Friday, April 11, 2008

An Inconvenient Woman

For those of you who don’t know my real name, it is Tami MaidenName-MarriedName. Yes, I am one of THOSE women. I am a hyphenator.

After getting married back 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 that 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

“Hyphenation, in my experience, seems to be tapering off,” said Danielle Tate, founder of, 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 woman 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 2 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 that look like freaks with silly piercing and tattoos get the same treatment. (From
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 that 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. A name, after all, is about as personal as you can get.

Yeah, 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 that 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 I like it just fine.

UPDATE: Check out these links from reader Jill about how women can be penalized for chosing to hyphenate their names.

The Political Side Effects of Being a Woman
Judicial Ratings Now Available
Jennifer Martinez Atzberger unable to meet petition deadline


Hagar's Daughter said...

Say What! So now a woman can't decide what she will call herself!?! I hyphenate because I choose to. I refused to give up who I am and get lost in someone else's name. I also embraced my new family and decided to celebrate by adding his name to mine. Now my husband sometimes uses my unmarried name as his.

Those people need to get over themselves and learn to deal. I need to be famous? What about knowing who I am. said...

This is a good topic!

I am a Gen X sista and I still think that a woman who marries a man should take his name. I do. But when you are ONE that can and should be reflected with ONE name. And what about the children - the children will have two last names also? If they children don't have two last names then why does the mother want to? It's all so unnecessary... two names proves what? independence? I'm my own person? I don't get that at all...

Yes, I know, I know... all the modern sistas will call me Wilma Flintstone!! *LOL* Go ahead and make my day! *LOL*

Ok...I'm climbing down from my soapbox now...

Thanks for letting me blow my trumpet!

lindbeam said...

thank you for this post! I actually did not hyphenate when I was first married, but added my husband's last name almost three years later, and was just legally authorized in November. my name is now somewhat awkward compared to my original name, but i am so happy i did it!

Tami said...


So, what do you think about a man who takes his wife's name? I know one couple who did that.

I respect your thoughts, even though this GenX sista sooo doesn't agree. (lol)

But that's the point really--your name is personal, so I think any woman should be free to do what she thinks is best. I don't get why some dude on a Sci Fi forum has his drawers all in a bundle over what women do with their names.

Erica said...

My last name is hyphenated now, too. It's two German names, 15 letters long (not counting the hyphen), and they are each unusual to pronounce on their own; together, they are a nightmare. This was not the result of any serious thought; we were filling out the marriage license, got to the part about "bride's married name" -- I panicked and wrote them both down.

I don't really want to keep the whole mangled consonant-heavy thing. But seven years on, I can't bring myself to give up my family name, nor can I justify separating myself from the name that my husband and children have.

One thing you mention is how your female ancestors are so easily lost when trying to trace genealogies. I found this as well -- Jemima and Nancy and Ophelia and a million Mary's popped into existence as a spouse, with no hint of a separate life. That is why I do the family tree research I do -- so my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will know something about the woman I am, regardless of my surname!

Stentor said...

Somewhat OT, but that Zach/Mich/Nich theory is hilarious.

Kandee said...

I married way too young and was still in that 'I'll do anything for you' phase (I think I was also mad at my father for not being in my life and wanted to start anew). If I had to do it over again, I would have kept my last name. No changes whatsoever.

I confess, I don't like hyphenations. That doesn't mean think of you, or anyone else, as masculine, indecisive, or pretentious. Nice post!

(h)apaThealogy said...

y'know, it's funny. I added my husband's name to my last name when we got married and did the three-moniker bit for eight years. I just got a new job where I'll be in the public eye and after imagining entire populations getting my name wrong on a daily basis, I dropped hubby's name off the name card. I still sign my name with three names, but I just couldn't stand the aggravation of explaining it anymore.

Jill said...

I love this post, Tami. During the 2006 election cycle here in Ohio, a woman named Jennifer Martinez Atzberger got thrown off the Democratic ticket because a male challenger claimed that she had no right to use Martinez and that she was using it solely to get Hispanic votes.

