Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hyphenated Last Names and What to Do About Them

This article in the NYTimes about the dilemma of hyphenated last names really rubs me the wrong way. It doesn't provide any real solutions about how to balance conflicting perspectives and needs.

For example, figuring out the last name dilemma was easy when I got married. I kept my last name and Matt kept his. However, the struggle came when our son, Henry, joined our family. I really didn't want to hyphenate because of the logistical hardship of having a cumbersome last name, but I also wanted his name to embody the idea that he came from both of us. I wasn't comfortable relegating my last name to his middle name, since middle names are rarely ever shared (for aesthetic reasons, it sounds better when my name comes first, which is why we didn't even consider using Matt's last name for Henry's middle name).

For us, we really had no other choice but to hyphenate. We didn't know how Henry was going to deal with his hyphenated last name when (and if) he got married, but we went with the hyphenation anyway.

But then I read a brilliant solution on A Practical Wedding. Here's how it works. Both Matt and I would combine our names with a hyphen. I'm Sara Cotner; he's Matt Bradford, so we would become Sara Cotner-Bradford and Matt Cotner-Bradford (or whichever order sounds better). All our children would also be Cotner-Bradford's. Then if Henry gets married to a woman with a hyphenated last name (let's pretend her name is Ellie Pearson-Becker), they would each drop one of their last names to combine only two names with a hyphen. Since Henry is male, he would drop his mom's family name. Since Ellie is female, she would drop her dad's family name. They would both become Bradford-Becker. (There would be slight variations for gay families.)

In my mind, it's such an elegant and simple solution! Parents and their children all have the same last names, there are only ever two names hyphenated at one time, males pass along the male family name, and females pass along the female family name.

So what this means for Matt and me is that we might legally change our last names to Cotner-Bradford. It's not something we worried about during the wedding planning process because we already had enough stuff to figure out and focus on. It's been great to have time to sort through all of these questions and issues together.

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cicile said...

We have somehow the same issue here in France. However, it's forbidden to keep four names, so you have to drop one when you have kids. AND YOU CAN ONLY KEEP THE FIRST ONE ! So in the end, only the first name matters. Which is sad.

What really matters is choosing the order of the names :'(

Emily SW said...

I have some issues with that NYT article, too. A child needs the same last name as his/her father to tie the child to the father? Really? That seems a little insulting to me.

My husband and I changed our names to MyLastName HisLastName (so 2 last names with one hyphen). Our kids will have that name, too. People ask, "what will your kids do?" But I think that is totally up to them. I like how you explained the idea from APW...I read that post and was so confused about the system. I think it's a great idea!

Ellie said...

I have a hyphenated last name and I actually agree wholeheartedly with the entire article. Hyphenating really is only a one-generation solution. And I think Meg's solution is great, but it requires EVERYONE to have hyphenated last names, and in my vast experience, most people do not want a hyphenated last name. In theory, it's great. But chances are pretty high that Henry will marry somebody with one last name. There's even a good chance that he'll marry somebody who has always wanted to share a single family name with her or his spouse, and hyphenation makes these things more complicated. The truth is, there is no good solution here. But I was really happy to read an article by somebody who at least has been where I am now, trying to decide what to do with my hyphenated last name.

Mismikado said...

Interesting thought, Sara! It got me thinking and I even wrote my own post analyzing the different options :) http://mismikadodownthesidewalk.blogspot.com/2011/11/whats-in-name.html

And @Emmalinda you shouldn't take offense to the article as a whole because of the tying a father to his child comment. If anything be upset with Laurie K. Scheuble who is quoted as saying it. The writer, Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, in fact said that it was probably not necessary and referenced a father who broke that tradition. All in all, I think she acted as a good journalist by sharing the facts and options without showing bias to a specific solution.

Anonymous said...

This topic means a lot to me. I'm one of those super-educated Gen X females who had a career, a few degrees, and a lot going on when I got married at the ancient age of 31. Practically nobody from college or grad school changed their names. One or two changed or hyphenated, you know, if he was a Rockefeller or something like that.

Several years later, and a few kids later, I get now why I should have changed my name. My connection to my husband and kids is so profound in every area of my life, that I should have just done it, not stayed with my birth name. Just my opinion of course.

Anonymous said...

I think it's great that you and your husband chose to talk about the last name situation. It's a decision that you chose to make. I have some family members who also did the same thing as you. There kids took their fathers last name.

I knew right away that I wanted to take my fiance's last name. It's beautiful Irish last name. Since, I'm half Irish I didn't mind going from one Irish last name to another! I love joking about it... :)

I think your little son will be very happy with his last name. You and your husband have nice last names.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a totally convoluted solution. Taking the husband's last name is really not a big deal.

Becky said...

I have a hyphenated last name, which is a relic of a couple of generations ago, and it's just confusing and unecessary in my situation. I'll be glad to change to my future husband's last name so I don't have to spend so long writing my name anymore! I don't feel it lessens my attachment nor belonging to my birth family in any way.

Anonymous said...

As a hyphenated woman in a same-sex relationship with a non-hyphenated woman... I'm dying to know what the variations are for gay families!

Anonymous said...

I think there should always be these solutions by law, for a name change (not all states are name freedom act states, I believe this would require a federal statute change to help, honestly).

Upon Marriage:
A man and woman can choose whatever name they want.
1) The Surname of either spouse
2) A hyphenated name
3) A combined name using recognizable parts of both spouses birth surnames
4) Choosing a related family name upon marriage
5) Keeping their surname

The choosing of an entirely new surname would still be required to go through legal fees, and requirements would be standardized through out the states.

Upon naming a child:
1) Choosing the surname printed on the marriage certificate
2) Creating a hyphenated name of both spouses birth surnames
3) Combining the surname
4) Creating a new name
5) Choosing a related family name

Anonymous said...

For now, my future husband and I plan to keep our last names and combine them for our children, sans hyphen. Our last names are both rather short (4 and 5 letters) and sound ethnically similar (even though I am of European descent and he is of Asian decent), so our children will end up with a manageable 9 letter last name that represents us both. If we both choose to take that same last name in the future, then we can both change to that.

Cate D said...

This is very similar to what the Spanish do! They have both their Mother's and Father's surnames, though their "official" surname is their Father's (typical patriarchal society). When they get married, they keep their names. When they have a child, they each give them their "official" surname. So Jane Wilson Smith and John Jameson Johnson would have a child with the last name Jameson Wilson. Then that child marries a man with the last name McKenzie Marsden and the child becomes a McKenzie Jameson. Cool, huh? Still a bit man-focused, and would have to be a bit more flexible for gay marriage, but I like that everyone keeps their own name!

Eco Yogini said...

I believe this is a personal choice- where each couple will choose what makes most sense to them.

My husband and I discussed this about 10months into the two year engagement (ugh- so long!), and decided to both hyphenate. His parents FLIPPED out. It was a 14month preparation for the wedding and they're still ashamed and have kept it a huge secret from other family members.

That said- I love that we both have the same last name. And that our child will as well.

This whole 'Oh no! What will your child do if they want to get married?' I find a bit silly. A lot of ifs and maybes for a possible future. The child will do what they want and what works best for them. Names are fluid and change often.

Anonymous said...

You really think that's a simple and elegant solution? That's ridiculous. Your bias is glaring.

Anonymous said...

"it's such an elegant and simple solution"--What a gas! Really?
I'd say you're pretty biased as to outcome. Just my opinion

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