Thursday, May 17, 2012

Long-Long Name

One of my most-read posts of all time is a rather ancient one, from 2006, on a non-academic topic: my husband's and my decision to hyphenate our daughter's last name. She has my last name and my husband's last name, with a hyphen in between. Our decision about name order was based on which order we thought sounded better.

In 2006, I wrote about how having a hyphenated child was a good decision for us. That was six (6) years ago, when our daughter was in elementary school and shorter than I am. What about now? Is our tall teenager happy with her rather unwieldy last name? Are we all still happy with our decision?

As it turns out, yes and yes, emphatically so.

The occasional inconvenience of dealing with a name that is "too long" has thus far been more than offset by our family's unanimous happiness with our name choice lo these many years ago. I think some parents worry that giving their kid a "different" last name (even if it has elements of each parent's name) will somehow make them all feel more apart -- less cohesive -- as a family, but in fact the result can be the opposite. Since my husband and I have different last names, our daughter's hyphenated name is our family name-glue.

She knows that if she ever doesn't like her hyphenated name, she can change it and we will not be upset. It's her name and she should have a name that she likes. For a while when she was very young, when asked her name, she would give her first name, middle name, first part of her last name, and then an animal name instead of the second part of her last name; her two favorites: "kitty cat" and "hippo". It was very cute, but she outgrew that phase about 12 years ago.

So far, she really does like her long-long name. In fact, she commonly also uses her middle name along with her first and last-last names, even though this makes it all even longer, just because she likes her entire name and how it sounds. And she likes the fact that her name directly connects her to her father and her mother. She has friends who share a last name with their father but not their mother (because the mom didn't change her name on marrying), including some friends who have their mother's last name (or some other family name) as a middle name, but she prefers her hyphenated name to those options.

Also, she is the only person on the entire planet with this name, and she likes being unique in that way (and appreciates how useful that can be, for online purposes that involve one's real name). She knows it may complicate her life later in ways that it doesn't now, but that's an issue for later.

I am most definitely not writing this update to say that hyphenating is the best thing to do for all families, but it has worked for us (so far).


whynot said...

I can't understand why the entire world doesn't do the Spanish solution "FirstName FirstSurname SecondSurname" with each of the surnames being the first surname of father and mother (the order can be chosen as one pleases).
Women don't change their names upon marrying and children share names with both parents.

SocSciProf said...

We have too many friends who hated growing up with (and continue to hate) their hyphenated last names, especially now that they're having kids and have to decide whether to name that kid His Last-Last, Her Last-Last, Child Last-Last-Last-Last (ha!), or a new surname altogether.

We went with Husband's Last for our first kid. Second kid is My Last. Works for us.

Anonymous said...

I've always found this option appealing, but some part of me objects on an abstract level. For one generation it works. But your daughter herself surely doesn't have this option? When she marries, her child probably won't be baby Smith-Jones-Kowalski, or whatever? (Or Smith-Jones-Kowalski-Hernandez, if she marries the child of another such marriage?) At best she could pick one of your names to pass along to the next generation of her family. And then that child would likely pick one of her names, which might not be either of yours. In two generations both of your family names could come to an end. Genealogy becomes more difficult as names get scrambled with every generation (as they already are for matrilineal lines, I know.)

The solution I think is fairest is if girls are given their mothers' names and boys are given their fathers'. That would preserve both names down the generations, and afford women equal respect and identity.

However, I am a hypocrite. I do not like my maiden name, so I changed it to my husband's much nicer one when I married, and have not tried out my idealistic scheme. I do think that the fact that it results in siblings with different surnames and removes some "family glue" are disadvantages too.


martin said...

My wife kept her last name, partly because she wanted to, and partly because my last name is awful. So when we had kids, hyphenation wasn't really an issue, Awful Name-Normal Name is just as bad as Awful Name on its own. So both my girls have their Mother's last name and so far they'r e having a different name to me hasn't been an issue. If they want to change their name at a later stage to mine, that's fine too, I'd question their sanity but wouldn't get in the way.

Hyphenated names seem fine to me, though I always wonder if we're just passing the buck down to the children when they have kids themselves, so that we're going to either end up with Winterbotham-Smythe-Carruthers-Cholmondeley or they have to make difficult choices about which parts of their names they are going to use.

Roseylime said...

With regards to the problem of how people with hyphenated names (like me) are going to name their children I was quite taken with the system suggested here (

Anonymous said...

It doesn't seem like the 'passing the problem on' issue of a hyphenated name is insurmountable. The people who get worried about this are thinking in a very rigid way, as if the only option is to keep sticking names together. If someone wants to do that, they can, but if the current default is for women to drop their last names and take their husbands on marriage, why don't more people feel positive about the flexibility of name-changing for the hyphenated?

CSgrad said...

People get very worked up about the multiple-generations thing with hyphenated names. I don't get it. The kid of John Doe-Smith and Jane Roe-Jones can be Jenny Doe-Roe. It's a lot like the Spanish system, but with hyphens.

