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Blank name tagWhy the funny surname?  I have a weird sounding surname.  Actually, it's two weird sounding surnames joined with a hyphen: Langmaid-Buttery.  They're both English surnames, slightly unusual ones, but that's another story.  This is about why I've chosen a hyphenated name (for now at least).

Hyphenated names have had ups and downs in popularity, but have always been a little 'out there' and ostentatious.  This is unfortunate for most of us who choose hyphenated names, as the choice is not usually motivated by any desire to be conspicuous.  My reasons for having a hyphenated name are much more practical, and based on idealistic notions of equality and stuff like that.

It's common in (I assume) most cultures for people to have a surname, last name or family name.  A couple of exceptions that come to mind are Cher and Madonna.  Oh, and the artist now known again as Prince.  Of course I don't know what their accountants put on their tax returns.  There are cultures where the family name comes first rather than last, (like my brother's Chinese name) and other cultures where the names are chosen differently or not used at all.

Surnames or family names are not something people tend to be concerned, worried about or obsessed with, unless like me, they happen to be obsessed with details and things being "right".  Mine's been an issue to me for a long time, and the whole idea of surnames and system of surnames is an issue for me, and something I am obsessed with, and certainly interested in.  I'll tell you why.

It's because I'm a woman (and possibly a bit of a drama queen).

My first surname, the one on my birth certificate, is my father's surname, Langmaid.  That's pretty traditional in my culture, pretty standard.  Some might even see it as a lucky thing, something to be proud of.  Hey, I know who my father is.  He was even married to my mother.

When I first married, I took my husband's surname.  This is also pretty standard, pretty common practice in my culture.  Why do we do it?  Well, in my case, we knew we wanted to have children, and I wanted to have the same surname as my kids.  They call it a family name.  The whole family shares the same surname.  You're the Joneses, the Bradys, the Waltons.  You all live in the same house.  Mum, Dad and the kids.  A family.  And changing your surname from your father's to your husband's is how it's usually done. 

I thought about the issue of surnames when I got married, and talked to my partner about it.  I did have some issues with this system.  It's the woman who has to make the change, where's the family name link on the mother's side - it's all a bit one sided isn't it?  Unfair!  Annoying.  But the name you start life with is part of that system already anyway, isn't it.

Of course, lots of people these days choose not to change their name when they get married.  It might be for professional reasons.  Yes, if it's for professional reasons, you have a good excuse don't you?  You already have an established career where you're known by your existing surname.  You're important.  You're justified. 

Or you can do it just because you don't see why you should change it.  Then you're, well, just brave, or eccentric, or rebellious, or modern, or feminist or whatever.

But what if you want to have kids?  Then you are confronted by another decision to be made, another stand to be made, or another compromise to be made.  And whatever you decide, you must live with the consequences of it, as I well know.

Anyway, I changed my surname.  I took my husband's surname.  I didn't have a better idea.  I rationalised that my surname was my father's anyway.  It was still a man's surname, a husband's surname, a father's surname.

The process of changing your surname when you get married, (in Australia, anyway), is informal and assumed from a legal viewpoint, but also quite involved from a practical one.  There is no need to change your name legally, by deed poll or anything like that.  The fact of being married just gives you the 'right' to use that name, to assume it, to adopt it, if you choose to.

To make the change on your drivers licence, gas bill, health insurance, and literally hundreds of other places, you must provide a copy of your marriage certificate, and often accompany it with a letter, a follow up phone call and so on.  It takes months, if you're particularly organized and diligent.

But hey, we only have to do it once in our lives, right? (Cynical laughter....)

Making the decision to take my husband's surname felt like I was making a decision to separate myself from my parents and align myself with my husband as a new family.  It was a show of confidence in my marriage.  A sign of respect for my husband.  A sign of my husband's respect for me.  Something he would give me.  We were a unit.  We were a couple.

