Feminist Last Naming Practices

Nontraditional Last Name Stories

Feminism and Last Naming Practices

In the 1960s, Second-Wave feminism sparked a large-scale experiment that sought to change the traditional naming practices in North America, in which wives and children adopt the husband’s surname. The general goal has been to intervene in women feeling erased as their names – and some would claim their identities – “disappear” through patrilineal (patronymic) naming practices.

In our interviews, we identified a variety of non-traditional or feminist-influenced naming practices, including women keeping their natal surname, families or children taking hyphenated names, families or individuals creating new surnames, queer naming practices, double surnames, wives taking their husbands’ names, natal names becoming middle names, and other international naming practices.

This project asks: Where is this experiment going? How satisfying and sustainable, or frustrating and short-term, have varied options proved to be? If a woman keeps her father’s father’s father’s name, or parents hyphenate their children’s names, do these pave the way to the emergence or long-term, systematic alternatives?  Or, are they short-term solutions that may have value for the individuals, but will not alter traditional, patrilineal practices in the long run? This project explores the pros and cons of the alternatives we found.


Prior Research



9 thoughts on “Feminism and Last Naming Practices

  1. This is a great project! I’m excited to follow your progress! Thank you for asking me to participate!

  2. Fascinating–it’s great to read stories of the names of these CC colleagues. Set me thinking about names in my family: I have two of my mother’s father’s names (my brother got my father’s whole name, which is my father’s mother’s mother’s father’s name plus his father’s last name). My sons got names from all over: their father’s two grandfathers, their mother’s mother’s brother, their mother’s father and some unrelated people. My grandchildren have a couple of different last names: one family of them are named for their mother’s father’s lineage. One family have first names chosen from botanical genera. One grandson is named for his mother’s mother’s father. The lineages, bi- or multi-lateral, are important and fluid. My daughters in law have mostly kept their (fathers’) last names, but in one family my son took his wife’s father’s family name as a middle name so both spouses would have the same middle and last name. Is the US the most adventurous country in this regard? Or perhaps China, where a lot of ideological naming has gone on?

  3. Fantastic work in such a short amount of time! Congratulations to all. I suggested at least one of the people interviewed, but I am so impressed with the variety of stories and themes you unearthed. And I like how you organized the website and presented the stories, overall findings, and themes. I also really like that you put your own reflections in – I was very interested to read how many of the researchers were influenced by the project and the interviews. Thank you for this great work!

  4. WOW. Totally impressed. who says you can’t do CBR on the block system

  5. Very interesting study. I’m wondering which student is Jaira. I went to college with your mom!
    Tell her howdy for me. I still live in Boulder.

  6. What a fascinating project. I am wondering if the class ever considered interviewing anyone whose last name was a result of an adoption (where a step parent adopts the child and that child takes the step parent’s last name)? Or even cases where children adopted at birth have part of their biological parent’s name? Perhaps delving into adoption would have been just too much to take on for a block long project, but did the topic ever come up in class? I am curious mostly because my last name was the result of an adoption and I would like to know what other people feel in that situation.

  7. Hi Sarah and the CC Anthro Team!
    I love your work and the avenues you are exploring. There is plenty to be researched in this contemporary field. If I may add my 2 cents and a little anecdote from my life…. My husband of 3.5 years and I have so far kept our last names the same (purely due to the hassle and rigamarole of all that paperwork to change your name!), but we love the idea of merging them together, especially if/when any children come into the picture. I think it is important for both parents and children to have the same name for cohesiveness (or cohesion?). He is Matt Babarovich and I’m Laura Toebe and our favorite combo is Matt and Laura Barobe. I like the idea of starting a new family lineage, taking the best parts of both family histories into the future and leaving the worst parts in the past.
    I’ll let you know how this story unfolds… I can’t wait to read more of your research! Keep up the good work!

  8. I am an aluma of CC and a graduate of Sarah’s “Women, Men and Others”. I am so excited about this project! It is a subject very close to my heart! Coincidentally, in 29 years it was CCs Financial Aid department which has caused me the most trouble about my own multiple last name situation! I am still “living with” the consequences of their actions ten years later 🙂

  9. This website is fantastic! You all did such amazing work both with the presentation as well as the content. I’ve loved reading through your research and findings. Thank you for the note on the page, I enjoyed working with you in this process! Great work by wonderful people!

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