deny even exists. Despite so much social change, this is a rusty nut that will not budge. And don’t be fooled by being fobbed off with ”it’s not important”. It is. Wait for the feedback from this column. Readers will doubtless attempt to undermine the importance of the issue, then me personally. They’ll announce their ”special circumstances”. Declare that it ended up going paternal because his name sounded better, his family name was dying out, it was important to his family, my surname is in the middle, etc.
They’ll offer examples of how other people are doing something else. But not them.