Ann said...

The Spanish almost have this issue solved, with children traditionally given 2 last names, one from each side of the family. Although the norm in Spain is to pass along the fathers last name to their own children, the Spanish solution could be made gender neutral by having women pass on their mother's last name, men their father's. Having 2 last names or a hyphenated name offers the convenience of uniqueness that I think offsets the inconvenience of the length.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Hyphenation is popular now, but we decided to go with the boys-get-father's-name, girls-get-mother's-name approach.

As it turned out, we had one child, a boy, who got my last name. Luckily, his name is unique in the world (which would probably not have been the case had he gotten his mother's much more common surname).

Anonymous said...

I think this is likely to be one of those situations where most people are happy with the choice they make - whatever that choice may be. I took my husband's name - so everyone in our nuclear family has the same last name - and I've been very happy with that. I am in academia with papers published before and after the name change and have not had any problems - it's just a footnote in my CV.

another anonymous person said...

Firstname Firstlastname Secondlastname. We get the name continuity, which is useful both administratively and in family ties, but without the hyphenation.

Anna Henderson said...

We did the same and I am very happy with it, though our son is just two and has yet to say his entire long name.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 5/17/2012 01:50:00 PM:

A footnote on your CV won't be of help if I happen to be looking at your list of published papers in Google scholar.

This happened to us once. I was a member of a selection committe for an award you cannot apply for. We got suggested name of some authority and we could only find a handful of papers in his name, so he was not considered further.

Later on, we learned that he had changed his name a few years earlier. Things eventually got corrected, but he did pay a price (a year's delay in the award) for the inconsistency.

Since then I always tell my students to choose their publishing handle very carefully,

James Charles Smith or James C. Smith or J.C. Smith


Jane MarriedName or Jane MaidenName or Jane MaidenName-HusbandsName and to think about what happens when inevitably they get divorced.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 3:01 - it seems bizarre to me that you didn't (or at least most people in this situation wouldn't) go back to the person who made the recommendation and say 'hey, what gives, there are only 4 papers here', so they could quickly tell you the story. Alternatively, if you find someone's website (which they are likely, though I'll grant not certain, to have as a PI), it would list them all. Alternatively, once we have author IDs (number associated with you, coming in the next year according to reputable sources), this will be totally moot. My point? I agree with the others that it's not such a big deal.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 5/17/2012 03:01:00 PM
Interesting ... we don't use Google Scholar very much in my field as we have a field-specific literature/author search system. That system groups all your papers regardless of the name - so if you pull up my profile there are papers published under many name variants: FM Maiden, F Maiden, FM Married, F Married, plus assorted misspellings. The name variants are discovered automatically for the easy ones (different format for initials, misspellings, etc) and it just took sending one email to link my maiden name to my married name. The citation info (including h-index) is calculated for all the papers combined - so publishing under multiple names or formats and name misspelling in author lists is not a problem at all. Also, if you Google search for my name and field, the first thing that comes up is my professional webpage, which has my CV on it. So I'm reasonably confident that anyone who wanted to find out my professional history could do so easily.

Whoosh... said...

Martin: curious question: why did you keep your awful last name?
And are there actually any guys here, who took their wifes last name?

martin said...

CSGrad and others,

the reason we worry about it, is because the reason that you have hyphenated surnames in the first place, is that you want the child's surname to reflect both parents surname. Many women see the traditional practice of automatically giving the child the father's surname as unfair and the hyphenated name addresses this issue. Many people care quite strongly about perpetuating their family name down the generations (not me, mine will go into deserved oblivion and even if it was normal, I don't see the point about being attached to a particular name)

The second generation naming convention is an issue as you either end up with very long cumbersome surnames or the child has to choose one of their names to continue, so does the child choose to continue the maternal surname or the paternal surname, when by the act of choosing a hyphenated surname, both parents have indicated that keeping their surname continuing is important to them. Upset your mum or upset your dad?

Phillip Helbig said...

Others have pointed out the Spanish solution. However, this just delays the decision (assuming one is possible; I believe it is today) by one generation. The other alternative would be doubling the number of names at each generation. Someone has to make the decision which name(s) to leave in and which to leave out.

My own situation is rather unorthodox: my (only) last name is the maiden name of my first wife. (She changed it back to her maiden name when we were married because she had been married twice before but at that time one couldn't adopt the name of a previous spouse of one's space, and neither would we have wanted to; now, this is possible.) The children from my second wife also have this name as their only last name while my current wife kept her maiden name. (There are several reasons we didn't make her name the family name. One is that it is Slavic, with masculine and feminine forms. Adopting that custom would give us different names in a country where there aren't gender-specific forms, sort of defeating the purpose of having the same name. I could take on her feminine form of the name, but that would sound funny to speakers of Slavic languages.)

