I am a Hyphenated Mama

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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. 

By choosing both, I have given significance to the life I created with this wonderful man while holding on to the life I had before, and for me, that is a perfect choice. 

3 COMMENTS

  1. One of my BIGGEST pet peeves is the stuff addressed to “Mrs. Hisname Ladtname” or “mr and Mrs Hisname Lastname”. It’s bugged me since I was a kid!!!

  2. Love this!! I chose to hyphenate my name as well and it’s unbelievable the amount of people (often complete strangers) who take issue with it. ( I don’t know what it does in the computer system at my daughters school but I’m pretty sure the receptionist there hates me for it for some reason. :/ She seems to take it VERY personal). I chose to hyphenate my name because I had a son from a previous relationship and his name would be different and I didnt want him to feel like he somehow didnt belong or was the odd one out. However, I also wanted to take my husbands name in some form once we got married. So, My husband and daughter have one last name , I have one and my son has another.

  3. Thank you for sharing! This issue still plagues me. I kept my maiden name and took my husband’s last name without a hyphen. Just simply added it to mine and sometimes think it would have been easier just dropping my name, but I can’t let it go. It’s my identity, its who I am and I accomplished SO much with my name! All my degrees, notable accomplishments, scholarships, etc all happened under my name before Mrs. Hislastname happened. I am proud of being a very strong independent woman and my husband adds value to my life. He doesn’t make me who I am but supports everything I do. Adding his name to mine made the most sense to me but others find it confusing.

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