We had a child, and put her father's surname on her birth certificate, just as I had on mine.  We were a family.  Even the pets had our family surname.

We were divorced when my daughter was two.  Now what to do about the name thing?  I was a young woman, had only been married a short time, and didn't wish to continue using a surname that now didn't feel like 'mine'.

I know divorced women often do keep their married name.  I'd heard of this, but didn't have much experience with it.  I didn't really have any examples to draw on.  I've heard of it being the case, again, for professional reasons.  You've made 'a name' for yourself in your career under your married name.  You're known.  You're somebody.  You have the 'right' to continue to use it as long as you wish, so why not if it suits you to do so.

But what if you re-marry?  What if you have more children?  What if it really just feels strange and wrong?  And what about your existing children?

I reverted to my maiden name.  The name I had when I was a maiden.  (A line from a novel called Tirra Lirra by the River by Jessica Anderson).  I filled in all the forms.  I sent off more copies of my marriage certificate (yes, you just do the same thing - the marriage certificate also gives you the 'right' to use your maiden name), I made more phone calls, I went through another period of correction and inconvenience.

My parents divorced soon after this, and my mother changed her surname to her grandmother’s maiden name!  This is just an incidental side thing, nothing to do with my story.  My grandmother had been given this name (Lamont) as a middle name, to keep it in the family. 

So anyway, now my daughter and I had different surnames.  I hated this, but I didn't know what to do about it.  I didn't know that I could have gone to court to have my daughter's surname changed at the time.  Yes, when she was still very young, I would have been likely to be successful with such an application to the court.  I know that now.  But, it was not something I had the confidence to research and pursue at the time, and she kept her father's surname.

If you are newly divorced with young children and considering the issue of changing your name or amending the surnames of your children, I advise you to look into it immediately.  You are much more likely to be successful with younger children.

So, I would have to repeatedly explain that my name was not Mrs X, but that I was my daughter's mother, both in person and in making corrections on every kind of document and record, from the dentist to the school to the health insurance company and so on. 

I remarried.  My second husband said he didn't think I would want to change my surname.  I had mixed feelings about this.  I suppose he assumed I was a modern woman, that I'd had to go through it before and wouldn't want to again, that I wouldn't want my eldest daughter to be the only one in the family with a different surname.  All of these things were true, and I don't think I would have changed my name to his if he had wanted me to, but on some level, I think I sort of wanted him to want me to have his name.  As a sign of unity, of faith in our marriage, as something he would give me, something about being respectable - who knows what - but it was and is an emotional issue for me, the name thing.  We talked about it a bit, hyphenated names were mentioned but it was agreed they were undesirable, and the discussion did not progress to any other possibilities.

We had a child together and gave our daughter his name.  I didn’t know what else to do.  My eldest daughter had her dad’s name and I hadn’t done anything.  Mine was different anyway.  So even though I was married to the father of my youngest child, neither of my kids had the same name as me or each other.  I hated it.  I didn’t know what to do about it. 

This marriage soon ended too. 

I always worried about it (the name thing - me and both my children all having different surnames) and wished I had money for a lawyer to do something, if only I knew what to do.  Every time I filled in a form at school, the doctor, dentist, swimming, ballet, childcare etc etc, I had to explain that I was their mother, that they were sisters, that our names were different.  I got called by my ex husbands' surnames, the kids got called by each other’s names etc.  I hated it.  I lived with it. 

Never one to be easily discouraged, and determined to be happily married with lots of children, a new man came along, and we decided to have a baby. 

What to name the new baby and what to call myself when we got married?   Feeling emotionally stronger in my new relationship, I decided to do something about this whole surname thing.

First thing, decide what I think would work.  It wouldn't be fun, it wouldn't be pretty, it wouldn't even be original, but I felt I needed to really think it through and come up with some kind of solution.  I worked out the whole thing, including a proposed system for dealing with names for future generations that I think is fair for women.  This is it: 

Hyphenated names.  Yes, you saw that coming, didn't you.  Give the kids BOTH parents’ surnames.  That way they always have a link with both parents and with their siblings. 

