Why I hyphenated my name after I got married

A couple of days ago, I read an article called “Are Maiden Names Really Worth $500,000?” The link talks about a study that indicates that women who don’t change their name after they marry are perceived as more professional and will end up making more money over the span of their careers.

While I’m not so sure that a woman’s earning power can be predicted based on her choice of name (the author of the study isn’t so sure either, although he is terribly condescending about it), I do know that hyphenating my married and maiden names gave me challenges that I didn’t expect.

Once I was old enough to seriously consider marriage, I was mostly sure that I was going to hyphenate my name. I wanted to keep ties with my father, who has been dead for nearly twenty years. Dad didn’t have any male children, and there aren’t a lot of male children on my dad’s side of the family. When my dark side is rearing its ugly head, I joke that my daddy issues are showing.

I thought about it and my theory was that while I was still part of the family created by my parents, getting married made me part of my husband’s family. I didn’t want to lose my pre-marriage identity, but I didn’t want to ignore my post-marriage identity either. Hyphenating my name allows me to acknowledge both of my families. More importantly, it ties them together.

When I started thinking about all the paperwork I’d have to fill out to update my life to indicate my married name, I thought, “This is a pain in the butt. Why change my name?

A question I was often asked was “If you have a child, would you hyphenate their name?” My answer was always “No – I’m the one that chose to hyphenate my name. Any child I have did not choose that. One name is simpler for a little kid.” I stuck to this when Flora was born, and she only has Mitchell as her last name.

Mitchell is Flora’s maiden name, not Price. If she chooses to hyphenate, change or keep her name if she gets married, she is welcome to do that. It’s her choice to make.

If you are considering hyphenation, here are some tips based on my experience:

  1. Think about how long your name will be. If your name is long, your name may have trouble fitting on ID or on forms. This kink doesn’t apply to everyone but Melissa is my middle name. When I updated my ID to my hyphenated name, some of my ID ended up saying “*FirstName* M Price-Mitchell”. Not having the name I use on my ID causes confusion at important places, like doctor’s offices. (Dear Ontario government ID issuing offices: if you would consider allowing more characters on your ID cards, that would be awesome.)
  2. Do you want any children you have to share your hyphenated name? Or to have your maiden name as a middle name? What we chose to do for Flora worked for us. Your situation may be different. Some couples hyphenate both of their names. There are lots of options. Make sure to think them through so you come up with a decision that works for you and your partner.
  3. Do your initials spell something ridiculous? Like naming a child, you don’t want your initials to spell something silly. I sign a lot of my emails with my initials. “MPM” is neutral. If my name was “Bertha Ulrich-Mitchell”, hyphenating my name may not have been such a good idea. At least not if I still wanted to sign my emails with my initials.

Nearly everyone I talked to about this had an opinion. Some people agreed with our decisions and some people wondered about our choices. Despite the ID issues, I don’t regret adding Sean’s name to mine at all. The other day Flora said to me “Mummy, we’re all Mitchells”. That feels pretty good.

5 thoughts on “Why I hyphenated my name after I got married”

  1. About a year and a half ago, I found a couple of articles that were pretty negative on changing your name at all. This was my response. I think you’ve given great advice here because it’s up to each individual to decide what’s best for them. Maybe by the time our children are adults this will no longer be scrutinized so much.

    • I actually read that post when you wrote it, and I added “write a response post” to my to-do list.

      Obviously it sat around for awhile. 🙂

      I guess the Royal Wedding got me thinking about all this along with the link I saw.

  2. Wow – I love this, my father passed away 4 years ago, and I was married a year ago. Only child, and yet to change my name. I am considering hyphenating mine now, as my hubby is very supportive and never pushes. Thanks!

  3. Melissa,I would like to offer an opinion from the male point of view. My wife and I married in 2013(our 2nd marriages). She had reverted to her maiden name after her divorce and a year later, the childrens biological father chose to step out of his kids lives. The kids later told their mom, “if dad doesn’t want us, then we don’t want his last name”. So Amanda had to go through an odd legal process to get the childrens names changed to hers. During this same time, I was going through a bad post divorce relationship and several strong female friends of mine helped me through this time, so I knew I wanted to marry a strong woman. I actually urged Amanda to hyphenate her name when we married, partly because of the kids, partly because her family’s name means something where we live, and partly because frankly, it flowed and sounded cool. So on July 26, 2013, Amanda Barton became Amanda Barton-Smith. I favor women hyphenating, but agree that it is a personal choice. I am an advocate for strong women, and I guess in a way, consider myself a bit of a male feminist. Our daughters need more strong women as role models, especially considering you have the Miley Cyrus and the Kim Kardashian types out there.


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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada
This work by Melissa Price-Mitchell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada.
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