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When Hyphen Boy Meets Hyphen Girl, Names Pile Up

Jul 19, 2012
Originally published on July 20, 2012 8:43 pm

Those born at the height of the name-hyphenating craze will be the first to tell you — having two last names can be more trouble than it's worth. There's the perennial confusion at school and at the doctor's office, and the challenge of squeezing your name onto forms.

And now that the hyphenated generation is marrying and parenting, a whole host of new tricky situations has emerged.

Take Leila and Brendan. Their story is one of those fairy tale stories of love at first sight. She was in the lobby of her apartment building when this cute guy started moving in.

Not to sound too cliche, Leila says, but "I could tell there was something different about him."

"And I saw her, and I was just happy there was at least one babe living in the apartment building," Brendan says.

Hyphen Boy Meets Hyphen Girl

The pair chatted and flirted for a bit. Those were the good old days, before they started discovering the kind of issues that inevitably pop up later. Like when Brendan first noticed the name on Leila's mailbox.

"I remember looking at hers and being like, 'Holy crap, there's another hyphenated last name!' "

Brendan's last name is Greene-Walsh, and Leila's, Rathert-Knowles.

They both hoped things would continue to go well — but they both also knew they were a pileup waiting to happen.

"My names would probably be Leila Rathert-Knowles Greene-Walsh," Leila says, laughing.

Brendan smirks, too. "It just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?"

Now, four years later, these hyphenated honeys are still in love — but also still stumped on what they would possibly do if they decide to get hitched.

"I just don't have any good answers," sighs Leila.

One idea is melding. "Take, like, three letters from each name, and mix them up into a new word," Brendan explains.

"Growlsh," Leila offers.

Too much like Grolsch beer, Brendan counters.

Another option, Brendan says, is blind chance. "We could put all four of the names on pieces of paper in a hat, and just draw one," he says.

And there's always option "C": none of the above.

"We can go the route of Prince and just drop our last names just, be like, 'I'm Brendan.' " — The Brendan formerly known as Brendan Greene-Walsh.

A Bureaucratic Nightmare

Hyphenating has waned since its peak in the '80s and '90s, in part, experts say, because it's become less of a feminist statement and more of a bureaucratic nightmare.

But also — as most "hyphens" will now tell you — it wasn't really sustainable anyway. Hyphenating was destined to hit a wall after one generation.

"Yeah, it was gonna happen eventually," says the man formerly known as Ian McKenna-Thomas. "And I did ask my mom, 'What were you expecting me to do?' "

His mother's answer, Ian says, was basically, "You figure it out."

Growing up, he was always teased about his name, Ian says. The big joke — what would he do if he married another hyphen? — was less humorous when it happened.

"So, sure enough, we had the potential of being the McKenna-Thomas Camera-Smith household," Ian says. "Which sounded too much like a law firm, really."

That mouthful wasn't going to fly, so the couple sat down with a family tree and counted all of their cousins. When they concluded that "Camera" was the most endangered of all their last names, they decided they'd both take that one.

They worried about offending the other family members. But at the big reveal at their wedding, the pair kept their eyes on the bride's maternal grandfather, an elderly Italian immigrant named Matteo Camera.

"He was very confused, but he did smile when we announced," Ian says. "He smiled pretty big when we told folks what we were doing."

And Baby Makes Three Names. Or Four.

Of course, figuring out a married name is only the beginning of the dilemma; what to name the kids can be even trickier.

Sasha Harris-Cronin says she spent years before she even got pregnant, thinking about what she'd do — and still struggled till the very last minute. "We honestly thought we might not be able to put a last name on the birth certificate," she says.

If their problem was unique to their millennial generation, so was their attempt at solving it: They turned to Facebook.

"We ... asked our friends and said, 'Give us all the ideas you have,' " Sasha says.

Some suggested inventing a last name, like the city where the pair met. That's a growing trend, following on the craze for creative first names.

Harris-Cronin thought about it, but decided it was silly to solve the problem of not being able to keep all their names by not keeping any.

So she and her partner settled on giving their baby three hyphenated names: "Harris-Cronin-Taylor."

But at the last minute, faced with yet again trying to squeeze her own hyphenated names onto a form, Sasha balked.

Instead, their daughter got just one of mom's last names, hyphenated with her dad's, and two middle names.

The end result: Shannon Bayard Cronin Harris-Taylor.

"It's weighty, but it does the trick," Sasha says. "And she won't be any worse off than I am."

