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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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Why Babies Still Take Daddy’s Surname

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 24, 2011

Why do kids still typically get their Dad’s surname, 50 years after the rise of feminism?  Today’s New York Times offers an explanation that hadn’t occurred to me:

Traditional practices grew out of a male-dominated culture and a need for simple rules. But there is another, less obvious motive: to hold men accountable for their offspring.

“How do you attach men to children?” said Laurie K. Scheuble, a senior lecturer at Pennsylvania State University who has done several studies on naming practices. Names are “a very functional and practical way” to do so.

The article goes on to suggest that “perhaps, in an age when men wear BabyBjorns, it is no longer always necessary.”  But despite our delusions of modernity, the writer inadvertently reveals that  even college professors apparently still rely on another ancient means of keeping restless and paternity-insecure  males attached to family:  Jocular talk about how much the kiddies look like them..

When Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, 32, an English professor who lives in Portland, Ore., married Laura Rosenbaum, he toyed with the idea of a creative synthesis.

But “Rosenpollackpelznerbaum sounded like a weapon of mass destruction,” he said. When they had a son, giving him Daniel’s last name seemed too complicated, so they gave the baby Laura’s.

Mr. Pollack-Pelzner initially worried that having a different name would arouse suspicions, leading to airport frisks and other indignities. But since his son was born, “I’ve hardly thought about it at all.” No one has ever challenged whether he is the toddler’s father: “The poor guy is cursed to look just like me.”

You can read the full article here.

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