The Significance of the Hyphen to a Single Mom

My youngest at her “Pride and Prejudice” themed first birthday party. I was clearly hoping to pass down an appreciation of Austen.

Nearly 14 years ago I was presented with a classic female problem: Should I change my last name? I was 22, about to marry a 21-year-old guy, and this is a thing that you must decide, along with what candles to have at the ceremony. Both were hard for me and we ended up forgetting to take the wrapping off the unity candle– what turned out to be an ill omen. I loved my family, was proud of my name, and had always thought it sounded nice. As an English major I, of course, loved the alliteration as well. Heather Harrison.

In the end, I decided to take his last name. It was hard to pronounce, unusual, and I had no idea how often I would be required to spell it out, or my decision would have been different. I’d come to my decision based on one major factor: The hyphen. It seemed cruel to saddle our future children with a hyphenated name. I felt I was making it easier on everyone by caving. At that point in my life, I didn’t have the gumption or wherewithal to challenge tradition. It also hadn’t occurred to me yet that my duty in life wasn’t to make everyone else’s easier—a lesson I’m still learning. It’s sad that in the end, the very thing I was trying to prevent is now what I really want.

Give me back the hyphen!

I don’t want the only thing they inherit to be my scowl and lack of flexibility.

As was clear in previous paragraph, I’d never questioned the “future children” being in our life. It was a given. I’ve always wanted a family and being a mother was always part of my Life Plan. Divorce, however, was not. What I’ve learned about life plans is they should always be suspect; you can’t really plan for things you don’t know about yet. Or the ways you will change after you know more about the things you don’t know.

I, for instance, did not know about maternity pants. Would that have changed my mind about pregnancy? MAYBE. There were more than a few details my mother (and all other women) forgot to mention.

But like most of my plans, the marriage plan went awry. It was yet another in a long list that could fill a book entitled “Nice Try, Heath.” After 10 years of marriage, we mutually decided we were not a good couple and would be better off apart. Oddly enough, while I questioned my marriage from start to finish, I never once questioned my divorce. Apparently, I can be certain about some things!

We’re now going on four years post-marriage. I’ve filled out a plethora of documents for our kids in those years. It cuts a little every time that my name isn’t hyphenated on there. It feels weird when people auto-call me by the kids’ last name at school. Hell, it seems strange that humans I housed INSIDE my body for nine months (one that turned out to be a 10 pounder!) don’t share my surname, a written account of my (and their) lineage.

At least the kids aren’t left to their own devices when it comes to surnames…

It seems awfully weird that when couples split, the children don’t carry both names with them in the aftermath. Yet we all know why, I think.

In the times of #MeToo and more women being represented in government, maybe there’s a path for this change. Should women shoulder all the responsibility of name changing to begin with? We bear the brunt of the responsibilities in child-rearing. There are studies that show we pass down the intelligence gene. We certainly do the heavy lifting reproductively. Maybe we could get a little representation in the kids’ signature, too?

All I know is it feels unfair.

Gimme that hyphen.

Heather was born in Oklahoma but spent part of her childhood in Africa. She loves living in the River Market with her 9 year-old son and 7 year-old daughter. They all share their loft with an old English sheepdog and her companion cat. Heather juggles her job in purchasing at the Kansas City Public Library with being on the board of American Daughters, a local non-profit for girls leadership. Before her single mom gig, she did a stint in the Peace Corps. She likes to save all her money for globe-trotting and roaming Kansas City for good food.