When Hyphen Boy Meets Hyphen Girl, Names Pile Up The practice of hyphenating last names upon marriage was particularly popular in the 1980s and '90s. Now that the "hyphen generation" is marrying and parenting, many couples are struggling with which names to keep, and which to pass down to to their children.

When Hyphen Boy Meets Hyphen Girl, Names Pile Up

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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...


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.


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.



SMITH: That's a beer.


SMITH: Or...

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


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.


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



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.


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...


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.



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.

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