Tailor-made surnames are a growing trend as families seek a 'united brand'

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"Have you thought about names?"

It's a question we're all asked a thousand times when we're pregnant, but naming a baby is more complicated than ever before. Now, parents aren't just thinking about a first and a middle name, they also need to decide what surname their baby will have. 

Gone are the days when babies were automatically given their dad's names. And now there is a new trend emerging: inventing a new name – either just for the baby, or for the entire family.

B Starbright and her partner Finn decided to create a new surname for themselves and their two daughters Indigo and Nixie Pixie when their youngest was born. 

"We aren't married and don't have a particular connection to our birth surnames so once our family was complete we thought we'd start our own legacy with a family name that represented our little tribe," B says. "We chose Starbright because it holds special significance for our family."

B, who also changed her first name, says the couple had talked it over for years before deciding to take the plunge. 

"We decided together," she says. "When Nixie Pixie came along we knew it was the right time for us. Most of my friends still belligerently refer to me by my former name. My parents and family still continue to call me by my birth name, and the conversation around why we changed our names is generally avoided by both our families!"

The biggest challenge for the Starbrights has been the paperwork.

"Changing everything after you receive new birth certificates is so time consuming!" she says. "And when buying and selling property, you need to jump through hoops to prove you are one and the same person."

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But B says the change has been more than worth it.

"We love that we've all got the same name!" she says. "And it's one we love. People always ask about our name and they love to hear the story of how we became the Starbrights. Plus, it's pretty unique."

Miranda* says she and her partner Toby* decided to create a new surname for their whole family when they had their first baby.

"Toby's family were what you could call, at best, dysfunctional, and he had a very unhappy childhood," says Miranda. "When we found out I was pregnant, we decided to get married but he was always adamant that our child would have my name because he didn't want her to be associated with his family in any way. I wanted us to move forward together as a family unit, with a shared name, so I suggested changing our name to something individual."

Miranda says some friends thought their actions were over the top, but those close to them understood.

"It was my brother who came up with the idea of choosing a surname from a lucky draw," she says. "So we tipped his kids' colouring pencils into a bucket and pulled out a colour. And now, that's our surname."

Miranda says the change was the right thing for her family.

"We've never regretted it," she says. "It's great being our own family unit. And once you have children you meet different people through childcare and school, so most of our friends now don't even know our surname was something we selected out of a pencil box! Our kids don't care, because to them it's just their name."

Mark McCrindle of McCrindle Research says the invention of a new surname is a growing trend in Australia, with thousands of people making the change annually.

"It's been a trend that we've seen, moving away from the traditional approach of a woman taking her husband's name when they marry," he says. "But a critical decision-making fixture is when children come along and couples really start to think the issue through. If each partner has maintained their own surname, they often think about wanting to have the same name as their kids and creating a cohesive family unit with a single name."

Mark says a new name can create a cohesive family identity for those bucking tradition. 

"The tradition of getting married, where she takes his surname and the kids all have the same surname, would achieve that cohesive single name," he says. "The problem in these enlightened times, however, is that it means she has to adopt his surname and we're seeing couples increasingly moving away from that. But people still want to have a shared family identity."

Mark says the benefits of having a shared name are that feeling of a "united brand" for the family, and simplicity when engaging as a family with the public, such as at school. 

"It can also give the family a sense of ownership," Mark says. "It's not just history or heritage. It's something we own and shape and everyone's had input into the decision."

Mark says there can be significant downsides, which is why the choice to create a new family surname isn't more popular. 

"There is that element of losing your existing identity a little bit – like you're giving up who you were," he says. "With people's increased interest in family trees and genealogy, it can be hard to give up your link to the past.

"Administration can be prohibitively difficult too," says Mark. "It's no longer just changing birth certificates, passports and drivers' licences – it's also social media accounts and email addresses – the whole digital footprint. It's a lot to take on in the first instance, and then there is ongoing admin for the rest of your life."

Mark says those thinking about making the change should think long and hard about their decision before taking the plunge, saying it's important to decide if this is what you really want.

"It's a lot of work," he says. "But certainly, many people have gone down this path and been very happy with the outcome.

*Names were changed to protect privacy.