What’s in a Name?

My son is off again with his Papa to visit his paternal Grandparents. This is lovely and he adores going there, so I’m more than happy that he has the opportunity and that his father’s family adore him back. He deserves that.

It’s just tough when he’s gone. Sometimes I cry when he leaves, sometimes I don’t. This time I didn’t, but it didn’t stop the tightness across my chest from making me want to thump things just to get some relief. The one thing the last 2.5yrs has taught me though, is just to drop everything when I feel like this and go and play with my garden. Whatever the weather, that calms me down.

I do, however, have time to ruminate, while tinkering with plants and shifting things around and, rightly or wrongly, today, I got to thinking, again, how much more my boy ‘belongs’ with his father’s side of the family than with mine. He was born here, in Germany and, let’s face it, he carries his father’s name. It defies logic, but sometimes that is the real stinger.

It was my choice, to have my son named after his father on his birth certificate. By default, in Germany, he should have carried my name, given that his father and I were not married, but after a huge amount of soul searching I took a deep breath and gave away the one thing that links him publicly to me … I think I already knew deep down that my relationship with his dad would not last and, despite everything, I wanted my boy’s father to have something to bind the two of them in the eyes of the law and, in the eyes of everyone else, given that L was always going to live with me.

Most of the time it’s ok … I just avoid using his full name if I can help it. He has a middle name and when we’re mucking about and I’m pretending to be cross, I will call him ‘L – A’ , but never L – A and then his surname. That fact alone hurts me. I don’t want to have to hold back with him, but sometimes I have to as, despite the fact that I know it was the right thing to do, I often still resent my decision; knowing my son will never, ever carry the same name as me stabs me so hard sometimes that I can hardly breathe but how stupid is that! It’s a word … a name. Why should it matter at all! I actually despise the fact that it really does.

Often at the doctor’s or on the phone – recently, for example, in a call from the new Kindergarten – I am referred to personally as Frau L … (my son’s surname) which ironically does link me officially to him, which is great, but in doing so, attaches me by default to his father from whom I am long separated, thereby removing my own identity in an instant. Ridiculous though it sounds, two and a half years down the line, it still does that to me and I am always (probably somewhat overly) defiant in correcting the mistake. Salt is rubbed further into the wound when, invariably, the receiver of corrected information doesn’t ‘get it’ the first time and I’m left hanging out my dirty washing in a waiting room full of ‘families’ while said assistant grapples with the concept of mother and son not being mutally identifiable from her infallable database of patient details.

So I wonder if it will get easier. With my feet on the ground and ‘sensible head’ on, I realise that I am being quite pathetic. The fact that L does not carry my name or that of my family can never diminish the fact that he is my son and, ultimately, the fact that I bore him and am now bringing him up, but, somewhere, there is a gnawing fear that by forfeiting my right to his name, I have given up any real right to him as a mother with the result that I may have already lost him … is it just a matter of time?


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29 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. Rugbymadsdad says:

    That was a powerful piece and i understand fully the points about the name, i think this is a very common worry for lots of people and you are not the first to mention it….Thank you for sharing….

  2. Ally says:

    Yikes, I’m glad I’ve never had to think about that. Princi’s dad was way out of the picture (his choice) by the time she was born, so she has my name. I can understand the stress it’s causing you though. *Huge hugs* And I don’t think you’ve lost him. A name can’t replace a mum. xx

    • I guess I’m just really paranoid. Very scared that he’ll leave and go and live with his Dad as soon as he’s old enough to decide for himself. I won’t stop him, but if he does, then he’s completely gone. We wouldn’t even have a name in common. Stupid thinking I know.
      Thanks for the reassuring comment tho’. x

  3. Wow. Ouch for you. All I can say is: My father left when I was 9, I bore his name. I was SO glad to be rid of it when I married. I never bore my mother’s name because she forfeited it when she married as I have done but it is she who matters, she who brought me up, she who still hushes me when my Dad is a bastard. Your son loves his Dad and has a good relationship with his German family but YOU are his Mum and that matters far, far more than a name will ever do.

