Hyphenated Names– for Women Only?

I’ve wanted to write this rant for months, and now I’ve succumbed to the urge.


Hyphenated names for non-Muslim  women make no sense to me.  They are long, phonetically awkward, and cumersome to write. They suggest that the poor woman didn’t know what name to call herself after marriage, so she simply tacked the married name on to the maiden name, much like one would add blond extensions to a full head of auburn hair.


I work in a hospital. Hyphenated names cause no end of confusion. They don’t fit on forms, they don’t get entered correctly in certain computer programs, they get mixed up, reversed,  exchanged with first names, and ulitmately abbreviated when expedient.


Some women hyphenate their names because both names consist of one syllable, and the two together sound better. Why don’t they finish combining the two into one,  forming a new name altogether, similar to the way in which John’s Son became Johnson? 


Why don’t they ask their husband to take the second name, as well? It seems ridiculous that a man has a single name, and his wife sticks  his name behind her maiden name, and what about the children? If the hyphenated name is given to the children, what names will their spouses use when they grow up and get married? 


Some women use a hyphenated name because one of the names has social recognition, but why not simply drop the obscure name and use the name that carries social weight?


Some women want to keep the maiden name, in a salute to feminism and the maintainance of identity, an awkward attempt  to exert themselves as equals, but it doesn’t work. When was the last time you heard that a husband tacked his wife’s maiden name onto his own, because he wanted to preserve his identity?


Ah, but we still live in a somewhat patriarchal society, feminism and working women notwithstanding. All family members should use the same name, the father’s name, no? In the olden days of my childhood, fathers were the “heads of family”, working outside the home,  carrying the entire financial responsibility for the well-being of the family, making all the important decisions. They were also the disciplinarians. Most people as old as I am remember their mother’s chilling words, “Wait til your father gets home!”


Now, however, most mothers work outside the home, too, many full-time, just like the father, and therefore feel entitled to share in the decision-making as well as  the  financial responsibility. Hyphenating their names may point to women’s desires to fully participate in the two major life roles most people embrace– working and having a family.


In Islam, women do not stick their husband’s names behind their own. The children carry the father’s last name. While this might suggest gender inequality, it recognizes the father as the head of the family.  Gender inequality, if you could call it that, does exist in Islam, in the sense that the father is supposed to work and bring home money, while the mother works inside the home, providing the kind of nurturing and domestic organization that is never paid its worth in currency. The deal for women is that they give up their earning power to gain financial security from the husband, and the right to stay home and raise their own children (rather then having to take them to day care).  The fact always remains, however, that he who pays the piper calls the tune.


Naming customs reflect the social, economic, and religious realities of families.  If hyphenated names for  non-Muslim women are meant to suggest  gender equality, then all family members must carry the hypenated names. Multiple  names are awkward, however, and suggest nothing but indecision or equivocation on the part of the woman. I don’t know how women are going to evolve in the future, with respect to “balancing” major life roles such as working and child-bearing.  


While I’m at it, let me add that I hate the word, “balance.” It suggests that two or more quantities can be manipulated so that their weights become equal. This is not the reality with regard to women who work and bear children during a twelve week maternity leave. Instead of  talking about balancing, let’s talk about  dividing. How does a woman divide herself so that both work and family get an equal share? Why must work and family get equal shares, anyway? In reality, they don’t, yet women keep trying,  whether they want to or not.  Hyphenated names are the objective correlative to the reality of Western women’s lives– cumbersome, awkward, and suggestive of division rather than unity.

Women’s Liberation


Women’s Liberation, aka Feminism

(The following post- rant, perhaps- is focused upon life in America these days for women. It does feed into Islam, and connects to Middle Eastern values, I promise you.)

Women’s Liberation– that’s what we called it before the word “feminism” entered the common parlance. Back in the nineteen-sixties and seventies, we American women wanted to liberate ourselves from the subjugation of our minds to the greater glory of our bodies and our services as wives and mothers. We also wanted equal pay for equal work.

None of that sounded so difficult, and indeed, now we are able, indeed expected, to develop our minds, earn our own money, and pay our own ways in all areas of life. We now have equal pay for equal work. 

It should have stopped there.

How did this ball keep rolling, such that now we are expected to keep not only one full-time  job, but two? How did we let ourselves be charmed into the workplace when we still had to come home  to evenings of dirty dishes and and the need to plan the next day’s meal?

Why did we agree to get up at 4AM to get everyone ready, take the kids to day care, go to our other jobs, work  eight hours, then pick up the kids, go back home and cram household duties into our evenings and weekends?  When did evenings and weekends become work days for us, but not for our husbands?

Speaking of husbands, how did their salaries get higher while ours stayed the same? After all, we now have equal pay for equal work, don’t we? A male “administrative assistant” would earn the same as a female earns, and a female engineer would earn the same salary as a male’s.

So when was the last time you saw a male secretary, or a female engineer?  We still have men’s jobs and women’s jobs, for which both men and women can train, but guess which jobs pay more?

The word “balance” is important these days, especially for women who still think they can do two full time jobs, or must do so, whether they can or can’t. Well, I suppose they can. I’ve seen them. I work with them. Their example has nearly redefined the word “balance.”

“Balance” used to mean equilibrium, with the connotation of satisfying all  elements that compose the equilibrium. Now, the word  still means equilibrium, but the connotation is of feeding each element just enough to keep it from crashing through to the other elements.

Today’s “liberated” woman is no bargain for males, either, who are being dragged off their couches and computers after a full day of work to help the wife do her second full-time job, the job at home. 

Let’s not mistakenly support  the illusion that one’s family life is more important than one’s work life. Guess who carries the health insurance? Whose salary pays the mortgage? His salary doesn’t do it all anymore. 

Islam cured me of feminism. Islam gave me the right to stay home, be supported  by my husband, keep my own money, and focus upon the place that really does mean more to me than any other place- home.

Islam also cured me of having to “have it all”  in an anemic, tension filled facsimile of freedom.  Maybe my middle-aged status has something to do with this, but I thank Allah I extricated myself from having to maintain the American feminist ideal.