How I learned to love being a hyphenated American

0
48

Between the time we adopted Zane (on Good Friday 2005) and then adopted Aidan (Good Friday 2007), my husband, Brian, and I changed our last names. Or rather we fused them, much like a portmanteau.

This was just a few years before the old Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, and Mary, our social worker, talked us into changing our names in our late middle age. Only years later did I consider that we had taken advice from a straight woman who got married and chose not to hyphenate her own name. In fact, it’s been reported that only about 5% of all straight American women choose to hyphenate their names upon marriage.

But indeed, she had sold us poor suckers on creating a double-barreled name. That’s what the British call it, whereas in Germany they are called alliance names.

There was no dispute about the order: the Paulson-Fishers or the Fisher-Paulsons, as I’ve always been jealous of people with names in the first half of the alphabet. Only later did I find that British convention has the groom’s name go first. This technically would make me the bride, although I did not qualify to wear white.

No, the only real issue was whether to use the hyphen. Don’t get me wrong. I love asterisks. And I adore the circumflex. But I hate hyphens. It’s my least favorite form of punctuation.

First off, they’re among the toughest characters to type on the keyboard. You have to bring your right pinky from the home row all the way up to the number row, then slide over one, without slipping all the way to the equal sign. Like Sen. Rubio, I have tiny hands, which means my pinkies are short, so I resent every keystroke.

Computers randomly reject hyphens. Went to the bank once and was told they couldn’t find any Fisher Hyphen Paulsons, but there were indeed four Fisher Underscore Paulsons.

If I was in charge, I’d make it Fisher Ampersand Paulson. There’s a logograph with history and dignity. Comes all the way from the Latin. Or maybe something modern, like Fisher Interrobang Paulson?!

So I fought the law, and the law won. The adoption judge informed us that if we did not hyphenate, then one of our surnames becomes the middle name, and the other surname becomes the last name. This was a nonstarter. Brian doesn’t care for his middle name (Lee) very much, but my mother, Nurse Vivian, would haunt our Bedlam Bungalow if I attempted to trade in my Thaddeus.

Hyphens don’t go away. True, they have a shelf life with improper nouns, so ice-cream becomes ice cream and electronic-mail becomes email, but once you stick a hyphen in your own proper name, it lives forever.

What I did not expect was the reaction of my brothers, X and XX. They disowned me, or rather they half-disowned me. XX insisted that since my old surname was stuck on the back half of the hyphen that I had been demoted to half-brother. On the plus side, since it was legally impossible for us to get married at the time, X insisted that Brian could not be seen as an in-law, but rather “the other half-brother.”

The gym also tried to disown me, refusing to find my name under any combination. “Have you looked under Fisher? Paulson? Hyphen? In protest I stopped going to the gym, a resolution I have maintained for more than a decade.

But accidentally, it turns out, our moniker was unique. Better Googlers than I may have other outcomes, but as far as I can search, 4,140 results show that there are only four Fisher-Paulsons on this planet, six if you count the dogs, and all of them live together in the Outer, Outer , Outer, Outer Excelsior.

And so, if Herb Caen will forever be remembered by … three dots, for now, at least, the humble hyphen in my byline will serve to remind us that it is indeed punctuation that brings us together, links the family history of Nana and Grampajerry forever to that of Nurse Vivian and Hap. Our double-barreled name is our nom-ditthe name we chose, just as the four of us chose this family.

It is entirely possible that the current Supreme Court will take away our marriage. But they will never get our hyphen.

• Please come see me on Aug. 10 at 7 pm at the Napa Valley Unitarian Universalist, 1625 Salvador Ave. in Napa. I’ll be speaking at the Napa chapter of the California Writers Club on, of all subjects, “How to write a Column.” Or at least wish me luck.

Kevin Fisher-Paulson’s column appears Wednesdays in Datebook. Email: [email protected]

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here