    I need to think about this and will probably get back to you on it when I have. This is a gut reaction. Feel for you. xxx

    • Goodness Hun, that must have been so tough. I’m sorry if this has dredged up some painful memories. You know I value your gut reaction… it’s the only reaction when all said and done – ie probably always the most truthful.
      Thank you xx

  4. Vegemitevix says:

    I understand how difficult this is for hun. My three all have my ex’s surname. Given we separated and divorced acrimoniously and he has been monumentally horrible to us (all) every time I say the kids’ full names or (horror) someone at school calls me incorrectly Mrs M, I involuntarily wince.

    It’s horrible isn’t it. But you are definately right hun, the little chap will always have his closeness and his love that binds you and him. What’s in a name not as much as that in love and blood! Much love V x

    • Oof, I knew this would strike a chord with someone, but I didn’t know you guys had such a tough time when you split. I’m sorry you are going through the same thing. Thank you for finding such reassuring words given your own difficult circumstances. Huge hug to you too. xx

  5. Fleetwoodboy says:

    One thing I ca n guarantee is that the bond between mother and son is never broken no matter what. Names are just letters jumbled together love of ones mum isn’t . Never worry, your fear will prove to be unfounded xx

  6. Kay says:

    i have a big issue with last names at the moment…when i get my divorce. do i keep his name or do i change it back to my maiden name and have a different surname to the boys and forever have the same heartache as you :-(
    hope you find peace with your decision

    • Oh that is so hard too! What a nightmare decision. I guess it’s something you need to try and forget about for now – I mean put it on ice until you have dealt with all the other issues and then maybe you’ll find the decision comes naturally in time. I don’t think anyone can advise you on this … you just have to go with your heart and do what is right for you. I feel for you Kay. I hope you work it out too. xx

  7. Fleetwoodboy says:

    Somewhere I’ve commented on your blog. O hope it shows up

  8. JulieB says:

    I think everyone has said it perfectly already. My husband still has his father’s name (his parents divorced when he was quite young), and his relationship with his father has never been great. For various reasons it is currently at an all-time low (one day I might find the courage to blog about that one…). The ironic thing is that now I, and our children also have that name. I can’t say it has bound us any closer to him in the slightest! It is a personal relationship that is all that matters. Names can be changed, names are only a label.

    • I really hope you are right J. Thank you so much for commenting and I hope things improve with your husband and his father. Family dispute is one of the toughest things ever to deal with. I can relate to that very much too. Big hug x

  9. Sandrine says:

    I don’t think you’re over reacting being upset when people call you by your ex’ s name. I get annoyed when people call me by my husband’s name – and we’re still very much together. It’s the assumption that you have to be defined through someone else that gets me. Our kids each took one name: our daughter is named after her father and our son after me. This was because I didn’t want either of us to feel excluded by not sharing a name with our children. People made a fuss when we did it, saying we would have untold problems but it just hasn’t been a issue since, even though they go to a French school and French people can be a little, well,you know…

    • It never ceases to amazing how kids are so much more resilient to such things than us ‘big kids’! As long as they understand the reasons for things, they just accept when they are young. I am in awe of their ability to NOT read between the lines and start twisting stuff around. When exactly does that start to change??! There should be a tea we can drink or something to stop it from happening !
      Thanks for the comment Sandrine. Very interesting to hear your own experiences: Another different angle on the whole thing. x

  10. It’s always hard when your kids run into the arms of someone else- especially if that someone has caused you pain, but it’s good that your son enjoys his time with his Dad.

    But it doesn’t mean that he’s going to abandon you at the first opportunity. He will always know that you’re the one who stayed with him, looked after him when he was ill, played with him on a daily basis, and that bond is hard to break. Don’t worry, and don’t be so hard on yourself.

    • Thank you for your comment. It’s good to have an opinion from the Dad point of view :-) I really don’t begrudge L any time at all with his father as, despite our lack of compatibility together as a couple, M is the best Papa ever to our son. In that respect, given our circumstances, we are all very lucky as it could have gone the other way and we would all have lost out. I am just afraid it may later become a case of ‘the grass is always greener’ from L’s point of view. Looking at it from the other side, though, that is exactly why I decided to give him his father’s name, as I’m sure M is going through the same worries as I am. At least he has that to show him that I respect him as a father.

