Alert significant caregivers. Any adult responsible for your child's safety (i.e., babysitters, scout leaders, coaches) should know your child's correct name. In case your child needs medical care, that caregiver needs authorized instruction, medical insurance, emergency contact names and, in some cases, proof of your legal guardianship. It might be a good idea for you to carry that information as well.
Travel with legal documentation. If you plan to leave the country with your children, always carry legal proof of guardianship, passports and birth certificates (even for Canada and Mexico). Custom agents will check those documents.
Have conviction. Whatever name route you choose--giving your child a different last name, hyphenating his parents' names, or allowing him to pull his parents' names from a hat (the only way one family could decide!), you should stick with your choice. If you are comfortable with your decision, chances are your child will be as well.
And if you're wondering if the whole issue really bothers kids, I did a little research on my own and interviewed dozens of children to get their perspectives. "Do you know kids whose last names are different from their parents?" I asked. "Sure," they answered. "Lots of them." Then I'd ask: "Do you think a different last name causes kids any problems?" And almost every child would look up with the same puzzled expression. "Why should it?" they'd respond. "What's the big deal?"
What is the big deal? Today's kids are growing up in a rapidly changing world, and seem to be handling the changes quite well. Safety, belonging, and acceptance are what our kids really care about. So keep that perspective, parents. After all, this is really only about a name.
THE PARENTING SECRET: There are really only three questions all children ask of their families: "Am I safe? Am I loved? Do I belong?" Strong families--regardless of size, income, or names -- provide those needs. So put your parenting energies on the things that count most in raising happy, secure and fulfilled kids.