A Case of the Human Condition: Would My Husband Like to Add My Name to His?

Add my name to his? Jon after 35 years of not being Jon Falconer Newhall -- cooking dinner for my birthday in 2011. He's still comfortable in the kitchen and at the supermarket. Photo by Barbara Falconer Newhall

Would Jon like to add my name to his? Here he is — after 35 years of not being Jon Falconer Newhall — cooking my birthday dinner in 2011. He’s still comfortable in the kitchen and at the supermarket. Photo by Barbara Falconer Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall, January 8, 1989, The Oakland Tribune

Jon and I had been married nearly 12 years. It was time to pop the question again.

I called him at work.

Sometimes, the best way to get Jon’s attention is to phone.

“What do you think?’ I said, going straight to the point. “Are you ready to add Falconer to your name yet?”

“No,” he laughed.

“Why not? We have Peter Falconer Newhall, Christina Falconer Newhall and Barbara Falconer Newhall. What this family needs is a Jon Falconer Newhall.”

No soap.

When Jon and I married, I wanted to share a name with him and our future children. It would give our family an identity, and it would make things less confusing for friends, family and insurance companies.

Add my name to his? Christina Falconer Newhall, Peter Falconer Newhall, Barbara Falconer Newhall, Jon Newhall c 2007 B.F. Newhall

Christina Falconer Newhall, Peter Falconer Newhall, Barbara Falconer Newhall, Jon Newhall. Photo by XX Newhall

Sure enough, years later, I sat listening as Christina’s kinderarten teacher explained to incoming parents that each family had its own box for messages.

“To minimize confusion,” she said, “the boxes are alphabetized under the mother’s name.”

Thus, Nicholas Strychacz and his father Thomas now look for their messages in the cubby labeled Kathryn Reiss. Eric Hasler and his dad Robert, look for theirs under Linda Hoffman. The Newhalls simply look for theirs in the box labeled Newhall.

The question, back in 1977 and now in 1989, was not whether Jon would change his name to mine. He would not. He will not.

Jon washes lettuce and barbecues chicken. He sees to it that there is always an avocado ripening on the stove and something interesting to take to the potluck. But changing his name to mine would put Jon’s feminist convictions into overload. If we are to be a one-name family, the name has to be Newhall.

During my most insistently feminist days, circa 1969, Bay Area feminists like Una Stannard and her husband (I forget his name) warned against the practice of changing names.

Una’s position and that of other feminists has remained steadfast. In her new book, “Naming Ourselves, Naming Our Children,” Sharon Lebell writes that taking a man’s name represents for women “a major identity rupture.”

Women pliant enough to suffer their names to be changed upon marriage risk becoming “so potentially protean that it’s hard to pinpoint the part of you that abides, the part of you that defines you,” writes Lebell.

But, at age 35, with more than a decade of single adulthood behind me, I did not worry about being too compliant. I perceived myself as tough. I could earn a living, fix a faucet and pick up a diner tab with the best of them.

“Cooperate,” urged my 97-year-old grandmother upon learning

Add my name to his? My grandmother took my grandfather's name and that was that.

My grandmother took my grandfather’s name and that was that. By Ludington Studios.

that I had passed my 30th birthday still single.

My grandmother was Mrs. David Falconer until she died. Decades after his death, my grandfather’s name was still listed in the Scottville, Mich., phone book — by the woman who bore his name.

She may have been old-fashioned about her name, but my grandmother had a mind of her own. No one ever confused her with my grandfather. And she was right on about cooperation. Giving in once in a while — collaborating — would do me good.

And so began a series of compromises that has left me wondering, 12 years later, whether I have sold out.

Am I leading the life I once dreaded? Am I wallowing in domesticity?

Shouldn’t I be out there on the barricades, dressed for success, carrying a Vuitton briefcase? Shouldn’t I be on a board of directors somewhere, wielding power like mad?’

Why don’t I have a full-time nanny and a self-cleaning oven? Why am I making do with three denim skirts and a canvas KQED tote bag left over from the year we donated big?

It’s true. I worry about all the wrong things. Why my daughter doesn’t like dolls. Whether my son is any good at first base. Whether I’m putting on too much weight. Whether my husband thinks I’m putting on too much weight.