  11. PS, You might marry some hunky gardener, then your name would be different anyway ;)

  12. Karen - Allaboutheboys says:

    A Powerful, from the heart blog. I Applaude you sweetheart. When No 1 son was born I had a real dilemma. I was not married to his father and my name was one I retained from a previous marriage (still with me ?) I like you, knew my relationship with no1 son’s father would not last and so was reluctant to give him just his name but also had the problem that my surname belonged to another man long gone ! I decided in the end to give him both surnames.
    When I met and married Nigel, he took No 1 son to his heart straight away. No 1 son asked himself to have his name changed to Jones, which we did. I spoke at length to No1 son about this and his comment at age 7 was “its just a name mummy ” He was 15 yesterday and still feels the same. Your son will understand what you did for him when he grows and I am so sure from what I know about you that he will grow into a wonderful, kind, caring man who will never stop adoring his mummy and appreciate what she gave to him xxx

    • Goddammit, I always need tissues when I read your comments!!
      Thank you Karen. I know you can relate to what I write and, once again, you have made me feel better about it xx

  13. B Cunningham says:

    Beautifully written. I have a girlfriend going through torment because she lets her son go to his father’s every second weekend. She says practically all the same things you say. Her son carries the fathers last name and gets on with him. She always looks like she is on the verge of a breakdown every second Friday. I guess I am lucky, the father of my son has made himself disappear rather successfully. He could be living around the corner for all I know. He has only seen his son 4 times in his 8 years, and yelled at me viciously after each visit because of something my son said to him during their hour together. I never EVER speak badly of him in front of our son, but I do refer to his new wife as ‘the witch’. Guess I had it coming. Someone has to take the blame when families are broken apart and I did not want it to be him. It is so hard to explain why a child’s father is not there. Why you are not a normal family. I was under pressure when my son asked me where his father was when he was 4. I thought the “your father was kidnapped by a witch” worked rather well at the time. I seriously do not recommend this angle to anyone reading this. Perhaps “your father left me for another younger prettier richer woman and refuses to pay any child maintenance” would be better. No, that doesn’t sound right either.
    Keep up the writing. Not only is it cathartic for you, it is for everyone reading it.

    • I think in some ways I am lucky … the time that L is away with his father is pretty much the only dedicated time I get to work and, being self employed this is pretty sacred. It means I have some distraction when he’s gone … I just chuck myself into work (or writing!!) and the time doesn’t drag as much until he’s home. It’s the time he’s away longer that is tough. I wake up at night convinced he’s there.
      But your dilemma seems to be much tougher .. phew. I hope you manage to clear the air in all corners very soon. Thank you so much for such an informative and empathetic comment. Are you on Twitter? Let me know if you are and I’ll happily follow :-) x

  14. What’s in a name? Nothing.

    You are bound to your son through your heart, and vice versa. Just reading your reasoning behind the decision you made to name your son after his father shows how selfless and thoughtful you are. A wonderful, nurturing mother. There will never be a bond like yours.

    I’ve always thought there was something wrong in the fact that children still seem to carry the surname of the father when their parents are unmarried. It seems like a sexist hang over from days gone by, and totally inappropriate for the modern age.

    But you did it for such wonderful reasons and he will thank you for that. Father / child relationships are important, a fact you have always accepted. But mother/child relationships are so very special.


  15. becky says:

    My DD sometimes asks me if we can change our surname now daddy has gone as he “isn’t family any more”. It is tempting to double barrel their surnames with matching middle name and change mine to match.

    A friend married after 15 years and 2 children. They have dad’s surname. She is only Mrs A for the school otherwise stuck to Miss J.

    My step kids have same surname as me but their other half sibling has his father’s name and their mother finally married him 2 years ago. The boys want to change to their step dad’s surname as they hate their dad.

    Surnames can be so political now but they also show kids where they came from.

    • I feel sad for your children that they are left feeling that their father no longer belongs. I do hope you find a resolution to the name which works for all of you. In Germany double barrelling is only legal if a name is inherited as such. I wanted L to have both our names but here it is ‘not allowed’. Bloody DE bureaucracy. I still loathe it.
      Thanks for such an open and honest comment. x

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