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Dear Offbeat Bride:
I am looking for some fresh advice about name changes, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. I am torn between changing or hyphenating my name. I like the idea and political statement of hyphenated last names, but with two not-easily-spelled names, it just seems cruel to the world and future children.
But aside from the messiness of the name, I've also read some horror stories of hyphens being dropped when making travel arrangements, causing IDs and reservations not to match. Are these stories still true? Most of the articles I can find about this seem older, and I have a hard time believing society hasn't engineered its way out of the database issues. Do you have any insights?Mahalo,
Adrienne Something

Dear Adrienne:

Great question! We have a whole collection of posts on last names, and most of them are about feelings. Some of the feelings are about how it feels when you buck the trend by keeping your “maiden name” after the wedding — or by taking your spouse's last name. It can go either way these days. Some of the feelings are about identity.

“A rose by any other name,” Juliet said, “would smell as sweet…Deny thy father, and refuse thy name; or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I’ll no longer be a Capulet.” Since that was quite a few centuries ago, we shouldn't be too surprised that society hasn't engineered its way out of the feelings with what's shown on your marriage license.

But what about the practical issues? We asked around for some perspectives from brides who hyphenated their names, and those who kept their names and gave their kids hyphenated last names.

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Here are some actual hyphenated last name experiences they shared:

  • Even though we filled out the forms the same way every time with the social security administration, each kids' Social Security card was different. One has a hyphenated last name, one has a two-word last name, and one has a two-word middle name using one of the last names.
  • My fiancé and I decided to keep our names and hyphenate the kids. I've had so many people pull the “but what will your kids call their kids?!?” line. I would be super mad if someone told me what I had to do with my name, so why would I make that decision for my (currently theoretical) kids who may or may not even want children. Cart before horse much?
  • Our hyphenated kids have had to deal with extra paperwork at school, summer camp, FAFSA, and draft registration. We figure these experiences have given them the ability to stand up to difficult situations and stay calm in (apparent) crises.
  • My husband decided he would change his name — but it turns out it's not as easy for a male to change his name. It's a legal procedure involving paperwork and fees. Turns out changing a husband's name is a huge pain in the butt!
  • I most definitely never thought that by changing my family name I'd somehow bow down to some ancient patriarchal female-squelching thing. For me, it was about being totally, utterly lazy. LAZY! I am a dual citizen, so 2 passports, 2 driver's licenses, bank accounts in 2 countries, different government ID numbers, etc, etc, etc… I just couldn't bear the thought of changing any of that stuff.
  • I really hate my hyphenated last name. It's tedious when filling out forms, people have a really hard time remembering it and when I have to give my name for one reason or another, many folks take the liberty of knocking one of the names off. This means that if I go to the pharmacy, the dentist or the doctor, there are at least three possible names my file could be under. Sometimes I have several files under several names at one location. My parents decided this for me, but I will not be deciding this for my children.
  • My spouse's name includes a double surname — he has two unhyphenated last names. It's been horrible for him. All of his major forms of ID (birth certificate, SS card, passport) have different versions. All 1 word, hyphenated, space, 2nd one gone entirely, etc. Which makes it EXTREMELY difficult when trying to identify himself for things like boarding airplanes or getting PO boxes or credit cards.
  • I have a hyphenated last name and I LOVE IT!!! I didn't want to give up my last name, my husband didn't want to give up his, but we also wanted to take each other's names. So we settled with hyphenating. It's fantastic too because our daughter now has our hyphenated last name and I just love it. Could I mention any more that I really love my last names? lol
  • I have a hyphenated last name from birth, and it is an enormous pain in my ass. Maybe it's my own fault, but my records from different places (school, work, medical, taxes…) don't match and it always creates problems for me.
  • I was born with a hyphenated last name and it would never fit the boxes I had to fill in at school when I took tests. This is one of the cons of hyphenating: I always ran out of space! I kept my name when I married (it barely fit on the marriage license!), but our kids have my husband's last name. Sometimes I wish my married name was the same as theirs, but I'm sticking with mine.

Do the possible pitfalls make your decision easier? Or maybe they help you realize that your feelings are strong enough to make you willing to overcome the problems? Or, since there are so many different experiences, you might just realize that it's impossible to predict what's going to happen.

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How to make hyphenated last names and hyphenated surnames easier

It depends on the names

Don't focus only on the hyphen. Mr. and Mrs. Smith-Jones will have an easier time than Mr. and Mrs. Souvanakhett-Reissinger. If your names are long, uncommon in the place where you live, and have multiple possible spellings, then your hyphenated name is going to cause you some trouble. That's okay if it's a matter of principle, but you have to be realistic when you decide whether you're willing to cope with complications.