But I am still a feminist. I am not one of those New Traditionalists touted by the media. I’m on the barricades right here in my house on the hill — just as much as if I were being groomed for CEO or pressing for pay equity.

I’m someone who chose to have children and work part-time for a few years, someone who chose the life-long company of a certain man, even it it meant football every Sunday afternoon in December.

I am Barbara Falconer, with the Newhall tacked on, and I’m satisfied with that.

As for Jon’s name, I think I’ll phone him again at the turn of the century.

Add my name to his? No, but he likes to cook for me. Jon Newhall photo.

Add my name to his? No, but he did hone his cooking skills in Thailand, 2005. Photo by Jon Newhall.

c 1989 The Oakland Tribune Used by permission.

2009 Update: I just hollered upstairs at Jon to ask — once again — did he want to add my name to his? “No thanks,” he said. “I’ve never had a middle name, everyone else does, and I like being different . . . It’s nothing personal, believe me. ” I believe him.

My solution worked for one generation, but how about Peter and Christina? Whose name will they keep — Mom’s or Dad’s?

2017 Update: Christina married in May and kept her maiden name. Peter married a couple of years ago and his new wife took Newhall as her last name. I surprised myself by tearing up when she told us she’d adopt our family name. Honest, I still consider myself a serious, committed feminist. What gives? 

More about my new daughter-in-law at “I’m Thankful for  . . . a New Daughter-in-Law.”  More about Jon at “A Dad, A Mom and an Eight-Year-Old With a Bashed Lip.”





  1. BKaufman says:

    Our entire family only have a first name and last name. When asked, I often inform people we were too poor to afford anything fancy in names, Heck, we couldn’t afford 2 fs or 2ns, So how could we afford a middle name? This is a bit more believable when you understand there were 8 kids. You tell it with an earnest expression, and an attitude of utmost seriousness, you’d be amazed at how often people buy it.

    Jon, its too late, just give up and give in. Why should the Falconers Cooperate with you, and not the other way around?

    The problem with middle names as the spouses name is what happens in a divorce/remarriage? Do you take them serially, or lop them off and try again? Elizabeth Taylor was a much married woman, suppose she were to marry Henry the VIII with this system? 12 middle names? Or do you maintain the “history” to help genealogists? And do you re-sort the order when she remarries Richard Burton, or just add it again?

    I’d have been happy to take my wife’s maiden name as my middle name (Robinson, fine), while she was ready to give up her ex’s last name. Her initials used to read TART. I appreciated that. Not Sure TAK or TARK is an improvement.

  2. Delightful. And SO well written. Brava!

  3. Barbara Saunders says:

    What about the kids with two dads?

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Oh, that’s a really good question. Actually, I guess the problem would be the same for kids with two moms. I’m trying to remember how people I know have solved this problem.

  4. Maybe dad is bitter b/c his elder brother outdid being “different” by changing his name to XX, ;).

    I am all for keeping family names around but to be born with 6 names, one of which is hyphenated, is a bit ridiculous. Even four names seems like a lot to me.

    • We had a big family discussion about this today. Girls said they thought they were going to keep their maiden names. But then they weren’t sure how they would name their kids.

    • That’s right. There really is an XX Newhall in the family.

  5. Fun to see our names referenced in your blog. I’d completely forgotten that kdg. tradition of filing things under the mom’s name… Tom and I each kept our own name, without problems. Our children (all 5) have my last name as one of their middle names–although we briefly considered, after giving our two boys their dad’s last name, giving our girls (who came later) MY last name–in a bid to start a maternal line (we know several families who do it this way). But in the end we gave in to the boys’ wish for their sisters to have the same last name they had… Still, I like the idea of boys getting the dad’s name and girls getting the mom’s last name. After one ‘transition’ generation, it would probably start to seem normal (if everyone did it!), and then it would also be easier for future genealogists to track maternal lines.

    • When I think of my father’s family, I think, oh, yeah, “the Falconers.” But when I think of my mother’s side of the family, there is no one name that applies to that maternal line going back to my great-great-grandmother and beyond. Bosworth? Mortimer? Harlow? Who are they?

  6. A friend — of Jon’s — emails that he had only a first and last name till he took his wife’s family name as his middle name. His sons have his same middle and last names. One of the sons, now grown, wants to add in his wife’s maiden name.
    No pressure, Jon.


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