Hyphens - yay or nay?

I'm legally a Hunt, but I'm saving to change it to Lamb. Due to personal reasons and my career path, I'm choosing to be a single mother as well. Surnames are the traces of lineage, so I would like my child to feel connected to the donor's heritage as well as mine by hyphenating the last names.

Is this too much stress for a kid? Does anyone here have experience with hyphenated surnames?

My other concern is that the donor will have a name that poorly matches with Lamb. Such as Little-Lamb, Greene-Lamb, or a double animal like Finch-Lamb. Or I could hyphen Hunt-Lamb or Hunt-Donor. But those can get bully worthy just as easily. I never had a minutes rest being a Hunt and still have adults making a fuss about it. Like the secret Santa who thought making a doll in camo gear and fake blood was a hilarious gag gift last month. I wish I was exaggerating.


Any advice or experiences, good or bad, to share about hyphenated names?


January 10, 2015 11:46 AM

My married surname has a hyphen in it. It's not actually hyphenated, because it's all one name that just happens to be spelled with a hyphen, but people don't know that.

My experience with That Dratted Hyphen (replace D... with your stronger expletive of choice) has been 110% negative.

I don't have an IKEA Family card, because the kiosk told me that my name is invalid. I don't have an account at one of the major (free) genealogy sites (Ellis Island) because it wouldn't accept my name. Etc.

Online check-in for international flights is scary, because it tells you in red unfriendly letters that your name must exactly match your passport, but it will not accept the hyphen.

Our credit reports are perpetually filled with names for nonexistent people.

We get junk mail in triplicate and quadruplicate, addressed to more of said nonexistent people. We've given up on the do-not-mail and do-not-call lists, because they go by name, and the mass mailing and telemarketing companies keep generating new-and-improved manglings of our name.

Picking up prescriptions or photos or what-have-you always takes at least two rounds of "please look again, I know it's there", because nobody EVER files it correctly. This also applies to things like our medical files at the doctor's office, except we've been there long enough that they've mostly learned.

The only vaguely positive thing I can think of is that the hyphen gives another point of recognition for telemarketers, because they invariably use only half the name. (It varies which half they pick.) But I hardly need another way to recognize a junk call; the call center background noise and Indian accent is usually plenty...

January 10, 2015 5:30 PM

When I was born, I was given a hyphenated surname (first one being two syllables, starting with M and ending with N, the second being three syllables, starting and ending with E), and it was awful. The first surname wasn't too bad, as at the time it was a common given name AND surname, so everybody knew how to say and spell it. The second surname on the other hand had several pronunciations and spellings, my pronunciation only really being used in Europe, so no-one ever got it right, not even myself in the early years. And that's just the trivial issues.

As HungarianNameGeek mentioned, quite a few things won't accept the hyphen as valid. Not just that, but because my hypenated surname was in total 12 letters long (13 if you count the hyphen) lots of legal documents, such as passport applications, didn't have enough space for my full name, so applying for things that were necessary was a long, awful process.

I was so relieved when I married and took on my husband's surname as I had no more of this to deal with.

Overall, in the long run hypenated surnames are a bad idea. They may seem like a good idea at the time, but they're really not.

By mk
January 10, 2015 7:24 PM

I love hyphenated last names but don't actually have one, so don't know the practical issues. I think that in this day and age, we should have figured out a way to deal with hyphens in names in computer systems and such. I doubt that will change anytime soon.

If you do choose to use a hyphen, why not just switch the names around? Lamb-Donor, Hunt-Donor.

If not, you can use one of the names as a middle name.

January 10, 2015 8:14 PM

We *should* have figured out how to deal with hyphens on computers, but we manifestly have not.

What's depressing is that computers have absolutely no trouble handling hyphens: all those brain-dead systems out there that refuse to accept hyphens are brain-dead because their programmers actively *chose* to make them that way, knowingly and without any sort of gun to their heads. It's not even laziness, because the truly lazy way is to accept whatever people type in, even if it's gibberish.

