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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Baby Naming Issue: Hyphenated Surnames

M. writes:
Here's our issue: hyphenated last names. His last name is something along the lines of Addison, and my last name sounds like the words "whole" and "singer" put together. Our (future hypothetical) children will have the last name of either Addison-Wholesinger or Wholesinger-Addison. (Yes, we know it's a mouthful. It may not be perfect, but it's what makes the most sense to us. Plus, my husband has a hyphenated first name, so we're already comfortable with names that include punctuation.)

So my first question is, should we go with Addison-Wholesinger and Wholesinger-Addison? Unsurprisingly, we each like the sound of our own name first. But I'm not sure he knows why he likes his name first (other than the fact that it's his name first), while I truly believe that Wholesinger-Addison flows better -- something about the transition between -son and Whole- in Addison-Wholesinger seems choppy to me. Plus, I don't like combining a first name that ends in A with a last name that begins with A, so Wholesinger-Addison would leave us with more first name options, especially if we have a girl. What do you think? Is there anything else to consider that we're missing?

My second question is, what should we be focusing on when we draw up lists, given that our (future hypothetical) children are definitely going to have a loooooong last name, which they will most likely have to repeat and spell again and again (if my experience with Wholesinger is any measure)? We both prefer more uncommon names, but should we try to stick to the common and familiar just to give them a break? Also, would we be better off with short, one-syllable names to offset the length of the last name, or would longer first names create a better balance and flow with a long last name? FYI, some of the names that we like are Nieve (the only name we really both LOVE), Greer, Marie, Bea, and Pearl for a girl, or Ash/Ashe, Gray, Noel, or Zane for a boy, although we brainstormed those names when we were focusing on super short names, which we're now starting to reconsider, in part because it's *really* limiting.

Can't wait to hear your thoughts!

If I were you, I would go with custom for the surname: mother's name first, then father's. You CAN choose which order the names go in, but the protocol is Hers-His. This settles the argument AND gives your child an easier life, name-wise. If your husband gets hung up on wanting his own name first, you can remind him that in the patriarchal naming tradition, the name after the hyphen is in the "better slot." (Can you tell I am clenching my teeth to even pass along that information? But it might help you get the names the way you prefer them.)

And if I were you, I would go with the short and simple first name, yes. Six syllables and a punctuation mark is, as you say, a lot of last name and a lot of spelling and repeating. However, I'm saying only that it would be my own preference, and I LIKE common/simple names (I think Eve Wholesinger-Addison would be GORGEOUS), so it's not necessarily what I think YOU should do.

One good way to consider names is to think "Would _I_ want this name, MYSELF?" It's not a perfect system because of the way names sound different in each generation: just because I wouldn't want to have been named Juniper in the mid-'70s doesn't mean I wouldn't want it if I were born this year. But it can be a helpful exercise when you're trying to balance your own tastes with the fact that you're choosing something for another person. Or perhaps you could brainstorm lists without considering the surname, and then see if any of your favorite names have shorter or easier forms that would work better with the surname.

Speaking of brainstorming, I notice that you and your husband did not hyphenate your own surnames when you married, and a child-naming solution I've seen for such situations is to give all the girls the mother's surname and all the boys the father's surname. It's confusing, yes, but so are all the surname possibilities other than Standard Patriarchal (it is not often I get to use the word "patriarchal" twice before lunchtime!), and this one would let you use longer and more unusual first names. (I hope you will pardon me if you've considered all such solutions already and would prefer not to have more input on it---I realize you didn't ask for advice on this issue, but the possibility sprang to mind as I was considering the conundrum the long surname causes with your naming style. And it may be an idea that would interest someone else with a similar situation who was reading this post.)


Kit said...

I always wonder what the children of 'Eve Wholesinger-Addison' and 'Jack LastName-OtherLastName' will be called? At least one of the original surnames from each will be dropped, and I'm guessing it's the one before the hyphen (or maybe they'll just choose the one they like best?) I would definitely recommend a short, simple first name. Otherwise, the kid will be in 3rd grade before he knows how to spell his own name!

Anonymous said...

