Category: Commentary

Name hyphenation scheme

In an effort to achieve at least the appearance of gender equality, some married couples hyphenate their names and/or the names of resulting offspring.

This well and good for the first generation, but what happens when Precious Hightower-Jones, lovely and talented daughter of Bob Hightower and Mary Jones, takes up with Everlast Ubermensch-Watanabe, promising son of Arnold Ubermensch and Hermione Jade Watanabe? Do they further hyphenate their names to the unwieldy Hightower-Jones-Ubermensch-Watanabe? Heaven forfend! There’s not enough room on any Platinum VISA for that quadrinymous mess.

Friends, I have a solution, so simple in its scheme and execution you’ll be amazed no one has proposed it before.

Yes, our little love-birds will hyphenate their names … BUT each will contribute ONE-HALF of their own hyphenated names. For convenience sake (and to avoid nasty family arguments) we create a convention whereby girls hyphenate their mothers’ names and boys hyphenate their father’s names. There fore, in our example, Precious contributes her mother’s name (Jones) and Everlast contributes his father’s name (Ubermensch). Joined together, our happy couple now shares the name Ubermensch-Jones.

What could be simpler? If Precious’ brother Princely falls head over heels with Everlast’s sister Toodles and takes her to the marriage bower, they hyphenate their names to create Hightower-Watanabe.

The advantages should be apparent:

  • Names are shared with cousins on the mother’s side as well as on the father’s side.
  • Genealogical searches are simplified because mothers’ names are not lost to history.
  • In families with no sons, the father’s name lasts an additional generation. Alternately, a daughter may opt to pass along her father’s name.
  • No additional naming inequities that do not already exist are introduced.

The only drawback I can think of occurs after a few thousand or so generations, by which time everyone has had a chance to marry everyone else. If boys consistently use fathers’ names and girls consistently use their mothers’ names, eventually surnames will split into women’s names and men’s names. Will this create a social inequity for either sex? Certainly no more than would already exist in society at that distant time.

© 2001-2006, originally published Apr 30, 2001