Don't Forget the Hyphen

“Do you prefer the first one of the last one?” “Which one do you go by?” “Did one of your parents remarry?” “But why the two last names?”

These are just a few of the most common questions I get when it comes to my hyphenated name. But I get it. I get the confusion in regards to why I have two last names. American culture has been consistent in only requiring one last name, and for a while I tried to adopt that concept. It wasn’t until I was older that I remembered a talk that I had with my mother on why she kept her maiden name.

You see, in most Latino countries the last name of the bride gets the preposition “de” meaning “of”. Which is why there’s that stereotype that Latinos have ridiculously long names.

But my mother said something that shaped my independence of today.

“I am not ‘of’ your father. I am of myself, and neither he nor anyone else should forget that.”

It’s striking really, how she made that choice against what every other woman in her family has done, in a country that was not as progressive in feminist choices like that. We personally don’t have a problem with someone taking their husband’s last name or adding the preposition. One of the biggest parts of being a feminist is allowing women make their own choices. However what strikes me the most is the “of myself”.

My mother chose to keep her maiden name and in that way she claimed herself and her individuality against others that expected her, as a woman, to be a dependent on my father. When my parents married, my mother and my father became a separate union -- two independent people set to provide, love, and cherish one another and their children, together. My brother and I are a product of that union which is why on our birth certificates we have both last names of our parents.

Which brings me back to the title of this blog post - Don’t forget the hyphen.

I used to ignore my mother’s maiden name to make it easier on people when it came to pronunciation. I hated knowing that during award ceremonies or when a professor was calling attendance that they would stop, take a moment to try to read my full name and then butcher it. It would also throw off the rhythm of the names announced before and after me. I was the odd one out. Nowadays I appreciate the symbolism of two last names- that I am a by-product of two independent people who taught me to be independent of my choices and to be “of” myself.