What's In a Name: the Dreaded Hyphen

This piece was originally published on November 5, 2013 on Mother Thoughts as a response to the JWA Last Name blog series.

To be perfectly honest, I can't stand when someone asks for my full name on the telephone. Not only do I have an unusual first name (with an atypical spelling), I also have an unusual and hyphenated last name, and I end up saying something like this: "Okay, my first name is Adena, A-D-E-N-A, and my last name is Cohen-Bearak, C-O-H-E-N, hyphen, then B as in boy, E-A-R-A-K. Got it?"

Typically, they don't. And I have to spell everything out again.

When I decided to hyphenate my name in 1996, I thought I was making a feminist statement. I didn't realize that I was creating a monster.

I grew up in the '60s and '70s: women's lib, burning bras, and all that. A few friends got married in the '80s, and most of them kept their maiden names, which made a lot of sense to me. In the '90s, when more of us finally found our life partners, we all had some decisions to make.

Some of my friends had professional careers associated with their names, and it made sense to keep their maiden names. Some of my friends felt strongly that they wanted a family name for their newly-formed family, and often they went with their husband's last name from convention. I do know a few couples in which both parties (husband and wife) took on a new, hyphenated name, but this was very rare.

In my case, I met my husband when I was in my early 30s, and we got married when I was 36.  At that point, I had been Adena Cohen for quite a while (well, for 36 years) and I felt like it represented a part of me that I didn't want to give up. But I also wanted to honor the fact that I was entering a new relationship and creating a new family. So I decided that I would hyphenate my name to Cohen-Bearak, Cohen which is my maiden name and Bearak which is my husband Arnie's last name. I like the order: I used to be just a Cohen, and Cohen is the name I say first, and my new name is Bearak, and that's the name I say second.

We have been married for 17 years now, and at this point, I'm used to Cohen-Bearak, and I feel funny using just Cohen.  Occasionally, an old friend will still refer to me as Adena Cohen, and it feels kind of naked to me. Where's the Bearak?

On the other hand, when my son was born, I didn't want to burden him with the hyphenated name. It just felt too long, too much. It is confusing sometimes when I have a different last name from my husband and son, but people just have to deal with it.

In the end, I think I made the right choice for me, but it has been more trouble than I expected (the hyphen and all). I wish there was an easier way to honor both partners' last names without hyphenating, but aside from creating a brand new name (which some folks do), I can't think of a good solution.

So the hyphen stays.

Over the next few weeks we will be sharing stories gathered from women and men who have all come to their new families’ last names from very different perspectives. As we share these stories with you, we welcome your comments, your voice in the debate, and your own stories. 

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How to cite this page

Cohen-Bearak, Adena. "What's In a Name: the Dreaded Hyphen." 7 November 2013. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 14, 2021) <https://jwa.org/blog/whats-in-name-dreaded-hyphen>.

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