Apostrophes can and do cause trouble on computers, but there is no excuse for not accepting hyphens. Nevertheless, many major systems continue to not accept them. My advice, having seen my sister's struggles, is to avoid hyphens like the plague. Especially importantly, don't saddle your innocent child with them while you yourself continue to live in ignorant (and hyphen-free) bliss.

By EVie
January 11, 2015 6:15 PM

I'm a bit confused by the surname and donor situation. If you don't mind clarifying, why are you changing your name to Lamb? I understand that you don't care for your surname Hunt, but is Lamb someone else's name that you are taking, or a name from somewhere else in your family tree, or is it just a name you happen to like? Also, you say you want to include the "donor's" surname, but it is unclear whether you know the donor's surname or not. When you say donor, do you mean your ex? Or a friend who's being a donor for you? Or is in an anonymous donor? (In which case you probably wouldn't find out his surname anyway). I feel like all these details would make a big difference in the advice I would give you.

I don't have a hyphenated name--I thought about it when I got married, but instead I took my husband's surname dropped my maiden name to a second middle. So far I've had very little trouble with having a second middle name (even though it makes my whole name a whopping 24 letters overall--if a form doesn't have enough space for the whole thing I just leave out the second middle). So that might be a good option for you to include the donor's name as a second middle--that gives the connection without the burden of a hyphen. It also makes it easier for your child to just leave it out if he/she decides that he/she has no interest in a name that belongs to someone who is not involved in his/her life (darn English for not having a gender neutral pronoun). 

January 11, 2015 7:45 PM

Amber Lamb was a nn I was given in high school. I've wanted to change Hunt for 20 years now due to a few negative experiences, one of which I was beaten unconscious and tossed into a pool. I never knew what to change it to and Lamb stuck. Even my family calls me by Lamb 10 years later. 

As far as the donor's name, I don't know who will be the donor as I have a 2 year minimum waiting period until my finances are in order. I've thought about asking my good friends, which would make it Lichtenstein, Finch, or Riddle. I would never ask my ex - he has made it extremely clear that he no longer wants to be in my life otherwise it would be Gomez. I don't think I could use an anonymous donor, personally. I rather know the person and see if they were characteristically a good match. I.e. intelligent, well mannered etc. Someone I'd be comfortable letting my child get to know when they got to the curious stage of their life.

If I was to pick a last name from my family tree, I'd probably go with the maiden name of my grandmother on my mother's side. O'Doran. I am unfortunately only half Irish, but I think it'd still work alright for me.

By EVie
January 12, 2015 6:02 PM

Thanks for explaining, that really helps clear things up. I do see how some of your donor surname options might not work so well hyphenated with Lamb (though I think Finch-Lamb would be ok, even with the double animal thing). With the other two, I probably would recommend going with the second middle route. Another strategy, if you're mainly interested in the heritage aspect of the surname, would just be to pick first and/or middle names from that heritage. Finch and Riddle would be easy--they're both English, so actually English heritage would be covered fine by Lamb. Lichtenstein is German and means "bright stone," so you could also give a nod to that by picking a first or middle name with a meaning of "bright" or "light" (there are loads--anything derived from Helen, Phoebe, Lucy, etc.) or "stone," or just pick a German-derived name.

Off topic, if you are considering asking a friend to be a donor, I would highly recommend that you talk to a lawyer and make sure that the terms of the arrangement are all spelled out in a contract, especially regarding what parental rights and financial responsibility the donor will have. Even if you're the best of friends and totally trust each other, it's in everybody's interest to have things really clear from the get-go. I have read a lot of stories about these arrangements ending in ugly lawsuits and/or custody battles, and that's no good for anybody.