And the upside, Sasha says, is that Shannon will also have one of her mom's perks: When anyone Googles her, she'll be the only one to come up.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Having two last names can be troublesome. The generation of babies born at the height of the hyphenating craze are often the first to admit that. Whether the doctor can find your medical chart is the least of it. Now, the hyphenated generation is marrying and having kids. As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, many are struggling over which names to keep and pass on.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: This is one of those fairy tale stories, of love at first sight.

LEILA RATHERT-KNOWLES: I could tell there was something different about him. Not to sound too cliché, but...

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: She was in the lobby of her apartment building when this cute guy started moving in.

BRENDAN GREENE-WALSH: And I saw her, and I was happy that there was at least one babe living in the apartment building.

SMITH: They chatted and flirted for a bit. You might call those the good old days, before they started discovering the kind of big issues that inevitably pop up later - like when he first noticed the name on her mailbox.

GREENE-WALSH: I remember looking at hers and being like, holy crap, there's another hyphenated last name.

RATHERT-KNOWLES: My name is Leila Rathert-Knowles.

GREENE-WALSH: I am Brendan Greene-Walsh.

SMITH: It was a pile-up waiting to happen.

RATHERT-KNOWLES: My names would probably be Leila Rathert-Knowles Greene-Walsh.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE-WALSH: It just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?

SMITH: You'd kind of understand if they broke up then and there. But four years later, these hyphenated honeys are still in love, but stumped on what a married name might be. One idea is melding.

GREENE-WALSH: Take like, three letters from each last name, and mix them up into one word.

RATHERT-KNOWLES: Growlsh?

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: That's a beer.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: Or...

GREENE-WALSH: We could put all four of the names on pieces of paper in a hat, and just draw one.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: Or there's always D, none of the above.

GREENE-WALSH: We can go the route of Prince and just drop our last names; just be like, I'm Brendan.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: The Brendan formerly known as Brendan Greene-Walsh?

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE-WALSH: Exactly.

SMITH: Hyphenating has waned since its peak in the '80s and '90s; in part, experts say, because it's become less of a feminist statement, and more of a bureaucratic nightmare. But also - as most hyphens will now tell you - it wasn't really sustainable anyway. It was only a one-generation fix, destined to hit a wall.

(LAUGHTER)

IAN CAMERA: Yeah, it was going to happen eventually. And I did ask my mom, you know, what were you expecting me to do?

SMITH: The hyphen formerly known as Ian McKenna-Thomas says Mom's answer was basically, you figure it out. Growing up, he says, he was always teased about his name. What would he do if he married another hyphen? was a big joke - until it happened.

CAMERA: So sure enough, we had that problem of potentially being the McKenna-Thomas Camera-Smith household - which sounded a little too much like a law firm, really.

SMITH: That wasn't going to fly. So they sat down with a family tree, counted all their cousins; and decided Camera was the most endangered of all their last names, so they'd both take that one. They worried about offending the others. But at the big reveal at their wedding, they kept their eyes on the bride's maternal grandfather, an elderly Italian immigrant named Matteo Camera.

CAMERA: He was very confused, but...

(LAUGHTER)

CAMERA: ...he did smile when we announced. He smiled pretty big when we told folks what we were doing.

SMITH: But, of course, figuring out a married name is only the beginning.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRYING INFANT)

SASHA ANNA HARRIS-CRONIN: Aww.

SMITH: Sasha Anna Harris-Cronin says she spent years, before she even got pregnant, thinking about what she'd do; but still struggled to the very last minute.

HARRIS-CRONIN: No, we honestly thought we might not be able to put a last name on her birth certificate.

SMITH: Finally, like any millennial would...

HARRIS-CRONIN: We went on Facebook and asked our friends; and said, give us all the ideas you have.

SMITH: Some suggested inventing a last name, like maybe the city where they met. It's a growing trend that follows the creative craze in first names. Harris-Cronin thought about it - but decided it was silly to solve the problem of not being able to keep all their names, by not keeping any. So they decided to give their baby three hyphenated names - Harris-hyphen-Cronin-hyphen-Taylor. But at the last minute, faced with yet again trying to squeeze her own two hyphenated names onto a form, she balked. Instead, their daughter got just one of Mom's last names, hyphenated with Dad's, and two middle names.

HARRIS-CRONIN: So the final name is Shannon Bayard Cronin hyphenated Harris-Taylor. It's weighty, but it does the trick. She won't be any worse off than I am.

SMITH: And on the upside, Harris-Cronin says, Shannon will also have the same advantages as her mom - when anyone Googles her, only she will come up.

Tovia Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.