It’s longer to write, harder for people to remember, and the names are still partly different, but it shows what’s real, and gives that important link to other family members and not just the father. 

To prevent ever longer names over generations, when kids with hyphenated names marry & have kids, they pass down one each, whichever one they choose, but logically the girl passes on her maternal one, the boy his paternal one.  Simple.  Of course this is just my suggestion, kids can do whatever they like when they’re grown up, but I felt I needed to think the thing through and have a proposal.

So there, I'd done it, I'd confronted the fact that I knew it would not be popular, that people would hate it and disagree.  I'd confronted the fact that it had definite drawbacks, but still, it's the best possible thing I've been able to come up with, and the only solution I can think of that's fair and logical.

I knew both ex husbands would oppose it, and wrote them a letter each explaining I wanted to add my surname with a hyphen (before theirs, so theirs stayed last, but which way around wouldn’t have mattered really) to the kids' surnames.  I told them I would be giving the baby a hyphenated name, and also adding my new partner's name to mine with a hyphen when we got married.  I got their rejections back, and put in the court application.  The kids were 11 and 7.  I explained to the kids what I was doing and why, and they were fine with it (I thought).

I did give my son a hyphenated surname, and when I married his father, I did change my name, adding his surname with a hyphen, which is the name I am still using now: Langmaid-Buttery.  My ex-husband's preference would have been that I called myself Mrs Buttery, but he supported me in what I was doing anyway.  Hey, you don't argue with a pregnant woman!

When the hearing date finally came up, I was pregnant with my fourth and fifth babies.  I was feeling optimistic about the outcome because of comments the magistrate had made leading up to the trial date.  She commented that my proposal would reflect the reality of the children's lives, and I'd seen the same comment when I'd looked up precedents.  When the day came however, I lost, and it seems this was because of the children's ages.  I'd waited too many years, and they had been living with their father's surnames all that time. 

It was a humiliating experience, and when I told my children the outcome, they now said they had not wanted to change their surnames.  The younger one didn't even know what my surname was!  Did they initially say they were OK with the change just to please me, or did they say they didn't want to do it to please their fathers, or both?  Really, it was all just too much for them to be expected to deal with.  If I was going to do it, I should have done it after the first divorce.  I thought I was being brave, but perhaps it was just foolish. 

With hindsight, what I would do now, would be insist on hyphenating all my children's surnames when they were born.  I found out when my youngest were born, when I was reading the material accompanying the birth registration papers, that if there is any disagreement about the surname of a newborn baby, the surname automatically defaults to a hyphenated one!  How about that.

So to change their surnames now before they’re 18, they would each have to convince a psychologist that it is what they want themselves, and I would have to go through the 1 year process again.  Obviously I've let it go now.

I'm now separated and soon to be divorced again, and for now, I think I'll be keeping my hyphenated name.  I don’t know what I’ll do if I ever get married again, but for the moment I want to enjoy having the same surname as three of my children.
Now that I am having the experience for the first time of having the same surname as three of my children, I am enjoying it!  Yes, it really does make a difference to me. 

What's it like having a hyphenated surname?

Yes, it has definite disadvantages.
 
Since having the hyphenated surname, I find people often choose to ignore it, even when it’s written down in front of them, or I’ve just told it to them, and will use one or the other. 

I want to have some standard ways of dealing with this situation.  Perhaps saying something like “do you want me to spell it again for you?” or “you seem to be having trouble pronouncing my surname”.  I want it to embarrass them rather than me, make it their problem, and force them to use or write it correctly.  I know this is silly, and I need to be more creative and less catty in looking for solutions.  People are confused by it - it's not their fault.

