Wednesday, April 1, 2009

From the Vault: An Inconvenient Woman

[Editor's note: From time to time, I dust off posts from the blog's early days that current readers may have missed. Here's one from April 2008.]

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 Jill Miller Zimon (another inconveniently named woman) 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


ThirstyDancer said...

I kept my own name when I was married, which worked out well as now I am divorced. Even in choosing that, I didn't feel I was retaining a particular identity as a woman, as it involved claiming my father's father's father's (et cetera) name. Even taking my mother's maiden name would have linked me to a line of fathers. For me, hyphenating would be a great option, provided it was mutual and my husband hyphenated as well. I know some couples who did that and I really respect their choice.

ThirstyDancer said...

I kept my own name when I was married, which worked out well as now I am divorced. Even in choosing that, I didn't feel I was retaining a particular identity as a woman, as it involved claiming my father's father's father's (et cetera) name. Even taking my mother's maiden name would have linked me to a line of fathers. For me, hyphenating would be a great option, provided it was mutual and my husband hyphenated as well. I know some couples who did that and I really respect their choice.

Anonymous said...

I didn't hyphenate. I made my maiden name my middle name and took my husband's last name. When I went to the social security office to make the change, the woman at the counter told me I could not do that. I asked her why she was giving me a hard time. Had she not heard of Hillary Rodham Clinton. I had already changed my passport with no problem and had it as ID for social security.
After speaking with her supervisor, she came back and completed my request. I said nothing, but I'm sure the self-satisfied look on my face said it all.

Julia said...

How interesting...Among my women friends around my age who have married, all have either taken their husbands name OR kept their maiden names--no hyphens. I am a member of the latter category. Interestingly, it's our kids who have hyphenated last names and so far, they're all boys....

Kjen said...

For a time, I use to think that hyphenated names were something only for the rich and famous as well, until I learned that many women in my own family had hyphenated names. But they told me that in the end it was "just easier" to take their husbands names. Which was hilarious because I always wanted my mom's family name. It was just so much cooler than my dad's.
I can see how it can be tiring to constantly have to assert yourself but i think it worth the battle. My biggest concern would be the children's names - having hyphenated kids names. I see that being the bigger battle.

Kia said...

I decided that if I got married I would hyphenate at 8 years of age when my dad jokingly teased me that I was just "borrowing" our mutual last name.

The confusion surrounding my name is escalated because my maiden name is also a common first name. So often people think I'm Kia-Lee Smith as opposed to Kia Lee-Smith.

So yes, it's always fun times at the doctors offices but the hassle is worth keeping my sense of identity intact.

Anonymous said...

I just kept my last name and my partner kept hers as well. Simple.
Are men with hypenated names fussed at as much?

Language Lover said...

It's so ridiculous that so many people have such strong ideas about what OTHERS do with their names. I considered hyphenation, but in the end decided to keep my maiden name. Personally, I think the "it's confusing" argument (which is also applied to those who make my choice) is a weak disguise for people to express their true discomfort, which is anything other than the traditional Mrs. HisLastName.

I'm confused, though, Tami...every time I've seen your full name, in other blogs and on Facebook, there's no hyphen. Have you changed your practice since that post was written?

Tami said...


I always use both names, but sometimes drop the hyphen. My official legal last name is Maiden Name-Married Name. I actually like it better with both names, no hyphen, but I still consider myself a hyphenate.

Suz said...

Thank you, Tami and reponders, for another opportunity to reflect on our identities as women, and what a struggle it can be to maintain basic integrity in our messy world. I find in the anti-hyphen quotes you give in your post the height of arrogance and disregard for basic human decency.

