You can tell by my byline that I am one of those women. I am a hyphenator.

After getting married in 2001, filling out all the annoying paperwork, and taking my new hyphenated name out for a spin, I quickly learned that women like me annoy the hell out of people. It seems that no one is without an opinion about what married women ought to do about their names, and the common opinion seems to be that hyphenators are a bad breed. I typed “women who hyphenate” into Google when researching this post and uncovered all manner of vitriol and advice:

What’s with all these women who hyphenate their last names?

I can see someone doing it if they are famous (i.e., Chris Evert-Lloyd) and became famous prior to marriage; that helps avoid confusion. To the rest of you, why can’t you either produce stools or get off of the toilet, to paraphrase an old saying? I would rather my wife kept her name than combined it with mine, if she wants to keep it so badly. Having both is just stupid and makes for overlong, pretentious-sounding names. It isn’t about feminism, but it’s about time this idiocy stopped. Enough already! (From Yahoo Answers)

If there’s one thing that annoys me, it’s women who hyphenate their names. I’m a doctor and as such must create charts which are then filed away in alphabetical order.

So Mrs. Jayne Gorden-Vangeroffson comes in for an exam. She writes her name on my form as Jayne Gorden-Vangeroffson. So we file her chart this way and then attempt to file her insurance. But her vision plan has her listed as Jayne Vangeroffson and so the claim is denied. After several hours on the phone, my staff finally gets ahold of someone and they resolve the issue.

Please, women, do not hyphenate your name. You will be creating nothing but problems for yourself and anyone who must deal with you. Doctors will not be able to find your chart. Insurance companies will not have you listed as a client. The list goes on. If you want to keep your maiden name, keep it. Just tack the new name on at the end without a hyphen. Who gives a fuck if you have three or four names? But please, no more hyphenated names!!!!!!! (From Sciforum.com) [http://www.sciforums.com/showthread.php?t=66012]

“Hyphenation, in my experience, seems to be tapering off,” said Danielle Tate, founder of MissNowMrs.com, which helps women with the legal process of altering surnames. Tate, who gave up the name Rowlett when she married in 2005, observed that many of her mother’s friends have hyphenated last names, but none of hers do. “In talking to brides, I feel like there’s almost a stigma with hyphenated last names. they’re a mouthful and difficult in travel situations,” Tate said. “We’ve had the whole feminist movement; we’re aware that we’re equal.” (From Columbia News Service)

And perhaps my favorite:

Are women who opt for hyphenated names more masculine than traditional women? I hate, hate, hate the whole hyphen thing. If I meet someone with a hyphen in their name, they automatically get one strike against them. They usually get the next two strikes rather quickly. It’s like athletes who incorrectly shorten their name the Zach. I just can’t root for them. (I never see Michael shortened to Mich or Nicholas shortened to Nich, so Zach is obviously wrong.) People who look like freaks with silly piercings and tattoos get the same treatment. (From Ask.com)

There you have it. I am pretentious, indecisive, stigmatized, masculine, and terribly inconvenient.

When I got married, keeping my maiden name was a no-brainer for me. And after becoming immersed in researching my family history, I am even more convinced that the decision to keep my name was the right one, because I am witness to how women who give up their names can be erased from history. But also because I am the product of the parents who raised me and of all my ancestors’ struggles and triumphs. My last name embodies that. I can’t imagine giving it away. Also, I had established myself in my career with my maiden name and was loathe to damage my reputation by changing my identity.

As reformer, lecturer, editor, women’s rights advocate ,and abolitionist Lucy Stone said way back in the 1800s, “A wife should no more take her husband’s name than he should hers. My name is my identity and must not be lost.”

See, I viewed getting married as adding something to an already full life. When I took my vows, I wasn’t vanishing into another person. I was adding a wonderful man to my life, as well as that man’s very big and wonderful family.

Me + Loving Hubby = A Hyphenated Moniker

That’s just my decision. I don’t begrudge anyone else theirs. Keep your name. Take his. Smoosh them together. Not my business. A name, after all, is about as personal as you can get. But the fact that only five to 10 percent of American women chose to keep their family names in 2009 surely says something about how we view the power balance in heterosexual relationships.

It says something that men in the public sphere aren’t judged about how they refer to themselves. See the saga of Jennifer Martinez Atzberger or the former Hillary Rodham Clinton . Yahoo reports about the Secretary of State:

Clinton retained her maiden name after her marriage to Bill Clinton in 1975. Her husband became governor of Arkansas in 1978 and lost his bid for re-election in 1980. Frank White, the Republican challenger, made it a point to inform voters that his wife went by the name “Mrs. Frank White,” while he chastised Clinton’s professional independence. Citizens in this conservative state were, in part, uncomfortable with Clinton’s use of her maiden name, and it was found after the election that her husband had lost up to 6 percentage points in the polls due to the name issue.

And it says something that all of the legitimate reasons women give for hyphenating or changing their names are almost never made by men as reasons to change theirs. How often do you hear a groom-to-be say, “My name sounds funny and my fiance’s is much better. I’m taking her name?” Or, “I have a difficult relationship with my dad, so I am shedding my last name to make a break from the past.” Men don’t usually say these things upon getting married. Why? Because society’s general assumption is that a woman’s identity (and name) will be absorbed by her husband’s at marriage. In fact, a 2009 study found that 70 percent of Americans believe a woman should change her name at marriage, and 50 percent believe women should be legally mandated to do so.  It is not a masculine thing to give your name away and so men are never asked. And men who take their female partner’s name (as the husband of a childhood chum did) get snickered at.

My hyphenated name is a little long and that’s a pain. Yeah, it may take the doctor’s assistant a second longer to find my file, but I am always sure to clearly explain that my name is hyphenated whenever I speak with someone so I don’t cause unnecessary confusion. My hyphenated name may make some people roll their eyes, but you know what? My name is my name and, inconvenient or not, I have a right to it.

149 Comments

  1. Destry

    Tammy Winfrey Harris, thank you for the fantastic article! I’ve always loved my last name, and my husband could tell I was hesitant to dismiss it completely, so he suggested we hyphenate our last names together. Marriage can be a beautiful thing when two lovers are committed to each other and are willing to fully communicate.

    I’m sorry about the vitriol in the comments section– it produce lots of heat but little light. Thanks for spreading the light!

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  2. Sue Duris

    Seriously? This is the single most silliest thing I have read today.

    Sue Duris-McMurdy

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  3. Chuck

    How can there be so many comments on a non-subject? You get married you take your husbands last name and make it into a family. Do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do.

    -2
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