My full surname often won't fit into the allocated spaces on various computer systems and forms, and sometimes the hyphen is ignored, deleted, or renders my surname 'unacceptable'.  What, you're going to let your computer tell me what my name is?  Grrrr

And of course I freqently have to spell it out, repeat it, correct mistakes and so on.  It's really annoying.

What to do about my surname now?

Well, for one thing, you'll notice I didn't include my surname in the domain name of this blog.  Fortunately my first name is not all that common either.
 
Options I've considered:-

- Leave it as it is.  Advantages: Have same surname as my three youngest children, don't have to change everything again, show solidarity with my three youngest children in having a hyphenated surname, showing that I really believe in the hyphenated thing.  Disadvantages: The disadvantages of having a hyphenated surname, continuing to use the surname of my ex-husband, what if I get re-married. 

- Leave it as it is, and if I do ever re-marry, then change the Buttery part to my new husband's surname.  Advantages: Shows support and belief in the hyphenated thing, I continue to share part of my surname with my three youngest children, I get to also share my new husband's surname, showing both my support of him and his of me.  Disadvantages:  Have to go through another name change if I get married again, including how it affects my business, given that I've started my little business using my current name.

- Revert to my maiden name.  Advantages: Have a surname partially still in common with my three youngest children, easier to write and have people use it correctly.  Disadvantages: Not showing support for the hyphenated thing, having to change it again, then possibly wanting to change it again if I re-marry.

- Keep a hyphenated surname, but make it Lamont-Langmaid, that is, both my own parents' surnames.  Advantages: My surname would remain partially in common with my youngest children, I wouldn't necessarily have to change it again if I got married, I'd be showing my belief in the hyphenated name thing, I'd be supporting my mother in her choice of surname.  Disadvantages:  Having to change my name again now, it might feel funny having Lamont as a surname when I've never had it before, and it would make the decision more difficult about whether to change my name again if I re-married. 

- Drop the surname altogether, by deed poll, and just be Yvette, like Cher or Madonna or Prince.  Advantages:  Makes a bold statement, easy to write and remember.  Disadvantages:  Makes a bold statement, would have to change it legally as well as the usual way, would have to constantly explain it, and would not show support for the hyphenated thing.

- Use the surnames of all past and future husbands as well as my maiden name, and why not throw in my mother's surname as well.  Advantages: Makes a bold statement, I would have a surname in common with all my children and with my future husband and with both my parents, sticks it to the system.  Disadvantages: Having to make the change legally, is it possible, and the problem of filling in forms, explaining it to people, and the name simply not fitting in the available spaces on most data bases.
Ok, go ahead and have a good laugh, call me an obsessed nutcase, but this is really what goes through my head, and surely somebody else out there can relate to this.  If nothing else, my daughters might read this one day when they're grown up and understand me better, or consider the issue carefully themselves before they marry and have children of their own

 

