Hyphenated Last Names: Are They Worth The Excess Baggage?

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hyphenated last names

Over the years, the legal formalities surrounding name changes after marriage have evolved. Today, women have various options when it comes to changing their names including the option to hyphenate their last name. This process allows them to retain their old identity while acquiring a new one.

Previously, a name change after marriage was considered mandatory. The new bride had to give up her maiden name and take up her spouse’s name or family name after the nuptials. While many approved or went with conventions, a few did not.

The rise of feminism in the 70s and 80s saw society going the egalitarian way, leading to the rise of hyphenated last names.

It Takes Two to Tango

While many may see it as pretentious, it is not really your problem. If you decide to go with a hyphenated last name to honor both yours and your spouse’s heritage, more power to you.

These days, men have become equally supportive. They encourage their wives to maintain their maiden names as it is a vital aspect of their identity. However, if, you’re wondering whether hyphenating is worth all the hassle, check this out.

What is a Hyphenated Name?

This term denotes the combination of your last name and your spouse’s last name joined with a hyphen. While the permutations and combinations could be varied, the basis behind a hyphenated name is the same- you’re keeping two last names.

Is it legal?

Very much so. If you hyphenate the last two names, both are legal provided you’ve gone through the legal process of changing the name. It’s worth noting that once you’ve decided to hyphenate, you must stick to it in all formal documentation requiring precise identity.

Documents like tax filings, visa applications, job applications, etc. call for both names, hyphen included.

You cannot take the hyphenating option only to flip-flop between the original name and your spouse’s name when it comes to filling official paperwork.

Moreover, you cannot remove the hyphen or change the order of the last names. Some people prefer to use one or the other in casual occasions such as restaurant reservations to prevent spelling out the hyphenated names.

How to Hyphenate the Last Name

Once your wedding is over and you’ve decided to go with a hyphenated last name, you’ll require a marriage certificate to set the process rolling. You have the option of taking your partner’s name legally or hyphenating- a blend of the two last names after nuptials.

Some states ask couples that are soon to wed to declare the married name before the nuptials. In this case, if you don’t declare your name beforehand, you’ll need a court petition to change the name at a later date.

This process is not only time consuming but costly as well. Other states simply require the original names in which case you can determine the course of action after the wedding.

Tips to Hyphenate the Last Name

If you decide to hyphenate the last name, consider these tips:

Pay Attention to the Marriage License

Some states expect you to write the new name on the marriage license. This application becomes a legal document after your wedding and if you don’t do this right, you might need to spend money and time petitioning the court for a legal change after the wedding.

You Might Need to Inform People of Your Appropriate Last Name

Some people overlook hyphens. If you find people using one name or the other, correct them politely.

Update the Change on All Official Documents

You’ll need to change credit cards, bank accounts, medical coverage, identification cards, among other documents. Although you can accomplish some of these changes before your wedding, many expect a certified copy of the marriage license, which you can only obtain after the wedding.

Pros of Hyphenating

To Strike a Compromise

Most women decide to hyphenate their last names because they need to compromise for the sake of their husbands and their new families. The option to hyphenate their names allows them to maintain their maiden names or their identity in a manner of speaking while also taking on the identity of the husband.

Marriage yields considerable life changes and it’s unquestionably a sentimental occasion for brides. It entails giving up your old life and home to gain a new family and home.

Therefore, the choice to maintain the old surname helps you maintain a piece of your old life.

Keep in Touch with Accomplishments

The new name helps you stay in touch with the accomplishments you made while you had your maiden name. For some, relinquishing the maiden name is a lot to ask, and the option to keep hyphenated names will give you some peace of mind.

You could also give your children the hyphenated names as a way to link them to both you and your husband’s families. An important benefit of hyphenated names is that women have a chance to maintain their old identities even after marriage.

You’ll Have Better Recognition as a Cohesive Unit

In this instance, hyphenating doesn’t necessarily simplify things for you. However, it makes things simpler for external parties.

That is, people won’t question your relationship with each other when it comes to professionals and acquaintances because the connection will be clear and obvious. Some couples even claim that a mutual surname makes the marital bond stronger.

It will Keep Your Family Name Alive

A hyphenated last name ensures that the family name lives on especially if you are the only child of your parents. If your children adopt the name or if you give them the hyphenated last name, you prevent its extinction because it will carry on for another generation.

The Cons of Hyphenating Your Last Name

Hyphenating your last name has several disadvantages:

You Need to Follow a Legal Process

Hyphenating your last name calls for legal formalities similar to when you are changing your name. It is a mandatory process if you want your social security card, passport, driver’s license, and other government-issued identification to reflect your new name, hyphenated or not.

