To Hyphenate or Not To Hyphenate

My name almost killed my wedding. I wanted to keep my maiden name, the name I had grown into, the name on both of my degrees, the name on my first few magazine pieces. Shelly Sanders. But my husband, then fiancée, disagreed.

“It will be confusing for our future kids if we have different names,” Steve said. “Besides, both of our mothers changed their names when they got married.”

“That was a different generation,” I argued. “Neither of our mothers had careers after kids.”

We continued like this for days, volleying arguments back and forth like debaters, only there was more at stake than a trophy. And Steve made it clear he wasn’t going to budge. Now, let me just say that in every other matter of our relationship, he was laid-back and willing to compromise. Movies to see, restaurants to try, even our wedding plans. Not much fazed him, except my married name.

Eventually, I suggested hyphenating both of our last names. He thought about this for about one second.

“So you would have a hyphenated name and I wouldn’t?” he asked. “What about when we have kids? Do they take my name or your hyphenated name? Or do you want me to hyphenate my name with yours, so they’re the same?”

I could see his point. This could get complicated. Plus, I didn’t have a good track record with hyphenated names. My first name was legally Shelly-Ann, after both of my grandmothers. But as soon as I was old enough, I’d only answered to Shelly, much to my father’s annoyance (Ann was his mother’s name). I told him that Shelly-Ann sounded like a farm-girl’s name (The Walton’s was a big television show at the time), that I was teased at school for my double name, and that it was nothing personal against his mother’s name.

“Then, what happens when our kids get married?” Steve continued, gathering steam with every word. “Do they hyphenate their already-hyphenated name with their spouse’s name?”

I considered this, and realized that in a couple of generations, our descendants could be faced with the prospect of four last names. Still, I was willing to consider a hyphenated last name, so that my future children would think about both sides of their parentage.

A month before our wedding, Steve came home from work with a broad smile. A fellow lawyer had given him the answer we needed. Her maiden name had been added to her last name without a hyphen. She basically had three names.

Shelly Sanders Greer. This would be my name; I could shorten it to Shelly Greer for my personal life, and use Shelly Sanders Greer professionally. Our kids would have Greer as their last name and Sanders as a middle name.

This has worked well for the past twenty years; our three kids know they come from two equal, sometimes dysfunctional, sides. But then, after finding out my book—Rachel’s Secret—was going to be published, I found myself struggling with my name once more. Shelly Sanders Greer was so long and cumbersome for a book cover. But if I went with Shelly Greer, then people from way back, who knew me only as Shelly Sanders, wouldn’t make the connection.

In the end, the smooth and tidy alliteration of Shelly Sanders, plus the fact that Sanders is on my two degrees and on every article I’ve ever written, won me over. The only problem would be convincing my husband.

I told him my decision one morning, as he rushed to get ready for work. Probably bad timing but this was when I felt ready to break the news. He straightened his tie, grabbed his cell from our dresser and gave me a long, searching look, as if he was trying to determine if I really meant what I said.

“I had a feeling that’s what you’d do,” he said genially, without rancour. Then he told me to have a good day and headed down the stairs.

What? No argument? No discussion? I sat down on the edge of my bed and thought about his surprisingly calm reaction to the name he’d vehemently opposed twenty years ago. Maybe our time together had changed his mind about the importance of names, or maybe he simply agreed that the alliteration sounded good, or maybe, just maybe, he was just too worn out to argue.
–Shelly Sanders’ first book—Rachel’s Secret—will be published by Second Story Press in the spring, 2012. She is represented by the HSW Literary Agency in Toronto.

About Shelly Sanders

Shelly (represented by Amy Tipton, Signature Literary Agency) is the author of THE RACHEL TRILOGY--Rachel's Secret, Rachel's Promise & Rachel's Hope (Second Story Press).Rachel's Secret received a Starred Review in Booklist and was named a Notable Read from the Association of Jewish Libraries. Rachel's Hope was shortlisted for the Vine Awards for Canadian Literature in 2016. Before turning to fiction, Shelly was a freelance journalist for the Toronto Star, National Post, Maclean's, and Canadian Living.
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