Growing Up Without a Father and a Pursuit for the Right Surname

Mzikazi Nduna*
Department of Psychology, University of Witwatersrand, 1 Jan Smuts Avenue, Braamfontein, Johannesburg, 2000, South Africa.

© 2014 Mzikazi Nduna;

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Psychology,University of Witwatersrand, 1 Jan Smuts Avenue, Braamfontein,Johannesburg, 2000, South Africa; Tel: +27117174168; Fax: +27117174559; E-mail:


Young people who grew up without their biological fathers may or may not use their surnames. This paper contributes to an understanding of young people’s views of the relevance of a biological paternal surname. We conducted gender-matched in-depth interviews with 73 volunteers aged 14-39 in two South African provinces and transcribed and translated audio-recorded home language interviews into English. The findings indicate that the pursuit for using a biological father’s surname was motivated by seeking ancestral protection, seeking one’s father so that he could play an overseeing role in rituals, and citizenship rights; some participants believed that the use of a biological father’s surname was essential for registration for an identity document, passport, marriage and death certificate. However, there was no agreement in the data about the importance and usefulness of using a biological father’s surname. In conclusion, the article maintains that the father’s surname is important for some children who grew up without their fathers.

Keywords: Absent father, father, qualitative research, South Africa, surname, tradition.