For those of you who do not know my personality well yet, I tend to be rather sarcastic. Not as a general rule, but I can’t help myself sometimes…especially after being faced with completely ridiculous situations. The topic of hyphenation is one that has been rattling around in my mind for quite some time now. Mostly in response to how my in-laws have responded to my hyphenated last name and my child’s hyphenated last name, but also in response to a perfectly congenial discussion on my Facebook page that got hijacked and derailed. A lot of my thoughts on the topic where aired in the FB discussion, but I still feel the need to have a coherent piece of writing about a topic that is near and dear to my heart.
Prior to becoming engaged, I decided that I would hyphenate my name. I hadn’t given it much thought before I became involved with the man who is now my husband, but once the possibility of marriage arrived on the scene I saw no other path for my identity. When the thought of losing my last name came to me, I couldn’t comprehend it. So much of my identity was made up of my family name that I felt I would lose part of myself by dropping something so important. I was raised in what can only be described as and Irish-American homesteading family. This is not an official term, by any means, but it is pretty descriptive. I was brought up to wear my last name like a badge of honor. Our family first came to the United States during the potato famine. Part of the family made its way to Canada, but the other made its way to Oregon where they set down roots in the pretty much untamed Oregon Coast. This is where my family began a farm and a proud heritage of logging. Even today, living two hours away from my family of origin, my family’s reputation for being the best in forest is still known. This is not all that being a Dailey stands for. We are kind, just, compassionate, hard-working, community activists, ethical, and loyal. From the earliest point I can remember, I was brought up to understand that my family was descended from the Bards in Ireland and to understand that the hard work and perseverance of those who came before me has set me up to have the life I have today. Honoring the past as part of our present and future is an essential part of our identity as a family.
My decision to hyphenate has also been influenced by feminist views. Much of the marriage customs observed today by Western culture originates from a time when women were property. When a woman was a child she had her father’s name because she belonged to him (as did all of his children), she would be paid for with a dowry, and then she would take her new husband’s name when she was “given away” to symbolize that she was now his property. I fully realize that this is not the symbolism anymore (though in some more fundamentalist communities it continues to be), but the custom still does not sit well with me. At our wedding, I was not “given away.” Both of us were walked down the isle by both parents to symbolize support and blessing of the union. I do, however, wear a ring (another relic of the “property” symbolism) because my husband and I have ascribed new meaning to the custom.
When the topic of my last name came up with my husband the first time prior to our marriage, he was outraged. He actually said that I was “disrespecting” him. At that point, I was so mad that I could spit. I asked how it was that he was being disrespected, but I was not. His answer was that taking the man’s name was “tradition.” However, he could not tell me anything about the tradition or why this tradition was so important to him. I also shared that I wanted him to hyphenate with me. My view is that we are joining two families together; two families with equally proud heritages. My husband had not been raised the same way that I had to honor your heritage so he did not have any context to understand my passion for this. I felt that my husband should be just as proud to join my family as I was to join his. In the end, I did not press the issue because I knew that even if I could convince him of the honor of wearing my name that he would be treated as less than fully male. This was my passion, not his and so I must not expect him to fight a battle that does not originate from him
Now we arrive at welcoming our first child. It has been many years since the first discussion of hyphenation and my husband has a much more clear understanding of why hyphenation is important to me. He broached the subject of our child’s last name and suggested that the children have only his last name. I was VERY angry when this was said because it showed that my husband still didn’t understand a key aspect of how I view surnames. Your surname is your identity (not for everyone, but in my reality, it is). If our children were to only wear his name, I would not be part of their identity. This was like saying that the father’s family is the only important family in the child’s identity formation. This was something that I experienced growing up. I know practically nothing of my mother’s family and I am sad for that. There is so much that I do not know and a piece of my DNA that I do not fully understand. I do not want that for my children. As we had this conversation, my husband began to understand my point of view. I am as much a part of my children as he is.
Enter my husband’s family. They have never said anything about my choice to hyphenate, though I do get back-handed messages about it when I receive things addressed to “Meghan Faulhaber.” But they just couldn’t say enough when the topic of hyphenating our children’s names came up. It was a pretty long back and forth that I merely tolerated because it was at a graduation celebration, but I was sent a very clear message, “Your life experience doesn’t count. Our family is more important.” The arguments against hyphenation were poorly thought out and not strong. The best one was, “What are they going to put on their jersey?” I’m sorry, but I doubt I will be popping out any pro-ball players. To this day, things addressed to my son only contain his father’s last name. This is why this topic gets to me so much. By leaving off my original surname, most of my identity is being erased. When people choose to do this they are sending a message that everything that happened prior to my marriage is null and void. It is awful and extremely hurtful. I did not have to take my husband’s name at all. I chose to add his identity to mine and I have been learning, with him, about the history of his family. Both of our families have incredible stories and together it is even better.
Something that seemed to by missed in this discussion on Facebook is that this is my personal story, my personal experience. I am not on a crusade to convince all women and men that they should hyphenate or that children of parents with hyphenated names should also be hyphenated. Surnames have played an integral role in my life, but they don’t necessarily in the lives of others. My experience is quite unique. I believe that each family must do what is right for them and I advocate that it be done with thought and care. I don’t even ask that anyone agree with my choice. I simply ask that it be respected or that more information be requested if my choice is not fully understood. I’m not trying to change the world, I am trying to honor who I am and pass on a very proud tradition to my children. I fully expect that each child will align their identity with one branch of the family or the other. This is fine and normal. I just want them to have the deepest understanding of where they come from as possible. I am who I am today because of many things, but a great deal can be attributed to my ancestors.
So now, a very private experience has been made public. I hope that this helps people to think more deeply about the subject or, at the very least, helps people to be a bit more understanding of those who do something different.