Now - it's become apparent that I am NOT a knowledgeable source of info etc. about WOC but the MSM was not covering this story well at all and I picked up the phone, spoke with her and others, and blogged about it - a lot. I was so angry.

I totally understood where she was coming from because I too use three names, no hyphen but sometimes shorten it for signatures on kids' forms and what not.

Well, Jennifer had to shorten it on her driver's license - which was one of the pieces of evidence the challengers used - because the Bureau TOLD her that they couldn't fit all of her names on there! So they said, either shorten Martinez to Martin (hello??? that's not her name!?!) or get rid of one of the names.

What was she supposed to do? She certainly didn't know whether she could challenge that. So she had them drop Martinez from her license.

Well - I could go on and on - I'll direct you to these posts if anyone is interested.

But I contacted the woman who was running for and is now the Sec'y of State for Ohio and I said, you watch out. This is an ENORMOUS issue in the age of voter Id being used to disenfranchise voters, often minority and Democratic: women use three names and/or hyphenated names, and the systems around us are NOT flexible enough to allow us to do so.

One very simple example - I just signed up for a magazine subscription. Their system only allows first and last name.

Well - I don't want to go under "Miller" which is the middle name but when I put in my last name, "Zimon" I have no where to really put the "Miller."

Sounds silly? It totally messed up about 10 years of medical records that I was told didn't exist - because of the alphabetizing system used where I go for medical care.

So - anyway - I am commiserating.

How do we do better? Well - if anything, I make sure I use all three names everywhere I can.

But I am completely open to more suggestions - that don't include NOT using my maiden and married name!

Thanks again, Tami - I hope to link to your post soon.

Jill said...

Oh - and Tami - my brother took his wife's name and they put it first but they are actually now divorced and their kids still use the hyphenated name even though their parents don't! Kind of an interesting result.

PioneerValleyWoman said...

I kept my name when I married, and didn't bother hyphenating at all.

I too have had a long professional history in my own name before I married, and I was not about to give that up.

In my publications, I recognize him. In correspondence I send on both our behalf, I hyphenate: My name and husband's name, My maiden Name-His last name.

I think if a woman keeps her name and does not hyphenate, the children's names should be hyphenated.

kate said...

Here in Spain, both partners keep their own names, and in fact each person has two surnames, one from mom and one from dad. In situations where using both names becomes unwieldy, you just use the first, but on all official documents you use both. No hyphens, but we hyphenated our kids' names on their US passports to avoid confusion and make it clear that the surname is one unit, but I guess from what other commenters have said, people don't always get that.

New Black Woman said...

Wow....that's insane. I don't understand why people get so offended when women refuse to conform. As a reporter, I'm even leaning towards not changing my name at all or just hyphenating it.

The arguments against hyphenating all sound like a backlash to what they perceive is a "feminist" statement.

SheCodes said...

People need to mind their own darn business and let you call yourself whatever you want.

The doctors and insurance companies have bigger problems if their staff is to stupid and uneducated to know how to properly alphabetize. What other 'common mistakes' are they making with our medical information?

The only thing that bothers me is when women constantly go back and forth with it (for example, dropping husband's last name when they get into a fight). I work with databases and have a lot of duplicate entries with that.

Just like we had to do a massive changes for Y2K in information systems, people can just add a few more slots for last names, darn it! It's not rocket science!! said...

@ Tami

I knew a man who had two-last names. My position was the same. I thought he should either take his wife's last name or she should take his - one or the other and I'll be satisfied! *lol*

I know this viewpoint is soooo unpopular...but thanks for letting me blow my trumpet!

(known on this blog right now as WILMA Flinstone! *chuckles*)

AJ Plaid said...