Be consistent

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Plenty of people use one name socially and another name professionally. However, if you use one name for your voter registration and another for your library card and yet another for your taxes, you might find things complicated. As much as possible, use one name for all your official forms.

Traditionally, a woman can always use Mrs. Hisname, no matter what name she uses for herself. So a mom whose kids use her husband's last name is completely correct calling herself Mrs. Hisname at the children's school. Two women could each use Mrs. Partner's name. Men don't have a tradition of this kind, so you can make up your own! Just stick to your legal name on forms.

Check local laws

Various states have varying laws about names. In most states, women can easily change their names when they get married, but there are usually some actions required. The same is true for men in some states — but definitely fewer. A man is more likely to have to go through the whole legal document process of changing his name, even though he's getting married. At least one state requires children to be given their father's surname unless they take legal action in courts. Find out what your local laws are before you make your decision. Make sure you're willing to go to the amount of trouble required.

How to change your last name after getting married

If you're taking on a new name and wondering how to change your last name to a hyphenate after getting married, we super suggest going the easy route using a service like HitchSwitch.

They make the legal name change process simple, guiding you through the process step-by-step.

Prices start at $39, and they make soooo much easier than dealing with all the official paperwork and online forms on your own. It's our favorite easy name change option.

However it works out, we wish you all the best!

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Comments on Hyphenated last names — the practical stuff

  1. My H2B and I have this talk a lot. He has no qualms about changing his last name, but does not want to take mine (which I’m cool with and understand). I don’t want to swap out my last name at all due to my attachment to it from the death of a parent. To make it a little more complicated, we come from different cultural backgrounds and our last names clearly reflect that – we both have traditional names in that sense, and both are equally hard to pronounce for those not used to them, so hyphenation would be a tongue twister for every telemarketer.
    We’re sticking with our individual last names – for now. But, we have come across an additional risk though I want to point out for support of hyphenation: after showing identification to see one another in professional and medical circumstances, we’re doubted as spouses if the other person is not immediately present. Cultural expectations mean that we have to go that extra mile to “prove” we’re married. So far it hasn’t been too bad, but we worry about emergencies and having to push to be able to see one another in medical or civil events if the other party isn’t able to vouch. Hyphenation may help address that.

    • I never changed my name but did get wallet sized marriage licenses from the state that both of us carried at all times. Never needed it but it was a good back up for the medical/legal situation. I think they were an extra $10-$15 when I ordered copies of our license.

  2. In Norway this stuff isn’t a problem. A lot of people have hyphenated last names, which means that will be their last name, no matter what. If you don’t hyphenate, you have to choose one to be your middle name and one to be your actual last name (not all places require a middle name from you).
    When you apply for the marriage license here, you send along a form requesting a name change at the same time. Just as easy for men as for women.

    My fiancé and I will be adding each other’s last names, and we decided mine for the middle name and his for the last name, mainly cause it sounded the best. For me it will help when adjusting – I can pause a second and remember my new last name, and he still has the same last name, and swaps out his scandinavian ”XXXson” middle name for my last name when needed.

  3. I know the problem from another end, I changed my first name. When I married I didn’t change my last name because years before I spent money and went through the trouble of changing my first.

    Anyway, what others have said about the difficulty of getting your name to match is true. And it comes at you when it is the most inconvenient. I should add that I made my first name a single letter. So when you need to rush and do something and you forgot to bring your card to the place (doctor/ special library/ etc) and you want them to look through their computer systems, they are not going to find you. So if you have no plans on ever voting, rushing through an airport, dealing with court stuff, or anything like that, ever in your life, then go ahead and hyphenate or have a name computer systems hate.

    When I vote, I have to bring my voter card, because when they try to find me by my name it’s a crap shoot. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. And when you’ve been waiting in line to vote, you’re not going to head home to find your card to wait in line some more. Unless that’s your thing.

    I also had this problem at the Library of Congress where, I lost my researcher card and wanted a new one. They could not find me and we tried all the versions of my name.

  4. I know this is an older post, but wanted to weigh in as someone who has a long hyphenated last name. Growing up, I resented it a bit. It was confusing, long, and often required clarification. As I’ve gotten older however (I’m now in my late 20’s) I have grown to appreciate it. I love that it is a perfect blend of my parents, I love that my mother refused to give up this part of her identity, and I love that it is a unique name that only my siblings and I share. I do not however like that my name is not the same as either of my parents (they each kept their last names and hyphenated it for their kids). It also complicates my own name-changing plans. My name is much too long to hyphenate with a future spouse so I will need to decide if I will change my last name or keep my own and have a different last name than my future children. (Neither of which thrill me!)

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