Hyphenated hell: Why my baby will be taking their mother's surname

Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy 

My partner and I are reasonably progressive and have chosen to pass on her family name to our kid. This came after reflecting on the complexities of my family name and the surprising spectrum of options available, one of which might even be our own idea. We've exhausted them all.

According to the ABC, 90 per cent of children born in Victoria, which is a progressive state, between 2005 and 2010 were given their dad's last name. In the 1970s and 1980s, some parents started giving their children hyphenated surnames or "double barrels". My two younger sisters and I were amongst them.

Liddington is my mum's surname, Cox is my dad's. We're happy we got both of them because we love both of them. But the inconvenience and controversy it created in our family means, as far as I'm concerned, we can take another step forward.

Everyone knows double-barrels are infuriated by every form they ever fill out. There's also an astonishingly surprising number of online booking systems that refuse to accept a hyphenated surname. It's on my credit card you muppets. Guess you don't want to get paid.

Then again, I also put in a call to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages for a fresh set of numbers about hyphenated surnames in Victoria for this article. A spokesperson said it's take over a month to get those numbers. The hyphen is an administrative nightmare.

To make matters worse, in high school I was called Alex Lickingsome-Cox. That piece of playground ingenuity (which is objectively hilarious) is not possible without a hyphen. Although, it should be said, Cox shoulders most of the blame there.

What's most problematic with a hyphenated surname is its used-by date. I dated another "double-barrel" for some years after high school. What if we ended up having children? A hyphen is the naming equivalent of a Gemino curse from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Everything multiplies.

If you give your child a hyphenated surname, you're simply passing the decision of which of their grandfather's surnames gets passed on to their children, to them.

My paternal grandfather died of a mysterious blood cancer nine months after I was born. Grandmother Cox repeatedly said he actually died of shame from the fact that my mother passed on her maiden name, Liddington, to me.


As an aside, three years ago I discovered where my dad's first name came from. It was Grandmother's Cox's maiden name. There isn't a word for that level of hypocrisy.

All this pushed my thinking away from following tradition and hyphenation.

The other options available to new parents are to pass on the mother's surname, alternating surnames between siblings, blending surnames or making something entirely original.

Blending surnames or making one up has never appealed to us. This is our first child and we might look at passing on Liddington if we have a second. It's the most logical thing to do if you're looking for equality without hyphenation. But we're taking it one expensive, sleep depriving, bank account draining bundle of joy at a time.

There is another option we explored, which isn't thrown up to new parents - passing on a grandmother's maiden name.

Obviously we wouldn't want to pass on Grandmother Cox's maiden name. But the reason why men and women have the surnames they do is because their own mother's maiden name was never an option.

We could pass on the maternal grandmother's maiden name. That would be an unique gesture that fits with the overall goal of giving the identity of women equal footing in our family.

So what was the maiden name of our child's maternal grandmother? Cox. No relation, thank god, but you've gotta be f***ing kidding me.

Like I said, we exhausted all options.

Alexander Liddington-Cox is a journalist and communications consultant.