Comments   

#12 Jan 2015-06-19 11:32
Loved the article on name choices. I divorced after many years - had married very young and actually had used my married name for longer than my birth name but then reverted to my birth name which although at times I need to spell and pronounce correctly for people I came to really love. My father died when I was a toddler and my mother remarried and as I have no siblings I had this idea I was carrying on the name for my father. My mother had a different name to me so that was awkward as a child. Three years ago after being together for 20 years I married my now husband. I have retained my birth name as my husband doesn't mind at all. I have 3 adult children who retained their fathers name - 1 son and 2 daughters who when they married changed to their husbands surname. I now feel ready to change to my husbands name as I feel this will make some things easier - try being over 60, retired and having to explain often why we have different surnames. I feel it will also present a more united family feel. Names are such funny things and so personal but they are who we are and whoever said what's in a name clearly had no idea!!! :roll:
#11 Nelly 2012-10-02 02:21
Hello, Yvette
I was married 7 years to the father of my 2 oldest children. I took his lastname and of course my 2 oldest children have his lastname. We got divorced when they were 3 and 5. I kept his lastname, cause it wasn't a big deal for either of us to even discuss that. I got married to someone else and I have a child with him. I never took his last name. Our son of course has his last name. I divorced him. Now I have 2 kids with the same last name as mine, and my youngest with his father's last name. I want to go back to my maiden name, but at the same time I don't want to have a house full of strangers. Everyone having different last names, except for my two oldest. My options:
-Keep my two oldest children's last name. I'm affraid that my baby will feel left out since he will not have the same last name as us.
-Change my last name to my maiden name. That way nobody has the same last name and it will be fair.
-Change my last name and hyphenate my maiden name to their last names. I will need their father's permission. Not surer they will like this idea.
This is very important to me cause I don't know the impact that any of this options will have in my children's life. e.i: school, friends, their step mom having their same last name and being mistaking as their mother... I know this last part(about their stepmoms) is silly but it does bother me.
Thank you for posting this kind of subjects.
#10 Marjorie Ann Hill Carrico Jones Harman McGivney Morris 2011-05-08 22:44
As you can see from the length of all of my last names, I have been married five times. I go by Marjorie or Marjie Morris now. All of those guys were wrong for me (my mistake in marrying them), except for Mr. Morris, who I hope will work out (four years married) "forever." What a hassle...I never had kids...wish now that I had kept my maiden name of Hill because of its shortness and ease of spelling and pronouncing. It would be nice to have the same name throughout life, like men do. How are your old friends, classmates, etc. supposed to find you later, after all these name changes over the years? However, Marjie Morris or Marjorie Morris does have a certain zing to it, with the M at the beginning of each name!
#9 April 2011-04-10 06:18
Hi Yvette, I'm in the process of applying to hyphenate my Childs name now. They have just turned 3 and have no idea what a surname is.... I have made a point of getting this sorted before kinder or school starts. Fingers crossed for me. I have negotiated with the father for 16 months!! 16 months too long....... Will keep you updated.
#8 YvetteSLB 2010-11-07 05:11
Thank you for that comment Adrian - I've always been curious about how surnames work in other countries.

And thank you too to everyone who has commented on this article.
#7 Adrián 2010-11-04 13:19
Hi Yvette,

I've always also cared about the surname's issue, and I'm glad that I am Spanish in that sense. I tell you why.

Spain is the only country that I know (for now) where people OFFICIALLY have two surnames. Indeed, I do. These are: First = Father's surname; Second = Mother's surname. You can obvioulsy deduce from here that when you get married in Spain you don't take (if you are a woman) your husband's surname, but keep your own. This has its benefits (comparing it to what you said, lots of benefits).

So every person in Spain has two surnames that link the person with both his/her father and mother's family.
And even, although it is not very common, when a baby is born the parents have the power to choose whether the child's surname would be father's and mother's or mother's and father's (you can choose the order). It's quite convenient (I think).

I see this system that we have much more practical than using two names and a surname.
And just as an anecdote, since you have two surnames, and your parents have two surnames, and their respective parents theirs, etcetera, you can get to know your whole (or almost) family history just by the surnames.
In my case, I know 8 of my surnames (up to my grandparents'), and that provides you a general idea of how your family came to be what it is.

