Surnaming children born to lesbian and heterosexual couples: displaying family legitimacy to diverse audiences

Deborah Dempsey, Jo Lindsay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Surnaming practices are a case study of change and continuity in patrilineal conventions in families and also alert us to the challenges of negotiating familial identities in an era of family diversity. Using data from two Australian sources, 430,753 Victorian birth registrations and 43 in-depth interviews with heterosexual and lesbian parents, we explore continuity and breaks with convention in surnaming children. For married and unmarried heterosexual couples, the dominant surnaming practice was for children to take their father’s name. By contrast, several surnaming strategies were more popular among lesbian couples including: using hyphenated or double-barrelled surnames, using the birth or non-birth mother’s surname or creating a new name for the family. Despite these differences, we contend that through their surnaming decisions both lesbian and heterosexual couples are concerned with displaying the legitimacy of their parental relationships to extended family and institutional audiences. For unmarried heterosexual couples, surnames display ‘intact’ families and paternal commitment whereas for lesbian couples the legitimacy concern is the recognition of the same-sex couple as parents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1017-1034
Number of pages18
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • cohabitation
  • family display
  • lesbian parents
  • marriage
  • patrilineage
  • same-sex couples
  • surnames

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