Hyphenated last names reflect evolving gender roles

Feb 26, 2021

Meeting someone with a hyphenated name is more common than ever before. 

After interviewing three students from Morgan State University with hyphenated names, Cherish Eppes-McNeal, Telia Conway-Kenner, and Elijah Jenkins-Bundrige, it was found that many people have the same reason for having multiple last names. 

 

The three students by the way were all in the same spring semester class of 15 students.

 

Parents were often indecisive on whose last name to give, or the parents were not together and wanted the child to still represent both parents and their family. This was also something that was done to celebrate both sides of their family legacy.

 

From the students I spoke with, two women and one young man, Eppes-McNeal prefers both of her last names and Jenkins-Bundrige and Conway-Kenner prefer to have just one. 

 

Conway said she preferred just one last name because it is “quite a mouthful.” 

 

Jenkins’ reason is because one of his parents was not really in his life so he did not feel the need to continue this parent’s legacy. 

 

Eppes-McNeal prefers having both last names because she enjoys representing both sides of her family everywhere she goes. She also said that when she gets married she would like to keep both of her last names as well because “for me to drop it {one of her last names} feels like I’m dropping my bloodline in a sense.”

 

People in Britain during the 15th century began hyphenating their last names in order to commemorate the combining of their family fortunes. Also, when there were no male heirs, the bride’s name could be taken on by the husband. This usually happened if the groom was from a family who had less fortune than the bride’s family. Though this may seem uncommon in the United States, it is very normal for the people of Britain.

 

Within the African-American community the research showed that many couples had a discussion before marriage to decide if they would choose to hyphenate or even create an entire new last name. Many chose to hyphenate because they wanted to carry on their family’s legacy. 

 

Osiki Escoffery-Ojo, decided to add his wife’s name to his as well: “I told Iyawo I didn’t want her to feel she had to give up anything, especially her name. She’s worked very hard throughout her life to build her career and continue her father’s legacy, so I knew I wanted her to keep her name, not just for work purposes, but for heritage purposes too. 

 

“I am proud of what she has done with her name and the reputation she has built for herself professionally with her family name. I didn’t want her to lose that.” 

 

Another couple, the Periods, decided to change their name entirely. “When we began discussing marriage, we naturally needed to address “the last name.” After we reflected on what our parents had done, we realized that choosing something altogether different we would actually be following family tradition. Our parents married in a time when Black Americans were Black and proud – and changed their names as a form of self-determination.” 

 

Reasons for keeping or changing last name(s) may be different, but they are all important because it is how people define who they are. 

 

While everyone may not agree, it is their story to tell, not anyone else’s.

 

The writer is a graduate student at Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication