Monday, May 18, 2015

That Hated Hyphen

“Oh, I never bother to remember the last names of my brothers’ girlfriends,” one of my future sisters-in-law airily informed me. “They just change them anyway.”

Well, I was darned if I was going to be the sixth Mrs. Kilmer. When relatives visited, it was already confusing enough directing incoming phone calls at the house—“Which Mr./Mrs. Kilmer do you want?” Often, the caller didn’t even realize that there were several of them. Besides, my brother’s wife and all my female friends who had gotten married had retained their maiden names; why shouldn’t I?

Jonathan had a different idea. He wanted us to have the same last name, just as his friend Jennifer Taylor-Ide and her husband did. In a huff, I asked him if he intended to change his name to a hyphenated name, too. “Of course,” he replied, looking at me as if I’d asked him if two plus two made four. “Otherwise, what’s the point?”

The Hunter-Kilmers before any of them changed their name
Even today, though, some people don’t understand that my last name is really, truly Hunter-Kilmer. Surely it’s Kilmer, right? I must not know my last name, I guess. Until Patrick was married, my stock answer was this: “No. It’s Hunter-Kilmer. It goes under the Hs. My husband’s last name is Hunter-Kilmer. The kids’ last name is Hunter-Kilmer. The dogs’ last name is Hunter-Kilmer.” That makes people laugh, and they put down my last name as I had originally told them.

Sometimes people want to know which was my maiden name. Just in case they are then going to assume that my last name is actually Kilmer, I tell them it doesn’t matter. I’ve had this last name since 1979. “But which name is it, really?” “Oh, I wouldn’t want to confuse you. My last name is really Hunter-Kilmer.” I smile to take the edge off.

Other people want to know what our children would do when they got married. What if they married somebody with a hyphen and became something like Hunter-Kilmer-von Lawick-Goodall? Jonathan and I figured that that was their problem. We didn’t care if the name of Hunter-Kilmer survived into the next generation, anyway.

Of course, our children thought that hyphenation was a terrible idea, and they all had plans to change their last name. Patrick took Hopkins, his wife’s last name. Rosie took Hill, her husband’s last name—which was actually more rebellious than what Patrick did, given our family.

The two single children are apparently too lazy to change their last names as they said they would. Timmy intends to take his wife’s name when he marries. “But what if she wants your last name?” “She can’t have it!”

Fortunately, the dogs don’t mind. Maybe they’ll be the last Hunter-Kilmers.


  1. I was happy to get rid of my last name: Brainard. I never cared for it all that much. I use my original middle name as my current middle name: Anne.

    1. I never liked my original last name all that much, either. But I was a feminist firebrand back then, and nobody but NOBODY was going to tell me I had to subsume my identity into my husband's family! Besides, it's an enormous, overwhelming family. Loving, but a force of nature. I did not want to be assimilated. I did, though. I'm part of the collective now. Just call me 21 of 109 or something.

  2. I have neither hyphenated NOR legally adjusted my name [yet, despite getting married in 2012], but I go by both last names -- I'll respond to Ms. MaidenName or Mrs. HusbandSurname, but I very distinctly prefer to go by Ms. Lastname1 Lastname 2.


  3. Is HusbandSurname your legal last name when you fill out forms? I always wonder how it works with people who do what you do.