Kudos and much love to all of you who have taken up the task of walking an often maddening, exhausting walk. I, as TD, was willing to hyphenate my (admittedly paternal-derived) name with my partner’s name as long as he would do the same. He would not-- and for me, my own internal sense of fairness and balance meant not adding his name to my own. Being the women’s history enthusiast/womanist that I am, I also considered this a no-brainer: under no uncertain terms would I discard my family signifier, flawed tho it may be. As a history student, I have encountered the profound disjunction (for me and other inquisitive folk) of women’s lives that could not be meaningfully associated with their own roots and stories by virtue of having erased those connections with their names of origin. What a tragic loss: we need these stories! We need OUR stories. I Need My Story.
Even in my paternal line, a whole vast swath of our family narrative is maddeningly obscured by the fact that my father’s country of origin has no indigenous tradition of using surnames.!

Along these lines, it has always been obvious (to me) that any child of ours should have both our family names—lengthy tho the combination may be. And our daughter’s name is a mouthful! We actively work with her to promote a positive identification with all of her historical/cultural/social roots/identities and border crossings—and to prepare her for the challenges she may encounter with spelling and pronunciation (among so many others). To do otherwise would have been utterly disingenuous, i.e., to drop either of our “inconvenient,” messy, rich and multifaceted family connections.

Now I find myself considering name issues at my daughter’s daycare, where part of her hyphenated name (USUALLY MINE—the first half) is frequently dropped from nametags/art labels etc., ostensibly in the interest of fitting it in. For all my historico-political certitude, I find myself and my partner letting this slide! As for myself, I blame my Caregiver-Womanist-Crypto-Marxist-Solidarity/Bourgie-Multiracial-Privileged-Guilt Complex [dang]. Can’t speak for my husband. The women—and they are without exception WOC-- taking such shortcuts are some of the hardest working and most underappreciated people in our communities. As much as we show our appreciation for our daughter’s teachers on a daily basis, this “oversight” of ours is clearly insufficient on a number of levels. After reading and reflecting on this thread, however, I am newly inspired to address this in a more heartfelt and consistent manner: our daughter’s hyphenated name matters, and merits the respect and consideration given any other name in her class.

Thanks again, and Blessings to us all.

Julia said...

I was intrigued to read your post because, among the people in my circle, it's the children who are getting the hyphenated last names, not the parents. Some of my friends have chosen to take their husband's name, but I don't know a single woman who has chosen hyphenation. I've kept my name, as have many of my friends, and then we hyphenate mom's name-dad's name for our children's last name. So far, all of the children bearing hyphenated last names have been boys, so it will be interesting to see what will happen around the "inconvenient woman" baggage.

I'm enjoying the posts "from the vault." Keep'em coming.

Anonymous said...

Out of my own stupid curiosity ... what happens when the hyphenated children start marrying other hyphenated children and having hyphenated children of their own ...

Dear Johnny Redford-Sheen-Jackman-Kidman is going to start to become something of a burden for the poor kid...

ActsofFaithBlog said...

Well I always thought it was nice that the Mayor of Los Angeles took his wife's last name and combined it with his. But then he was very publicly indiscrete with his extra-marital cheating so, so much for that. If you have a rather long last name I would choose one or the other but really it's an individual's choice. If the woman hyphenates, shouldn't the husband? And what about the children. Often times it's just the wife that does this to retain some sort of identity for herself.

gatamala said...

When I was married I hyphenated. Yes, it was cumbersome.

Second time around...I'm sticking w/ MY family name!!! It's not worth standing in the Social Security line.

How's that for inconvenient and masculine.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit that to me the hyphenated-name thing has a slightly negative connotation (though its not a big deal).
It almost always seems to be associated with upper-middle or upper class families.
I think the reason is is that it was traditionally what very upper-class families did (especially the nobility), because if the marrying families were upper-class both 'family names' were considered prestigious and important and so important to carry on.
Hence it became seen as a high-status thing to do and the upper-middle classes copied it.

If your family was plebian though, well then, the name wasn't important enough for the woman's family class privilege to match the man's gender privilege. So working class people tended not to do the hyphen thing.

So hyphenated name = posh person. is the equation. Sorry!

This is probably nation-specific though.


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