March 17, 2004

Does "Anal-Retentive" Have a Hyphen?

Feminist author Katie Roiphe has a piece in Slate this week that gives a brief history of womens’ changing, hyphenating, or or keeping their original names upon marriage. The “maiden name debate” is a fascinating topic that isn’t written about nearly enough.

While I certainly would have no problem were my future wife to keep her name, I have gone on record before that I will never subject any child of mine to a hyphenated last name- Roiphe rightly denounces this practice as “socially irresponsible,” though I’d go even further and call it child abuse. Why give your child a name that will be twice as hard for people to remember, not to mention never, ever fitting on a drivers’ license?

Roiphe also trashes the latest trend of married couples both making up a new last name for their whole family; as the final living male Silver in my family besides my father, I’m not about to go along with that one either.

But the all-time low in this regard was one I heard about from a friend who was in town the other weekend. She told me that a long-ago acquaintance of ours, who I’ll call “George,” had recently married, and had added his new wife’s name and hyphenated it to his. This has to make “George” eligible for the Whipped Hall of Fame; I wonder how many of his guy friends excommunicated him when they heard about it.

Posted by Stephen Silver at March 17, 2004 06:59 PM

"Excommunicated" may be too easy. If one of my friends did this, I'd consider a mercy killing.

Posted by: Bill McCabe at March 17, 2004 10:33 PM

guys like that should just walk down the aisle in a doug christie jersey. it's over for them.

Posted by: LilB at March 18, 2004 01:21 AM

One thing Roiphe doesn't talk about is the phenomenon of married couples taking their spouse's surname as a middle name, e.g. when Jennifer Granholm married Dan Mulhern she became "Jennifer Mulhern Granholm" and he became "Daniel Granholm Mulhern." Not as bad as hyphenation, but still strikes me as a bit odd.

On the "making up a new last name" bit, I recall that failed LA mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa did this (his name was Villar, his wife's name was Raigosa) and I wonder whether it didn't hurt him with his Latino constituents b/c it undoubtedly made him appear less macho.

I'm also curious how same-sex marriage will impact the maiden name phenom - I've yet to hear of a same-sex couple that went for hyphenation, and I've only heard of a few where one partner adopted the other's surname (e.g. the Goodridge plaintiffs). The real issue is still the kids: I generally share Steve's anti-hyphenation views, but if two guys (or two gals) got married and had children, they'd probably be better off giving the kids a hyphenated moniker rather than duking it out over which of their surnames would be passed on to the next generation.

Posted by: Joe at March 18, 2004 10:37 AM

Yeah, I hate the hyphenated phenomenon as well.

However, guys - put yourself in the female's shoes and imagine giving up your name. Just try to picture it.

I'm not all feminist about this, it's just that my name is my name, it's my connection to my ancestors, my family, it's who I am, and I will never take my husband's name because of that.

However, I don't care if my kids have my name or his. I would not subject them to a hyphenated situation, or to some kind of morphing of our two names. All I have to say to that is ICK.

Posted by: red at March 18, 2004 10:44 AM

It's also worth noting that the assumption that women take the surnames of their spouses is no longer as legally embedded as it once was. The civil code of Quebec (and probably laws in other jurisdictions as well, but the Quebec example is the one I'm most familiar with on point) provides that married women retain their maiden name unless they follow specific legal procedures to take the name of their husband - in practice, these procedures are rather complicated, and most women avoid the hassle by retaining their maiden names.

For my part, I'm sympathetic to Sheila's concerns and would not object if my wife wanted to retain her maiden name; there's no way I would adopt her name, so in fairness I wouldn't force her to adopt mine either. There should be some set norm as far as the surnames of children go, and I'm perfectly content to have children assume their father's surname unless conditions dictate otherwise. The point I was raising above, however, is this: what should be done in a situation where a child has two fathers (or two mothers)? If you rule out hyphenation, which parent's surname should be used? This presents a philosophical problem in terms of our conception of same-sex unions, inasmuch as it frustrates efforts to move toward a gender-neutral "spouse/spouse" paradigm instead of a gendered "husband/wife" one - questions such as whose surname passes on to their children are very much rooted in the old conceptions of "husband" and "wife." That's why I suggested hyphenated surnames for children of same-sex couples - it's an imperfect make-do solution to the problem, but any solution is better than none. However, for my part as a heterosexual I can see no reason to subject children raised in a traditional marriage to the trauma of having a hyphenated name.

Posted by: Joe at March 18, 2004 01:39 PM

There was a guy at my high school reunion who had taken his wife's name, and I remember the sort of ripples of "wow, that guy is pussy-whipped" which went through the reception hall. I was one of those people who looked at the couple thinking: Man, she's got him whipped.

Later, I felt bad for thinking that, because of my own stance on keeping my own last name.

Why was that guy WHIPPED when he took his wife's last name, and why is it normal for women to submerge their own last names underneath their husbands?

Posted by: red at March 18, 2004 03:25 PM


Women have been taking their husbands name for a thousand years, I know that doesn't make it right, but it's far more unusual for a man to take his wife's name.

I wouldn't mind if my wife wouldn't take my name, since in the grand scheme of things it doesn't really matter much. However, as the last male of my grandfather's line, it would be important to me that any children hold my name.

Specifically, regarding your name..."O'Malley" wouldn't hyphenate well with anything. Most last names with two or more syllables wouldn't either.

Posted by: Bill McCabe at March 18, 2004 05:04 PM

Bill -

A lot of customs have gone on for 1000 years without being questioned, and that don't make it right or doesn't mean it shouldn't be challenged.

I don't like the double standard, wherever it turns up.

Posted by: red at March 19, 2004 08:36 AM

I understand what you're saying, but the same gut reaction to a guy taking his wife's name would remain. If any of my friends were to do such a thing, I know I wouldn't want to be him when the guys get together.

Pete even takes some ribbing from time to time, as the priest accidentally announced the newly married couple by her name.

Posted by: Bill McCabe at March 19, 2004 05:14 PM

All I'm asking, Bill, is that you acknowledge the double standard in your remarks.

Posted by: red at March 20, 2004 01:22 PM

There is a double standard, since a woman is expected to do what few men would even consider.

Posted by: Bill McCabe at March 20, 2004 04:49 PM

Bill--for 1000s of years before children started to take their fathers' names, children were known by who their mother was. If you think about it, you only have your wife's word that any child of hers is yours. It's much less difficult to doubt the maternity of a child. So does the man force his name upon his children in an attempt to prove to his friends (who might think he was more pussy whipped than "George") that he controls his wife's reproduction? Or does his wife allow her children to take the name of her husband to show her friends that he has her favor (to the point that she acknoweledges him as her children's father)?

red--I agree whole-heartedly that we need, on occasion, to stop & look at things we consider "normal" and wonder why that is the case. Maybe it's time for another name revolution.

Posted by: Miko at June 29, 2004 03:38 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?