I was at the doctor recently and was being asked the typical “prove your identity” questions. The nurse asked me to spell my last name. “DWYER-OLSON” I dutifully replied. To which she snidely said, “how do you spell hyphen?”
Since the day I got married, I have been dealing with a certain amount of social disdain over my choice to hyphenate my name.
The truth is, the only reason I took my husband’s name at all was because we already had a child and our son had my husband’s name. It never dawned on me to only take his, and I actually struggled with not hyphenating our kid’s name. Back then it felt too heavy for a kid to have a hyphen in their last name. I would argue differently today.
A name is just a name, but to me a lot of my identity was wrapped up in having my own name and letting go of it was just unthinkable. At the same time, I would never question women who choose to take their spouse’s name. It is absolutely the right choice for so many woman; it just was not for me. My parents divorced after 24 years of marriage. I was 16 when it happened. When my mom decided to legally change her name back to her maiden one, I was so very proud of her. She took back what was hers, and it had a profound effect on me. I was still very hesitant about marriage in any capacity, so the idea of losing my name on top of it was terrifying. Thankfully my husband understood this and allowed me to make the decision without pressure.
I wear my hyphen proudly.
The hyphen is like a stitch I sewed between the old me and the new me. Most of the time, I am amused at how it rattles some people, but every once in a while I am caught in an annoying situation where I am having to explain myself again. Then there are the cringe-worthy social interactions that seem to come with the hyphen. Here are a few of my faves:
Wedding Invitations: Always, and I mean ALWAYS, they are addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Alex Olson. When did I become only a Mrs. to his name? Am I not a person? Women now make up more of the current workforce than ever —can’t we get our name on the invite? I get the traditional way of things, but this one could stand to go away for good.
Anything from a school: Every letter, note, email or other correspondence is sent to Mrs. Olson. Is it that hard to write the full name? When Hilary Rodham-Clinton ran as Hilary Clinton hyphenated ladies everywhere did a facepalm.
Children: “Hello Mrs. Olson!” Nope. Nope. No way. Call me Sarah.
Rewards cards or any account at a store anywhere:
Them- “Do you have an account with us?”
Me- “Yes but I’m hyphenated so I do not know which name it will be under”
Them- “Ok let me look”
10 mins later after trying every version. It’s under Sarah Olson.
Them: Would you like me to add Dwyer?
Me: That is how I signed up in the first place, your computer ate it.
In all seriousness, this is a very personal and hard decision to make. There are a lot of social norms and stereotypes wrapped up in making the choice. If I had chosen to take my husband’s name, I personally would have had a feeling of loss. I also would have felt that I was choosing Wife as my new role in life. Likewise, if I had just kept my name I think I would have felt like I wasn’t fully his wife, and did not belong to only him.