A former bassist with Jethro Tull was Jeffrey Hammond. Both his parents had the surname Hammond before they were married, so he was later referred to as Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond.

martin said...


good question, I seriously thought about changing my name when I got married, either to my wife's name or possibly both of us changing out names to something new, but in the end I decided not to do it for a couple of reasons:

1) It's a huge hassle to change your name, my brother did actually change his name and the amount of paperwork you have to go through is staggering.

2) I copped a huge amount of flack over my name at primary school, quite a bit at secondary school and even some at university and work. Some irrational part of my soul felt that if I gave in and changed it would be letting the bas****ds win, so I wouldn't do it.

The latter reason probably being the stronger.

Anonymous said...

I work at Progressive U. in Progressiveville, Bluestate. Of the two-professor couples here that I know, every single one has given the children the father's last name.

Rock on, hyphenators. (And Spanish-system-ers, and do-it-by-gender-ers, and possibly nonexistent give-'em-the-mom's-last-name-ers.)

Anonymous said...

Since some have asked if anyone ever takes the wife's name:

I live in Sweden (not from here though) and right now it seems trendy for men to change to their wife's name when the marry - I know far, far more men who have changed their name than women. I also know quite a few who chose a completely new name (sometimes an old family name, sometimes not) to be entirely "fair" to both parties. Continuity is not a big thing here I suppose.

Hyphenation is not allowed (I received a document stating this explicitly when I married) and it is very unusual for a married couple not to have the same name - complications arise if they have children and one of their names doesn't match their child's.

Personally I took my husband's name, simply because mine was awful and his sounded quite nice with my first name. We considered choosing a third name but I thought it was a bit silly for both of us to change when we were already publishing.

Anonymous said...

That last comment is very ironic for me. When I was a kid, my mother married a Swedish man. She didn't want to change her last name because she wanted to have the same last name as her children, but he got very upset about that idea. She promised she would change her name to his when we kids were older, but he was not willing to consider even that. My mother went along with his preference and changed her name to his. It is probably not surprising that he was not a good stepfather (he preferred us stepkids to be out of his way).

Anonymous said...

I like it that you've told your daughter she can do what she likes. I was boring-first-name awful-fathers-last-name and furthermore we weren't very close to my father's family. I renamed myself in my late 20s. It was empowering, and I have a unique name that makes me utterly Google-able.

Meanwhile, a cousin merely changed the spelling of her first name and her mother is still fighting with her about it now that they are both senior citizens.

Anonymous said...

I kept my own name. I broke an engagement because he insisted that I change my name, which didn't bode well for a future relationship. However, our kids have my husband's name, largely because there are only so many things I'm willing rub in the face of his very conservative family. It has caused some problems in the small town where we live. I generally let the schools call me by the kids' last name, but I've been known to correct people calling me "Mrs. HisName" to "Dr. MyName", but only when they've pissed me off.

My daughter spontaneously added my last name to her names, a gives herself four initials instead of three. That made me happy.

Anonymous said...

This is cool. We have two daughters, each with one of our last names. That has worked well for us, but until this thread I am not sure I'd heard of anyone else choosing this.

I personally like a variation on the usual Icelandic solution.

Eric marries Ingrid

Boys XX Ericson

Girls YY Ingridsdottir

All last names reboot each generation and its gender neutral

Mark P

Karen Iris said...

Hey, I'm also a female sci professor! I just found yr blog....its so cool.

My teenage kids seem to like the long hyphenated last name their Dad and I inflicted on them, which is my last name hyphen their Dads last name. We used to joke that the kids would learn their abc's faster because they had to learn all the letters in order to write their names! It is also unique because both our last names are uncommon and we also hail from different continents so the combination is unusual as well. The kids like that no one else has their name, many people cant even pronounce it, and that it reflects their dual heritage and relatives in different countries. They like how puzzled people get when they first hear their name.... :).

I have always told them they can feel to drop a name later if they want, its no big deal and it is totally up to them. Their Dad sometimes drops one last name when he is signing them up for things that dont require a legal last name, or if he is worried they will discriminated against for being Hispanic. In addition my daughter goes by her middle name, not her first name, and so she frequently signs her name with her first and middle names reversed. And my son has decided to go by an unusual nickname that his Dads family calls him, rather than his common first name, and he signs his school papers accordingly. The kids say that they like this...they like having a secret "real name" which only their best friends know. And I have found it educational to see which names their junk mail is addressed to...for example who knew a church would sell their mailing list to advertisers?

I didnt want to change my name when we got married, because I had done that in my first marriage and it made a mess of my CV and medline citations. And my kids' Dad is Argentinian (I'm scandinavian) where most women traditionally didnt change their names anyway when they got married, and kids typically have up to 4 last names accumulated from all their parents and grandparents although they arent usually hyphenated. We added the hyphen to our kids names to make it a little clearer for Americans who are often confused about multiple last names that the names should go together.

It hasnt caused a problem anywhere except oddly for my medical insurance because sometimes they dont type in the hyphen and then the computer cant find them in the database and I get a notice saying that the kid is not insured. But it is easy to straighten out. The school district however has never once mixed it up..there are lots of Hispanic kids here.