November 20, 2008

Hyphenation Alienation

I have a friend who recently got married and legally assumed a hyphenated last name. This wouldn't be a big surprise to me at all, if my friend wasn't a male. Yes, he is a guy who hyphenated his last name and, no, he did not marry another guy. I have never seen this before, have you?

I’m all for a woman hyphenating her last name or even keeping her maiden name. That is fine with me. In fact, I have a shitty last name, so I don’t blame any chick for wanting to avoid it. Believe me, I already present enough challenges for any girl who would want to marry me, so there’s no point in making it even worse with tagging her with an 11-letter last name. I've even jokingly said that I would consider switching my last name and taking HER name (assuming I ever got married), in order to lose a few syllables and put an end to years of misspellings on my credit cards. While I guess I would entertain changing my last name (if my parents were dead), the idea of hyphenating it has never occurred to me.

The invention of the hyphenated last name came from women who didn't want to completely switch their last name after getting married. Because of its origins, hyphenated last names have the appearance of being uniquely feminine and, therefore, unsuitable for a man. I’m guessing that this is the number one reason why no guy that I have ever know (except for one!) has ever taken on a hyphenated last name. I also imagine that it’s going to be a bit of a hassle for this guy, not so much because of the obvious jokes he might encounter (“Gee, John, I thought Nancy was the bride, not you!”), but you also probably have to explain it to a million people (for the rest of your life) when you're introduced to them, handing them your business card, etc. Thank goodness his first name is a typical man's name, otherwise I would assume there would be a lot of gender confusion by those who contact him sight unseen.

So why on earth adopt such a troublesome name? I’m assuming that his wife also hyphenated her last name, so maybe they wanted to pair themselves up properly. It's a little weird for the guy I know, because his name is hyphenated in the traditional female style of maiden name first, followed by the groom's name... his real last name isn't even listed first, which is odd. But, again, I’m sure it was done to match the couple up with the same last (hyphenated) name.

So why is it important to have a matched up last name? Someone suggested that it is for when they have kids. The kids would then have two parents with the same last name and the children would also share that same last name. In theory, this sounds sweet, until you think that the kid now has a last name that is double in traditional size, contains a character that is not in the alphabet, and is completely alien from any last name that any other kid has! I’m pretty sure that a hyphenated last name is going to get that kid’s ass kicked at least once on the playground. Also, you know it’s not going to fit on those Scantron forms used to take SATS, etc. I’m no psychologist, but I have to think that this will all result in some developmental setback for the kid. Is it really that alienating and weird for a family to have one last name (the man’s) and the mother can be hyphenated (which the kids will never really see, unless it’s on mail that’s delivered or something). I think that's something the kids can handle much better.

The hyphenation is also a pain in the ass for us adults who have to interact with these people. Before, if a woman hyphenated her last name, that was fine, but you were able to get away with calling them Mr. and Mrs. Smith. But now that they guy has gone and done something crazy with HIS last name, you have to call them Mr. and Mrs. Smith-Jones. The whole thing doesn't seem necessary.

If two gay guys got married, THEN I understand both of them hyphenating their last name. In that situation, you have two men, and traditionally the man retains his name.

Maybe the whole thing of having the woman assume someone else's last name is sexist. I mean, decades ago, it probably made more sense, but today women have established careers, and they may be reluctant to change their “brand” (i.e. last name) and start causing confusion with clients and co-workers. A hyphenation partly helps address that, but again, this decision falls on the shoulders of the female. Guys never even need to think about doing anything with their name to help comply with a newly unionized couple - it's probably sexist that men don't have to consider that. This is why I support a woman keeping her maiden name, or switching it, or even hyphenating it (although I will confess that I think hyphenation kind of reeks of indecision and is the surname equivalent of keeping one foot on either side of the fence). I just don’t know how I feel about a man doing it for all the reasons I have mentioned above.

Think about when the kids with hyphenated names grow up and marry someone. If it was only the mother who hyphenated her name, then the ever-expanding last name stops with her. But if you burden your kids with your hyphenated last name, then we have to be prepared for the idea that those kids will grow up and marry someone. If it’s a daughter, will they take on a triple hyphenation after marriage to someone?? If it’s a son, will his bride hyphenate her last name to come up with her own triple-last-name cocktail? (The son will probably adopt that same triple hyphenation himself, because you beat it into him that mommy and daddy's last names were SO important that they had to combine them when they got married - someone raised in that environment isn't going shorter with a last name, they're going to go longer at any opportunity.) God forbid one hyphenated kid meets and marries another hyphenated kid (they’ll probably meet one another in a Last Name Support Group or something). What happens when these two kids get married?... a QUADRUPLE hyphenated last name?! For god’s sake, we’re setting up a system that will produce humans that sound more like law firms than kids.

And what happens if the parents of a hyphenated kid end up getting a divorce? I’m willing to bet that both the mom and dad will revert back to their original (and single) last name... but the kid stays hyphenated, right? Well, there goes your happy family of “one last name” concept that was seemed to be so critically important. And now the kid has a constant reminder of the failed marriage... it’s right there on his name tag. Hyphenation seems like dangerous territory to me!


  1. i think its a lot to ask a woman to change her name, but Ive never heard of the man taking a hyphenated name!

  2. I (a woman) would be too lazy to hyphenate. Who wants to do all that extra writing? I don't know whether or not I will take my husband's name. I'm pretty attached to my own.

    I would love to see more men take their wives' names. Let's mix it up a bit, but not with hyphens.