Something else to consider (sorry, I know you have enough, but this may help you get your name first) is that sometimes, when a long hyphenated name is just too long for a form or hyphens aren't allowed, some agencies will drop the name before the hyphen and just use the second name as the last name, leaving the first as a middle name.

Kacie said...

One other possibility -- since you and your husband didn't seem to change your own names and add the hyphen, you might spare your child the really long last name length and give them one of your last names as a middle name, and have the children's last names all be the same.

Many forms won't be long enough to accommodate that length. Having a different last name as your mom and dad can make things needlessly complicated.

And when they are older and want to marry, they'll have to decide whether to keep their hyphenated name, take their spouses name, or come up with some new, ultra-long combo.

I have a friend who has a hyphenated last name (mom's name first, then father's name) and she is seriously unsure of what she's going to do when she marries soon. She doesn't want to cause confusion about who her spouse is, because right now it looks like she's married to someone else by her name.

Tara said...

A good friend didn't change her name when she got married, and they gave their son her last name for a middle name and his last name for a last name. So their son is (example only, they didn't name their child Aloysius) Aloysius Garza Steinmann, instead of hyphenating or trying to decide which to use. Just a thought.

Christine said...

In answer to Kit's question I knew a Meredith with a longish hyphenated last name in middle and high school and she always went by the full name and we always called her her full name. For the record they chose HIS-HERS in construction, and I know this from when I called her mother, Ms. "HIS" and I got chewed out because it was supposed to be DR. "HERS". (Because I am psychic at 13). My classmate was very lovely however, and it was a lovely name. (Her last name in total was only four syllables, even though it was longish to spell, and her first name was three syllables. if that helps you with any idea of what some other people do.)

For the record, when you gave the names, I preferred the sound of HIS-HERS. Addison-Wholesinger, but I think that you can let your first child's name dictate the choice in which goes first.

For what it's worth, I kept my own name as well, and will be adding my name as a second middle to all of our children's names so they can choose to or not to use it. (Mostly for ease of future form filling.)

Good luck with whatever you choose!

Christine said...

Whoops, just saw that I missed the point of Kit's comment, because I am a spaz. Sorry Kit!

Clare said...

You know, I think you should name you children whatever names you like, even if they're long. Long names often have nicknames, so you'd likely have that option if you would rather have a shorter first name for everyday use.

Like you, I did not change my name when I married (fight the patriarchy!). We did not hyphenate our children's last names, though; they have their father's last name (cave to the patriarchy!) They have my last name as a second middle name -- so their names are just as long as your kids' names will be, just without the punctuation. My second child has a 4 syllable, very unusual first name (Ezekiel, for anyone who's curious), plus three more names after that. It's a mouthful, but I don't really care. He usually goes by Zeke Lastname, so it's manageable. He's got all 4 on his passport, and all his official paperwork.

lili said...

I grew up with a hyphenated last name and I have never had any issues with what I was called. My name was always Liann First-Last (both 2-syllables). People did not drop one name or the other, and I knew how to spell my names just like every other kid.. it is, after all, MY name. On the other hand, in high school, my brother often dropped our second last name because it was easier to introduce himself that way, but that was his own choice, and he now uses both again.

My parents both kept their names as well and I have to say that I loved having that connection to both sides of my family on display in my name.

The solution that my folks came up with to balance our super-long last name was to not give us middle names. We had three names just like every other kid. Now, this may not be the right choice for you (I could not give up the chance to pick two names) but it's just one way to get around an even more lengthy name.

For the first name though, I might choose something short and sweet, but if I really loved a name that was a bit longer, the fact that the childs last name will be so long would not deter me from choosing it.

And as for common vs. uncommon names, your children will be THE ONLY ones with their name. Two last names ensure that, so even if you go with super common first names, they will still be completely unique. That was another thing I appreciated about my name.. though my first is not too common, I will never come across another Liann First-Last.

I think it's great that your future children will carry on the names of both sides of your family. Good luck!

StephLove said...

My kids have a 5-syllable hyphenated last name. I never knew there was a mother-first tradition with hyphenated last names. I thought that was when both surnames are used but there's no hyphen and the first one is really a middle name. But maybe I wasn't paying attention because my kids have two moms and that rule would not have helped us.

