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Dear Serena,

OK, so women don't have to take their husbands' names, and it is not going to damage the children, but what are you going to call the children? It is all very well hyphenating them, but we are going to be in a right old mess when their children have children, aren't we?

Sylvia, Southampton

I think this is one of those things probably best left to the individual. Myself, I rather like the hyphenation option; by the third generation, the children's children's children will all sound like German aristocrats, and those annoying forms that expect us all to have names of no more than seven letters each will have been declared obsolete. You could try the "patrilinear for boys, matrilinear for girls" option, but you might get very bored explaining to every dullard you meet why your set of full siblings had different surnames. I know a few people who have gone for the lottery approach, naming all the children after the first, who gets the patronym or the matronym depending on its sex. This is quite neat, as no one can blame anyone else later on in life.

Then again, there's no point in getting too worked up about this subject. As long as your child doesn't end up being called something like Mildred Blight or Hugh (brother of Samantha) Janus, it doesn't really matter at the end of the day. And anyone who thinks that it does probably isn't called Smith.

Why does no one ever talk to anyone else in lifts?

Mark, Sutton

Don't they, Mark? Are you sure about that? Are you certain it isn't just that they fall silent when you walk into a lift?

Although it makes me a Sagittarian, for which I am, naturally, grateful, I sometimes wish I hadn't been born in December. The problem is that, whenever I decide to have a birthday party, half the people whom I would like to come turn out to already be going to other people's Christmas parties. This year, my birthday falls on a Saturday, and I have already received two invitations to parties on my birthday. It just doesn't seem fair. Is there anything I could do about this?

Tracy, Padstow

Having the same problem myself, I sympathise. And the problem is of course exacerbated by the fact that you are a Sagittarian. If you had been born under one of the anal earth signs, or were a punctilious, passionate water sign, you would have remembered to get all your party invitations out in October.

Still, it is tough being a Christmas baby; aside from a childhood of combined birthday-Christmas presents from mean godparents, it is amazing how many people who don't bother with birthday parties of their own at times of the year when there's nothing much going on and everyone would be grateful for the chance of a knees-up, will ignore yours for a Christmas party that, let's face it, will just disappear under the welter of all the others.

If it really matters to you that everyone turns up, warn the neighbours and revise your party plans so that your bash kicks off around 10pm. People who get their invites out early are almost always of the "drinks 6.30pm" persuasion, and there will be dozens of their ex-guests wandering the streets half-cut just before closing-time, desperate not to go to bed yet. If you can provide dancing, they will love you for ever. It will also, if you can be a bit organised yourself and be ready by the end of the afternoon, give you a chance to go to the other parties and nick a couple of bottles.

And, when you are tempted to curse the unfortunate timing of your birth, remember the advantages. For a start, and particularly if you leave it late enough to send out your invites so that only half the people you ask can come, you can knock off a large chunk of your social debts in one fell swoop without having to go through quite so much of the hosting process. You can also gather up a host of charming stocking-fillers to give to your stepfamily at a time of year when they are unlikely to get soiled before Christmas.

How can I get the bloodstains out of my Aubusson carpet?

Lucretia, Northants

Whatever you do, avoid detergent. My grandmother used to swear by milk, but milk tends to bleach anything it touches, which would make your carpet go a bit patchy. The only way to get an even finish would be to fill up your Jacuzzi (get one built if you don't have one already) with milk and put the carpet in it in its entirety. An hour or so should do it, and make sure you give it a thorough cold-water rinse afterwards to avoid those tricky problems with yoghurt in the weft. And in future, make sure you use Persian carpets. Bloodstains don't tend to show up on them anything like as much.

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