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I Love Everything But His Name!

I've been seeing a man for about four months. We have incredible chemistry, we want all the same things in life, and a long-term relationship, including marriage and children, is a distinct possibility. There's just one problem, and I realize it might seem silly. His last name is McAnally, pronounced "MACK-an-al-ee." He joked about it briefly but otherwise it hasn't been a topic of conversation. I'm sorry, but I cringe at the thought of my children growing up with this name. How soon would it be appropriate to broach the possibility of changing it to McNally or giving any future kids my last name? It honestly bothers me enough to be a dealbreaker, so I'd want to know before I get any more attached to him.

–One Big But(t)

I feel for you: This is a challenging situation! It's not easy to figure out what the etiquette is on telling a man that you consider his surname cringe-worthy. But if it really is a dealbreaker for you, you might as well bring it up sooner rather than later. (Just be sure that it's a dealbreaker in case the conversation does lead to a break-up!)

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Is This Too Much T?

Our last name starts with a "T," so we had been staying away from first names that start with T as well. We feel that the alliteration sounds awkward. The trick is, we really love the name Tess and just can't get it out of our heads. Is loving the first name most important, as you use the first name on its own much more than you hear it with the last name?

–Mrs. T

When you start the process, it helps to have some baby-naming rules for yourself (like, "no surname names," or "no sharing names with a first cousin," or "no matching initials," just for example; every set of parents will have different preferences). Sans rules, it's very difficult to narrow down the huge universe of potential names to the ones that you like.

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How Do We Announce Our New Surname?

My fiancé and I are considering choosing a different last name than either of our current surnames. How would we announce this at our wedding? Or should we? Do you have any advice for breaking the news to his parents?

–Engaged to Change

The occasion of marriage is a perfect time to really think through what you both want your surnames to be. It sounds like you are doing just that. I'm all for it! As you've noted, though, it brings up at least two tricky situations.

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Do Two "Sons" Make Sense for Our New Son?

I've had my heart set on the name Jackson since I was a little girl. Then, lo and behold, I end up marrying a man with the middle name Jackson whose grandfather's first name is Jackson. So not only do I love the name, it is a family name too. My husband also loves the name. The problem is, our last name is Davidson. I didn't even realize it until someone brought it to my attention: Jackson Davidson, both having the –son ending. What do you think?

–Just Love Jackson

I think you can work with a name that has some shared sounds. In fact, an echoed syllable or bit of alliteration is often desirable in a baby name. It gives the two parts of the name a pleasant connection.

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Satisfyingly Similar, or Tongue-Twisting?

I am pregnant with my first and really want to find the perfect name. My name was very common growing up, and I hated it. So I want to find something that is not too popular, but not unheard of. I've been really falling in love with the name Miles for a boy, but my last name is Meyers. Does Miles Meyers sound too similar? Or does it give it the perfect ring?

–Don't Want Miles Getting Picked On

Your signature says you're worried about a son named Miles being picked on. Generally, name-teasing is a thing of the past, and a too-similar first- and last-name combination isn't something that kids would tease about. So if teasing is your biggest concern about the name, I think you can set that worry aside.

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Is This Name Too Dog-gone Bad?

My husband and I have had the boy's name Fox picked out for years. We are now trying to conceive and I just realized this name doesn't go with our last name, which is Terry. Fox terriers were originally bred to hunt foxes. Would this name combination evoke the dog breed?

–Hooked on Fox

It's a sad realization, isn't it? The first name you've been dreaming about for years suddenly bumps up against an immovable force: The surname. Some surnames are just more challenging than others to work with. And although Terry might seem innocuous, it can pose a problem because it resembles a first name (or nickname). So pairing it with a nontraditional first name—one that could also be a surname—is tricky.

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Will His and Hers Surnames Be a Hassle?

My dilemma has to do not with my child's first name, but the last name! I did not change my name when I married my husband. Our first child, a boy, has his dad's last name. We're expecting a girl in December, and I'd like to pass on my last name to her. I have a very unusual last name, and I feel strongly connected to it. Both my sisters changed their names when they got married, so there is no one else to pass on the name except for me. My husband is fine with giving our second child my last name, but I want to fully consider the consequences of this choice. If I go for it, and we have a family with two different last names, what sort of trouble might we expect?

–Unsure on Surname

This is an unusual surname solution, but not an unprecedented one. Rather than expecting "trouble," expect some questions and confusion. The good news is, you have a ready answer to those queries: You want to keep a cherished family surname alive.

Yes, people may mistakenly assume that you are a blended family with kids from previous relationships. Close friends and even acquaintances can easily be set straight. And for one-time encounters, who cares? 

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We Have the Last-Name Blues!

My fiancé and I are torn between two names we really love: Flynn and Gavin. We have the difficult last name Dix and I'm worried our son will have his fair share of teasing regardless of what first name we pick. Which name would you choose?

– Need a Teflon Name

Schoolyard teasing can leave a deep mark on a child's developing sense of self. Understandably, then, future parents expend generous mental energy analyzing potential names from the vantage point of the class bully. Reasonable people don't want their kids to face ridicule and hardship for choices their parents made.

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We Have The Same Name!

I'm soon to be engaged to a wonderful man who has two children from a previous relationship. It's a second marriage for both of us, but I have no previous children. I am nervous about becoming a stepmother, but adding to that is that my first name is the same name as his daughter.

We plan to have more children together, and it's always been important to me to change my name to my husband's so that everyone in the family has the same last name. But I'm really torn here. I don't want his 8-year-old daughter to feel like I'm "stealing" her name, or to resent me for it now or later in life. I also expect that it may cause some confusion with mail, official documents, etc.Unfortunately our name is so short that going by a nickname isn't a possibility.

Am I dooming her (and us both) to a lifetime of confusion: "Nooo, thats my Stepmother, Marie B Clark, I'm Marie A Clark." Or am I overthinking this?

- Evil Stepmother, the Name Thief

Rest assured, you're no Name Thief. You and your soon-to-be stepdaughter are just the victims of bad name luck. But as in so many family naming dilemmas, the right path will depend on relationships as much as names.

You've mentioned that you're nervous about becoming a stepmother, which is natural. How well have you gotten to know the kids? Do they know yet about their dad's upcoming marriage, and if so, how do they feel about it? And critically, how does Dad himself feel about the name conflict?

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I'm Getting Married, Do I Need To Change My FIRST Name?

I've always looked forward to ditching my unwieldy last name for something short and sweet. I'm getting married next summer, and my fiancé has an awesome last name that I happen to love. Yay!

The problem is, it basically rhymes with my first name. I don't want the actual name printed, but think, "Ashley Blimey."

My middle name is Laura, which could sufficiently break up the rhyming. Should I change my first name to Ashley Laura, and introduce myself as such -- even though it's a mouthful and risks annoying people or coming across as pretentious -- or just include Laura whenever I say my full name, and risk people leaving it out and calling me "Ashley Blimey?" Are there other solutions I'm not thinking of?

- The Future Mrs. Blimey

When we name babies, we custom-select first names to pair attractively with our surnames. Marital names, though, are pot luck. The wheel of romantic fate spins, and the new name candidate may be lovely, ridiculous, or anywhere in-between.