What I usually think sounds better is the longer name first, but that doesn't help you much. I think the point about the As is a good one, but with the names on your list, I think both orders sound equally good. Sorry not to be of much help here.

We did go with shorter names, a two-syllable name for my son and one syllable for my daughter. And my son could spell his whole name in kindergarten.

For you I think Nieve is the obvious choice for a girl since you both love it. I like Zane best of the boy choices, with Gray as a close second.

Anonymous said...

I know it goes against convention and your preferred choice, but I would put Addison first. Simply because the child will then be at the front of the register rather than at the end!

Also Addison-wholesinger sounds better to me.

Another option is always to use your surname as a second middle name - so he/she will use Addison on a day to day basis but your name will still be there too.


Kathryn Elle Wolfsinger Addison (Kate Addison)

Bennett Cole Wolfsinger Addison (Bennett Addison)

Katie said...

My husband and I both hyphenated our last names, and my daughter has the same hyphenated last name. We did so with zero regard for the convention that the mother's name goes first -- is that in Hispanic custom, where children get both? I don't know that there's an established convention in the United States overall, necessarily.

Anyways, we picked the one that sounded aesthetically best, and both agreed that one sounded like a german vacuum cleaner and the other sounded like a name.

My experience has been that people, if they're shortening my name because of forms, pick the FIRST name rather than the second, because it's easiest and the second is cut off by the form anyways. It doesn't happen often (more annoying is the number of computer-based entry systems that seem to have no hyphen available, which I just find obnoxious).

In terms of what happens later or next generation-wise, my daughter can decide what to do with her last name when she's a grown-up the same way that everyone else can, and I like her thinking that names are somewhat more fluid than patriarchal naming conventions allow.

Anyways, I think both combinations of your last name sound good, and while I wouldn't go for a super long first name, either one or two syllables are almost certainly fine. People are amazingly adaptable and while easy spelling can't hurt anything, as long as you're good humored about it I've found people are generally nice.

beyond said...

Wow, I thought that the custom is His first, Hers second. For example Simon His-Hers, versus Simon Hers-His. (Maybe this is the European custom?) The reasoning would also be that if names get shortened, the one after the hyphen is usually the one to get dropped, so Simon will end up being Simon His on his after-school piano recital programs.
Anyway, I know quite a few kids with His-Hers last names (but I don't think I know any with Hers-His! strange.), and some of them are quite a mouthful. And, like I mentioned before, most names get shortened to His for everyday use.
I am not a fan of hyphenated named myself. My kids will get my name (Hers) as a second middle name and His for the last name, that way both family names are present, but without the complicated long hyphen. Claire Maria Hers His (instead of Claire Maria His-Hers). Sleek and simple, you know? (It's very clear in my head, not sure it's clear in my comment...)
I do think simple one or two syllable names are beautiful with Addison-Wholesinger or Addison-Wholesinger. Henry, Phoebe, Nathan, Sophie would all be great...
Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion. I did not take my husband's last name either. My official plan was to add his last name to mine and use two last names, unhyphenated. But, after being introduced at our wedding as Ms. My name His name, I realized that I never actually WANTED to take his name but that I felt like I should. After a few halfhearted attempts at signing my name on the honeymoon, I stuck with my own name (and he stuck with his).

I always assumed that I would give our kids his last name as hyphenating in our case would be cruel (try a sample of hyphenated 2 syllable British-3 syllable Ukranian names if you disagree with me) and I didn't know how much feminism he or his family could handle if I tried an alternate. This post has given me food for thought though and it is good to hear what others have done.

Swistle said...

Beyond- I think many people are doing whatever they think sounds better, but no, the custom is Hers-His. Try it with your own name: imagine getting married and hyphenating. The maiden name would be first, and the married name would be added to the end of it after a hyphen. And it's the first of the two names that is supposed to get dropped if only one is used (as if the first of the two names is a middle name: the second is MORE in the last-name slot than the first one is), though probably people screw that up quite a bit.

bellaf said...

In the Hispanic tradition, the father's name comes first. Elsewhere, like in my culture (I'm Brazilian), it's the mother's.

