Huffpost Parents
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Tessa Blake Headshot

Will Hyphenated Last Names Ever Be Cool?

Posted: Updated:

Hyphenated last names are annoying. They smack of posh British peerage or unyielding Birkenstock feminism. They're impractical (what's a hyphenate supposed to do if they marry another hyphenate?) and they force small children to lug around big, unwieldy names that never fit on their cubbies.

So, naturally, when it came to naming our daughter, we, um, hyphenated.

It never occurred to me to change my name when I married. After thirty years of major foibles and minor accomplishments, I felt I owed it to my name to stick with it. Of course, as any women's studies major would remind me, my name is not really my name. It's a patriarchal expression of my father's ownership of me. That is, until he can hand me off to some unwitting sod who will take charge.

In my circle of friends, relatively few women took their husbands surname, though apparently that puts us in a radical fringe minority. According to a recent study, only 18% of American women keep their names after they marry.

I understand the temptation to share a name once you become a family. It's romantic. It's familial. It's practical. But, unless men and women are equally opting out of an old name and into a new one, it's also sexist.

I'm sure there's a small quorum of people who are completely comfortable with that disparity, presumably the same people who think that women shouldn't work or vote or have orgasms. But what about the rest of us, who do believe in equal rights? Why doesn't that belief extend to names?

Mostly, I think it comes down to the question of the kids, and everyone's aversion -- often reasoned -- to hyphenating or blending surnames. But now that "non-traditional families" have eclipsed traditional families as the majority, maybe our naming convention will slowly recede too.

It hasn't always been this way, you know. Take a walk through an American cemetery from the late 19th Century, or a stroll through a Google search and you'll discover the "family name" -- that is, all members of the family being identified with the paternal surname -- is only one of many ways that we've dealt with the issue over the years and through cultures.

When I was six months pregnant and the bump in my belly was shifting from a theory to a reality, I started to feel uncomfortable with the idea of not sharing a name with my kid. I imagined traveling abroad and having my maternity questioned, or being held back from her at a hospital.

I did a quick inventory and realized that most of the children I know have their father's last name - including the families where the mother kept her name. The exception? When the parents are gay. Those kids have names that reflect the importance of both of their parents. Is it only when couples of are of the same gender that we can know what real gender equality looks like?

In the end, we saddled our daughter with a long, law-firm-ish name and, admittedly, we have no idea what the reasonable thing for her will be when she wants to start a family of her own. On the plus side, she probably learned her letters sooner because she had so many of them.

Almost every child in this country still carries the surname of the father. It's comfy, it feels natural, and you may never have even thought about it. But a culture that expects a mother's name to end with childbirth isn't a culture that values real equality, whether we want to admit it or not.