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Hyphens and Other Changes
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It’s not uncommon for a married couple to give their children a hyphenated last name, a combination of their two names. Personally, I’m happy to have just one last name, but I guess I can see the appeal… no favoritism, embracing multiple heritages, uniqueness, etc. In American society, however, while hyphenated names are prevalent, it’s most common for the woman to take the man’s name.

Yesterday a male friend suggested to me that when two people marry, they should just take the better of the two names. Loving the essence of the name, I, of course, have always felt this way. I was surprised to hear it from someone else, particularly a guy. People tend to feel very connected to their names. That’s one reason to hyphenate children’s names and for women to keep their original last names. On the one hand, we feel connected to our names because they are a basic part of our identity. But conversely, they are something our parents bestowed upon us, over which we had no control. Thus, we shouldn’t be offended if someone doesn’t like our name, or if the woman in a marriage has a “better” last name.

Would I give mine up? Sure, but I’d hope his (the future husband I have yet to meet) name is better than mine. There are a lot of considerations at stake in deciding what makes a name better. For example, I like “Radding” because it’s relatively unique. Any Radding is related to me. That’s pretty cool. One point for Radding. But “Radding” is annoying in my signature. It has a lot of “clock-climber letters,” as my third grade teacher called them, which are painstakingly slow to write in cursive. Minus one point for Radding. Regardless of whether or not I give up “Radding” later in life, I’m still connected to the family. I’m not giving up an identity.

Most couples don’t weigh the pros and cons of two names and pick the better one. For those looking to compromise, the most prevalent solution seems to be sticking the two names together, for the kids at least. Yet what happens when Jones-Smith marries Adams-Brown? Should the kids be Jones-Smith-Adams-Brown? Enough is enough. Plus, while it feels fine to adopt a partner’s name when it’s a single name, would I really want to adopt someone else’s hyphenated name? For some reason adopting someone else’s hyphenated name feels more like adopting someone else’s identity than just adopting their single name. It may be one thing to carry around both your own parents’ heritages, but to carry someone else’s? I think not.

Regardless of my feelings about changing last names, the plausibility of them boggles my mind… the infinite number of combinations out there to capture and analyze. But I must say that I haven’t yet come across a Jones-Smith-Adams-Brown, or anyone with more than two names connected by a hyphen.

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