Hyphens of Brown: A tale of two names


“Hello, can I make a reservation for two at 7:00, please?”
“Yes, what’s the name?”
“Kate Storey-Fisher.”
“Okay, Ms. Fisher—“
“Actually, the whole last name is ‘Storey-Fisher.’”
“Oh, sorry about that, Storey. Now—“

I’ve had many conversations that go something like the one above, and I’m sure most other people with hyphenated last names have had similar experiences. Disregarding the fact that I also have to include “and that’s Storey with an ‘e’ and Fisher with no ‘c,’” clarifications that anyone with a last name other than Smith can relate to, many people just don’t seem to grasp the idea or importance of a hyphen.

Hyphenated names are more than just quirks designed to confuse maître d’s; they represent a shift in the long-standing tradition in America and many other parts of the world of passing last names down the patriarchal line. While much change has been made in society towards gender equality, this process of naming lags behind, and hyphenated names are still rare.

Hyphens are a step in the direction of equality, but it can feel like they bring up more issues than they solve. Which parent’s name should come first? What if there is no hyphen to bubble in on a standardized test? What do I do when the name on my license is missing my hyphen and doesn’t match my plane reservation, so I can’t check in for my flight? And of course, what are people with hyphenated names to do when they have children themselves? These are just some of the struggles of being a hyphen-baby (hyphy?).

In an environment like Brown’s, many people are familiar with hyphens and understand their use. But students and professors at Brown with hyphenated names—all united by that unwieldy underscore-hyphen combination in their @brown.edu email addresses—still have their fair share of anecdotes and opinions related to their hyphens. I sent out a call to the people with hyphenated last names in the Brown community and found many who were eager to share their hyphen-stories. Continue Reading