The basic steps are the same. First, you need to file a petition seeking to change your name. Second, you also need to show the court your reason or reasons for changing your name. And third, you submit the required documents and pay the necessary fees. A judge will then hand down a decision granting or declining your petition. Cumbersome, I agree.

Once you’ve secured a name change, you also need to inform people- your employers, friends, extended family, and the community of your new name.

It Might Confuse People

One of the obvious disadvantages of having a hyphenated name is the confusion it creates, especially if both the names are long. Unfortunately, there are people with short attention spans who might simply disregard or ignore your hyphenated name and address you with what is convenient to them.

At your workplace, for example, your colleagues might opt to simply call you by one of your names, which is easier to remember. It can get even worse if your hyphenated name is a combination of two long last names. Will you be able to correct everyone who might have difficulty saying or spelling your name?

Double Trouble?

Marrying somebody who also has a hyphenated name can cause undue confusion. How will you go about with your married name? Will you now be using double hyphens? Will you be patient enough to correct people every time they mess up saying your name or writing it down?

There’s this story of a couple (both with hyphenated names) who decided to get into a relationship, and soon after realized the challenges of both having hyphenated names. Although this story is chock full of humor, some of the inconveniences of having such a complicated, double-hyphenated name, are not all funny.

The pair continues to grapple with questions such as what names to use for their future children, the confusion that might result from the double-hyphenated names, etc.

It Might be Really Inconvenient

Having a long name might also bring in a bit of inconvenience when you are filling out forms either on actual paper or online.

Although this might not be common, you might find yourself scrambling on how to fit your long name in such a limited space. Also, a hyphenated name is not just long, it might also be harder for others to spell.

An unwieldy, hyphenated last name might also be very hard to remember, particularly if the two last names are not very common.

It Does Mess Up the Computer

Unfortunately, it is not just you who might be inconvenienced by your long and hyphenated name.

It is said that airlines have trouble with hyphenated names. That tiny hyphen is oftentimes the source of trouble, as some airline bookings do not accept a hyphen, which is considered a special character or symbol.

There is anecdotal evidence and testimonies about online booking systems not recognizing special characters or symbols in a passenger’s name. Imagine the nightmare of having no way to book yourself a flight online.

There are even stories of people attempting to bypass this tricky situation by opting to simply ignore the hyphen and write their names as one long name. The trouble can occur once a passenger’s name is checked against his or her passport. What happens when the names do not match?

Speaking of online bookings and computers, hyphenated names will mess up a person’s computer records.

Today, personal information and records are often stored in computers. However, most computer systems have trouble with hyphenated names. Again, being a symbol or a special character, the hyphen is the source of confusion simply because computers will not recognize or read names containing it.

What Happens to the Kids?

This is one issue that many couples with hyphenated last names grapple with. Do they want to saddle their kids with double or quadruple barreled names? This is a decision that both parents need to make together while weighing the pros and cons of giving their child or children long, hyphenated last names.

The Trend Today

Considering the previously mentioned challenges, there now seems to be a decline in the use of hyphenated last names. It seems that more women now chose to use traditional instead of nontraditional names when they decide to marry.

A study by Michele Hoffnung, the director of women’s studies at Quinnipiac University, Connecticut, points to this decline. In her research, Hoffnung reviewed name choices in a newspaper (the New York Times) over a period of 20 years from 1982 to 2002.

According to her observations in the newspaper’s wedding announcements, “21 percent of women kept their maiden names, 7.1 percent of the women preferred using their maiden names professionally and used their spouses’ socially, while only 2.1 percent of the women hyphenated.”

Hoffnung’s research seems to point that most women prefer to use non-hyphenated names than hyphenated names. Is that a strike against feminism? I think not. It is more a matter of practicality and convenience.

Changing Trends

In recent years, a considerable shift has occurred, challenging outdated thinking and old traditions. Many American men are challenging the status quo.

Traditionally, the bride assumes her husband’s last name. However, more and more women are maintaining their surnames after getting married. That too, with their husband’s support.

Moreover, a small percentage of men have also opted to assume their wives’ last name, a very liberating thought if I may say so.

The Bottom Line

For many women, there are a lot of advantages to hyphenating your last name. Women see it as a way to strike a compromise when they get married. For many, a hyphenated name is a way of preserving one’s unique identity, remembering past accomplishments, and maintaining family ties.

However, at the end of the wedding formalities, changing your name is your personal choice. Whether you are taking your partner’s last name, keeping yours, or even hyphenating, it is all up to you and your significant other and what is right for both of you. No dig at Shakespeare here, but “What’s in a name, anyway?”