I do believe it's nicer for children to have both their parents' surnames. It kinda tells the story of where that child came from. And since this has always been the norm for me, I really can't grasp all this hyphenating hoopla. Can't you just give your children both surnames in the US if you want to? Are there any laws against multiple surnames?

Clare said...


I don't think there are laws prohibiting multiple unhyphenated surnames, but it's so common for Americans to drop the first part if it's not hyphenated. Think Hillary Rodham Clinton. She's referred to as Secretary or Mrs. Clinton, not Secretary Rodham Clinton. If she'd hyphenated, it would be more obvious that "Rodham-Clinton" was her last name.

I really like the Latino custom of using both parents' last names. You're right--it's nice for the child to have names from both sides of his/her family.

Patricia said...

I have a friend Ms "Wallace" who married Mr."Murdock" (names very similar to the actual names). Their daughters are

Ava Jane Wallace Murdock

Amelia Rae Wallace Murdock

The parents are professionals and I'm sure they gave much consideration to their daughters' surname.

As Swistle said, "One good way to consider names is to think "Would _I_ want this name, MYSELF?"" If you and your husband both think you would have been fine with Wholesinger-Addison as your name growing up, then go ahead with it.

But it seems to me that you can have the same effect -- including both surnames -- by leaving out the hyphen and giving your child Wholesinger as the second middle name. That scheme would also allow you to use about any first name, as the child would be known by just one surname (as above: Ava Murdock; Amelia Murdock). For example, Penelope Addison or Nathanial Addison would work, and you wouldn't be limited to very short first names for the sake of the hyphenated six-syllable, 15+letter surname you're considering putting on the shoulders of your child.

franziska said...

Hi Swistle- I am married, and I kept my own name, perhaps mainly because it's all so complicated. ; ) Also my instinct would be to put His first, and from what I can tell, it's what a lot of people are doing.
A good link for anyone interested:

Adey said...

I am not too sure what to say about this one. I feel like those 2 names together are SO long and I know the kid would get used to it but I wish they wouldn't have to.

I really like the suggestion of putting one of the names as a middle name and then the other as a last name.

Growing up I knew a bunch of kids whose Mom kept her maiden name but the kids took on the last name of the father so that is what I am used to.

Adey said...

Oh, and this probably wouldn't be an issue... but when I first read Addison-Wholesinger I thought "A-Whole"... Not sure if that would factor into your decision or not.

Elle said...

This strikes me as an incredibly current-generation problem. I agree that it's nice for children to have both parents' last names as a sort of story of where they are from, but I just can't get past what the next generation is supposed to do. Ultimately, at least half of your "family story" will get lost from your last name, unless you go with a four-name hyphen, and then eight-name in the next generation, and so on.

For example, suppose my husband and I give our children hyphenated last names: T(mine)-M(his). This only tells the story of who our childrens' grandfathers were! To truly tell where their "full" family story (even back only two generations), they would have to be L(my mom)-T(my dad)-S(his mom)-M(his dad). How can I cut my mom and his mom's representation out anymore than I can cut my representation out?

I don't intend this as an argument against hyphenating. I just think it's such a pickle and I never know what to make of it.

Terrah said...

Okay, I'm posting this a year later, but hopefully my thoughts will still be considered. This is the naming I chose, and I'll use your names as part of the examples:

Son Wholesinger-Addison marries Wife One-Two, and their children will be named Child One-Wholesinger.

Daughter Wholesinger-Addison marries Hubby One-Two, and their children will be named Child Wholesinger-One.

The children take the first surname from the mother, then append the first surname from the father, creating a seamless matrilineage. The reverse order could also be done for a patrilineage, or you could use the parent's second surnames (but that would sort of defeat the purpose of having two surnames in the first place and possibly lead to single-surname children in the future). Names around the world are passed on like this even today.

Although we decided to keep our respective names and not hyphenate when we married, we chose the matrilineal version for our children. What keeps Dad happy is that his name is the one people naturally associate as the last name when speaking our children's names, and it satisfies his family's strong patrilineal mindset (social tradition).

Easy beesy!

Oh, and a bonus with the matrilineage naming method is that the mothers are not forgotten or "lost" when the great-great-grandchildren come along and get curious about their genealogy (a problem I ran into when researching my family).

Anyway, thanks for reading. Enjoy your day!