Adrián

PS: Answering to Elizabeth (the first comment), you don't really get tired of it. It's assumed in the society. We normally call people by their names, but I insist on the convenience of having two surnames.
#6 Lorrie 2010-10-27 23:03
Wow, you've given it a lot of thought. I also have a a long hyphenated surname (4 words in all), and quite unpronouncable to most people. When I got married my husband would have loved me to take his surname, but after being 'me' for so long, I wasn't even thinking about it - I am who I am. By choice (unless on my passport/drivers) I only use half of it anyway - which I also constantly have to spell out. My daughter has her father's surname and it's never been a problem. I expect one day if she gets married that she'll keep her maiden name or hyphenate, but you never know. I might have considered hypenating her surname at birth, but it would have been way too long and it would have been weird to chop my name in half.
Having said that though, I like your idea of all your children having your surname plus their dad's (pity it didn't work out) as it does give that feeling of family. If we all did that children would also share their dad's surname with any half siblings on the paternal side. There would be links in both directions for them.
#5 Elizabeth Gage 2010-09-14 20:40
The first time I married, I took my husband's name and was very proud and happy about it. We had no children.
When we divorced, I kept that name since that was the name I used professionally and everybody currently in my life knew me by that name.
I moved to the Netherlands and fell in love with a Dutch fellow. We decided to marry and I said I planned to keep my former married name since that was really "my" name. He had a gigantic tantrum and I gave in, not realizing that the Dutch custom is for a married woman to use a hyphenated name thus: First Name, Husband's name-Maiden name. The maiden name comes last as a way of having the woman keep her name. However, since I didn't know this (and my narcissistic husband didn't tell me) I went with First Name, maiden name-husband's name. However, sometimes my former married name made it onto paperwork, and when we left the Netherlands, the bureaucrats were only interested in what my maiden name had been. It was confusing.
When I divorced husband number two, still childless, I reverted to my maiden name. The ironic thing was that the lawyer forgot to include the name change in the decree, so we had to go through another bout of paperwork with the ex before I could open a new bank account, etc. I never did get around to ordering the monogrammed towels. I have kept this name during my third marriage.
I don't know what I would have done if there had been children. I'm just grateful that there weren't so I don't have to have an involvement with either of those two bozos.
#4 Marjorie 2010-09-12 06:41
Hi Yvette,
I like your website, writings, practical tips etc. More than that I like the fact that you seem down to earth and refreshingly honest: quite human and fragile sometimes, like the rest of us mere mortals.
I too have the surname dilemma. My "maiden" surname was Heath. Good old Anglo Saxon name, though we do have a dash of colour in the family. (That's a long story). Then I married and obtained a Dutch surname: Droste. Ten or more years have gone by since I divorced but I have retained my married name. This is a fact not appreciated by the new Mrs.Droste. However, I intend to change back to Heath. I would have kept the Droste surname if it had been an amicable divorce but that was not the case so the sooner I get it changed to Heath the better.
Having said that, I have lived with my current partner for about 9 years. His surname is Doyle. Even if we should marry however, I am retaining the surname I was born with:- Heath. And my partner does not mind this at all. At 55 years of age we no longer see the importance of taking the husband's name unless there are little children involved, and mine are grown up now.
What's in a name?
Marj
PS Keep up the good work for all we women, no matter what our ages. Its good stuff
#3 Solange Gautier 2010-08-18 04:44
It isn't easy, is it?

I've always just kept my own birth name, but my husband(s) each
objected. Too bad. Lucky for me, I didn't keep any of them anyway.

Always wondered how we would solve the name thing if we had children,
but I was smart enough to get out before that event - I never chose husbands very well.

Your candor & wit is very refreshing, Yvette. I love your logic. You challenge and teach me - and for that I thank you so very, very much!

Solange

;-);-);-);-)
#2 Maureen 2008-03-02 02:00
Hi Yvette,
I'm so glad I stumbled across your website, it is about to change my life; things I knew but couldn't do. Your blog is amazing, reading hyphenated surnames is a mirror image of my own thoughts in every detail except you came up with a philosophy that has finally erased all the doubt I've struggled with over the years as to whether I made the right decision my giving my daughter a hyphenated surname at birth. I'm not too far into your book yet, practicing as I go, but the stand out messages for me so far are decision making & time management. Thank you so much.
#1 Elizabeth 2008-02-15 01:38
Now I know why you wrote the section on making a decision and sticking with it. :D As far as the hyphenated name thing... think what the Spanish do...their names are more sentences than anything else. I mean, really, after they tell you their names don't you just want to say..okay, George.

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