January 12, 2015 9:11 PM

What EVie says is super-smart, and I can only throw behind it my experience as someone who has built a family with the help of a dear friend as a donor. It's been an extremely happy situation for everyone involved, here, and I think it really helped us get off on the right foot by putting it all in writing and making sure we were all (the recipients, the donor and his significant other) all on the same page. You will be able to find lawyers who have experience drafting donation contracts -- you might find those most easily by looking at GLBT legal resource lists in your area.

Our donor situation is that he's involved more as a uncle-level figure and not at all as a parent.  His contribution to our kids' heritage and making them who they are is something we talk about often but it's not something we included in their surname. He has his own children and he's transmitted his surname to them (as has his wife), and our kids have our own family surname. I know many other two-parent families who have known donation arrangements with varying degrees of involvement on the part of the donor, and in none of them is the donor's surname included in the surname. I have known single people who have decided to coparent with one another, where both names were transmitted (with a hyphen) -- however I wouldn't entirely describe those as donation, more co-parenting arrangements. 

I do see a lot of kids with hyphenated names in my area (at least a third of my son's classmates have hyphenated surnames, of the remainder several of them have the mother's surname). Based on the volume of that experience I would tend to assume that the kid named Finch-Lamb has two parents: a Ms/Mr Finch and a Ms/Mr Lamb. This is not always a good assumption (sometimes the kid just comes from a posh British family) but if I met you, a Ms Lamb, and your child little Moppet Lamb-Finch, I'd assume that a Mr Finch was involved in the rearing of the child as a co-parent... and I think that assumption would continue even if I found out you were single.

Not to say you can't do it, just that you might get some incorrect assumptions thrown your way that you'd have to correct.

FWIW, in addition to the "moving one surname you want to honor to the middle slot" another solution I've seen is giving a child two surnames without a hyphen. That's worked out quite well in the situations where I've discussed it with a parent, though I am imagining that a space in the middle of entering your surnames is as complicated as entering a hyphen. 

March 21, 2015 1:16 AM

I've gone through life with the hyphenated last name, and I feel very strongly about it-NO. It is such a hassle. Your paperwork gets filled incorrectly. A lot of important programs (school websites/databases, banks, hospitals) don't accept the hyphen and that causes so many problems. At least in California, the fee to drop one of the names is around $500. I had teachers that would force me to only use one name because of the school's computer and then the other parent would get super upset, or some teachers wouldn;t be able to find me in the program. Your name doesn;t fit in a lot of things. It's just a big hassle that has caused me grief and frusteration my whole life. It's not worth it. I beg all parents to just choose one last name, otherwise it's going to be a big pain in your side for the rest of your child's life.

June 30, 2015 1:05 AM

OK, I know I am late to this party and OP Lamber probably won't see this, but I have to speak up. My children have hyphenated names. I have had NONE of the problems mentioned. We are binational, so I have provinicial birth certificates, both Social Insutance Numbers and Social Security Numbers, Ontario Health Insurance Plan cards, U.S. Certificates of Birth Abroad, baptismal certificates, and both Canadian and U.S. passports for them. They've been enrolled in daycares, schools, camps, and extracurriculars. And there has been no problem.

The "worst" things have been people assuming I, too, am hyphenated, that I'm Mrs. MyLastName-HisLastName, when I am, as ever, Ms. MyLastName, and that our names happen to be long enough (15 characters including the hyphen) that some personalization items don't have enough room to accommodate us.

I think we've come a long way in the past couple of decade on this issue.

June 30, 2015 10:44 AM

Maybe it's better in Canada? I acquired the D*** Hyphen 15 years ago, so my 110% negative experience with it (detailed in the first comment on this thread) has all been in the past decade and a half. And I've already had to correct school enrollment paperwork for my daughter, who is still a couple of weeks shy of 5 years old. (They picked the second half of the name.)

June 30, 2015 1:33 PM

It could be, but that's why I mentioned all the U.S. federal documents we have. (Which even accommodated DD's four middle names, LOL.) We don't have U.S. school/daycare or state-level experiences, though. We have traveled in the U.S. with many border crossings and flights that originated and ended in the U.S. And no hyphen issues.