Modern Marriages and Surnames (Call me āyí)

I was at the magazine store and there was a new ricepaper so I checked it out as I usually do, it being a locally published magazine about the Asian-Canadian experience. In this issue, one of the articles was about surnames for mixed couples a topic I agonized about myself so I bought the issue to read the article. It was a nice piece, mostly from the woman’s point of view. They boiled it down to personal choice with a touch of professional reputation maintenance considerations. They totally missed what I consider to be the big issue. If you and your spouse don’t have the same name, then what happens with the kids? Backing up a bit, the options they discussed were: keeping your respective names (especially important if the spouse in question has a professional reputation that would be disrupted by changed name confusion) and changing your name (troublesome if the changed name is of a different culture/ethnicity causing skewed expectations in strangers). Of course there’s the ever popular hyphenated surnames which makes me twitchy (constant doubling will get you into trouble) because they’re just passing on their problems to the next generation (have you ever met anyone with a four name hyphenated surname?). They missed one that I considered, being both spouses changing names. Names like Cooper and Smith are names derived from professions and since we’re both computer types I thought “Coder” would be an excellent surname but my beloved is too conservative for that kind of thing.

We ended up keeping our respective names and I go by Ms. versus Mrs. This works well when considering me as an individual and even us as a couple. When kids enter the picture though it gets way less straightforward.

First off is the naming of the children. Hyphenate them even though neither of us are hyphenated? As you can see from above, I’m not fond of the hyphenation solution and neither is my sweetie. So, alternate the kids? First one gets my name the next one gets his or girls get mine and the boys get his or… Yeah, we weren’t into that idea either. So I came up with the compromise of Chinese names with my surname and English names with his, Chinese names as middle names. This works best from an equitability standpoint if, when stating your complete name, you use the entire name versus just first and last which is what it usually degenerates into. Not that I always want them to use the 7 (or 6) syllable versions of their names but when stating their name for posterity like when we donate books to the school it’d be nice to go with whole thing.

So that’s the formal naming situation. What else? There’s occasional surname confusion when meeting with teacher types but they’re used to that with common law marriages and such.

The big one that bugs me is what should my kids’ friends call me? I’m old fashioned in this regard and don’t want them calling me “Carol”, but “Mrs. James”, “Mrs. Wang”, or “Ms. Wang”… none of them seem right. Ma’am’s not right either (I’ve almost gotten used to it from service personnel). I called my mom’s close friends “āyí” (auntie, 阿姨) or Mrs. … as appropriate depending on the language being spoken, but none of those really work for me. The part that pleases me the most is when they say “[name of appropriate offspring]’s mom” but that’s hardly something you can direct them to do, sigh. So, in these instances I exist in a limbo where I don’t tell the kids “call me…” and, now that I think of it, none have ever asked. I would like to have an answer prepared that I was comfortable with, but until inspiration strikes and a good answer comes to me…

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