Father Kenneth Doyle

Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. My question centers around a Catholic couple, now divorced, who are having a strong disagreement as to what should be the last name of their two children. The father is adamant that the children’s surname should remain the same (i.e., his own), while the mother has filed court papers to have the children’s last name be changed to a hyphenated one (i.e., her own maiden name followed by the father’s last name).

My question is whether the Catholic Church would be opposed to their having a hyphenated last name. Does the church have a fixed position on this? (Alexandria, Virginia)

A. I am not aware of any church teaching on the use of hyphenated last names, nor do I believe that one exists. The question of what name a woman will use after marriage, it seems to me, is cultural rather than religious.

In some places in Latin America, for example, it is customary for a married woman to retain her family’s name as well as that of her husband. Even in other cultures in Western Europe, it has not been unusual for a married woman to keep her family’s name, particularly when that name would be more recognized in the area where they intend to live.

In my own state of New York, the marriage license itself provides a space for a woman to indicate by what name she wishes to be known after marriage.

Interestingly, research in America shows that, from the mid-1970s onward, there was a rise in the number of college-educated women keeping their surname (corresponding to a rise in feminism as well as an increase in the number of women who had an established professional career before being married.)

In the 1990s however, that trend slowed, and subsequent studies show that women in the United States are largely choosing to take their spouse’s last name.

In the case to which you refer, it is unfortunate that the choice of the children’s last name has created such acrimony, since that can only hurt the children. Perhaps the couple should see a counselor about working out a solution more amicably. (Also, I do not know the ages of the children, but if they have reached the age of reason, they probably should be consulted on this, since they will be the carriers of whatever name is chosen.)

Q. I know that Pope Francis has spoken against big retail corporations, as contributing to economic injustice in the world. I am currently employed by a national pet supply corporation, which, as far as I know, tries to do good things — pay it forward and help both people and animals.

In my job, I do feel that I have lots of opportunities to be the face and hands of Jesus for my customers. But the pope’s remarks now have me concerned. It may be that I don’t fully understand the wrongs that this (or any) corporation might be committing on a larger level.

Do you think that employees of big box stores have a duty to quit their jobs and try to find different, smaller-scale employers? What would Pope Francis recommend to someone in my position? (Waynesboro, Virginia)

A. It is true that Pope Francis has regularly spoken out in defense of the poor and against unbridled capitalism. In particular, in a talk in Bolivia in July of 2015, he challenged a world economic system that “has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion” and said that poor countries should not be reduced to being providers of raw material and cheap labor for developed nations.

In 2013, in “Evangelii Gaudium” (in No. 56), the pope had lamented the enormous gap between the haves and the have-nots, saying that “this imbalance is the result of ideologies that defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace.”

That does not equate, though, to the condemnation of every large-scale corporation, and each one must be evaluated separately. Since most of us have neither the time nor the talent to do this, it helps to rely on such organizations as Christian Brothers Investment Services or the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, which regularly screen large companies for the ethics of their business and employment practices.


Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St. Albany, N.Y. 12208.