Like Lisa, I'm a Gen Xer who, even knowing the arguments for and against keeping my last name, hyphenating it with my (ex)husband, and adopting my ex's last name, I took my ex's name. Not out of a sense of "should," but out of a sense of choice. I *hated* my last name and was all too happy to get rid of it. (My ex also hated his orginal last name and changed it to our shared last name.) Even after we dissolved the marriage, we agreed that I could keep the name.

The hyphenated-name controversy reminds me of the "Miss or Ms." brouhaha that happened in the 70s and 80s. Once again, the underlying argument was "those damn women are using their minds and ain't minding their place." The more things change...

Tara said...

Got to this older post from today's post on the evolution of the title Ms. I've been on both sides of the hyphenated name debate. See, I was born as a hyphenated child. My parents were unmarried hippies/beatniks cohabitating when I was born and decided to give me both their last names as a hyphenated last name. Tara MiddleName MothersLastName-FathersLastName. As a young girl, I desperately wished I had just one last name and resolved to immediately take my husband's last name upon marriage. Mainly I used just my mom's last name because no one seemed to care. Then I got older and had a baby while unmarried. Didn't quite know how to handle her last name. I gave her my mother's last name and told the father if we ended up married someday, we would both take his last name. We did not end up married so now my daughter has a hyphenated last name too consisting of her grandmother's last name (since that's the last name I was using primarily at the time) + her dad's last name, at least unofficially. We are still in the process of changing it legally.
So I meet the man of my dreams and we eventually decide to get married. By this point, I have been using my legal hyphenated last name for years and I feel very attached to it. So much so that I felt hesitant to take his name and besides my daughter has at least one of my last names and I don't like the idea of having a completely different last name from her but I do love my husband and his family. So after much discussing, hemming and hawing and with a suggestion from my father, I decide to take a double hyphenated last name, adding my husband's last name to my maiden name, at least on my driver's license. I had to give up my middle name for them all to fit and it's pure hell trying to explain it to people but it suits me and I never did change it on anything but my driver's license so for most things, I am still known by my maiden hyphenated last name. Of course this causes many problems for my husband because people assume he is Mr. "my father's last name".
We won't be having any more children to give ridiculously long last names too although at this point if we were, I would just give them my husband's last name so as not to ever ever ever have them struggle over what to do with a hyphenated birth name :)
I am happy with my choice but recognize that it is a choice for everyone, I don't like calling people out on either side of the fence on this issue. Although I took it with pride when some hyper-conservative said about me "you know what they say about women with two last names..."

sugaredharpy said...

I, too, found this today via the Ms. posting. I just got married two days ago and I'm unsure of what I want to do with my name.

I'm sure as hell not losing my maiden name. But I'm debating adding my husband's name to mine, either hyphenating or as two names (a la Jones Smith).

I've been already overcome by friends and family who feel I am showing disrespect to my new husband because of this. But in the end, I'm not out to "satisfy" (as one commenter said above) anyone else's need to be convenient. My gender is clearly not convenient, my work is not convenient, my children existing in public is not convenient..and why would I want to be convenient to anyone else in the first place?

If it's too hard for someone to handle my maiden name staying put, or to handle a hyphenated or double name...then boo hoo to that person in my book. I'm not here to make someone else's typing life easier.

Anonymous said...

I tried keeping my maiden name for simplicity, I really did. But socially people kept sending me stuff with my husband's name, or some clerk somewhere would then tag my husband with my name as well. He was Mr. My Maiden name on my auto insurance policy for a while and we were never able to get it changed, because how does he prove that's *not* his name once they've decided he's their insured? I was waiting for him to get cited for driving "without insurance" and to have to explain that in court. Once the stupidity spread I couldn't prove who I was sometimes so I put both on my driver's license. Though I tried to be consistent in matching my driver's license in every single interaction, invariably some bureaucrat would file me under maiden name, and some under married and then once you enter the great bureaucratic hell it is impossible to change anything anymore. To the doctor's office who complains about women who hyphenate, the problem is your staff who doesn't like to think too hard or pay attention to what the patient tells you her name is.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...