The Game of the Name: How Gay Dads Are Changing Naming Traditions

In his July 5 piece “Re-Thinking the Gay Father Name Game,” our blogger Ian Colvin shared the story of how he and his husband arrived at their naming decision. Ian took his husband’s last name; in return, they agreed that the kids would call Ian “daddy.” (Rather than, say, papa.) Names have power. And for Ian, the desire to be called daddy was more powerful than the desire to retain his own last name.


Plenty of couples arrive at similar organic solutions. Their preferences are clear and happen to align. Maybe they agree that it feels more natural to choose one last name. Perhaps they like the symbolism that hyphenated surnames suggest two united halves. And they might see no need to decide on two different “dad” terms. (If we hear the word, we’ll both turn!)

In other cases, it’s not so easy. Our readers chimed in with social media comments on Ian’s story, sharing their own methods for making certain “name game” decisions. And some of their ideas were so clever and thoughtful that we simply had to share. Here are some of the best we received from readers – though we won’t name any names!

START FRESH. Rather than choose one or add a hyphen, some couples decided to create an entirely new last name to share. They combined elements of both last names to create a portmanteau, or picked something similarly meaningful. (Say, a name associated with a first date.) Others looked to their child for inspiration – literally. If adopting a child, the parents changed their name to match his or hers.

CONSIDER THE END POINT. No one likes to be last in line. (Just ask your kid.) If you have one or more heterosexual brothers, each has the potential to pass along the clan’s last name. But if your partner is an only child or has no straight bros – well, this might be the only chance he has to keep that family name alive. Consider giving that gift. If nothing else, you’ll earn some serious in-law points.

BE THE MIDDLEMAN. Not to sound superficial, but some first-last name combos just flow better together. If you can’t help admitting that your partner’s last name is a bit more ear pleasing, give your child your middle name. Don’t hyphenate, so your child has the option to take it out just when it seems to fit the occasion. You know, like your pair of skinny jeans.

LET YOUR CHILD CHOOSE. Father is a title. “Dad,” “daddy,” “pop” and the rest? They’re nicknames, really. And when you think about it, giving yourself a nickname is always mildly embarrassing. (Remember your college date with “Big Will”? Enough said.) Just call each other dad. It might get confusing at first, but your child will hear the other variations all around them – and eventually, they’ll organically assign you the terms of endearment you’ve earned.

LOOK TO DEAR OLD(ER) DAD. What do you call your father? (Occasional four-letter words aside.) Does your partner call his something different? If you use “dad” and he uses “pop,” have your kids follow suit with you two. Let’s face it: we all turn into our parents at some point, anyway. This can be an especially easy solution if one side of the family prefers more culturally aligned terms of endearment, like Spanish “papi” or Scandinavian “pappa.”

KEEP IT CLOSE. Last names don’t just help you fill out paperwork. They’re about forming bonds. Whose side of the family lives nearby? Which “last name” do you see more often? Sure, you love your last name – but if your kin lives across the country while your partner’s live down the street, with which crew is their greatest potential for your child to form a strong, inclusive bond? Exactly. Remember, this is about your child feeling part of a family – not you feeling like you won.

GO FIRST. Does one of you have a family name that can double as a first name? “Casey,” “Barry,” and “Bryant,” all sound just as well coming first as second. If your partner’s surname isn’t as, ahem, versatile, let it continue to play its position.

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