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June 10, 2011


This morning as I extricated myself from the Dude's cuddle grip I whispered, "P-P has to go peepee" by way of explanation. Then it hit me: I only have 43 days left of making stupid jokes about my last two initials and I kinda sorta got the sads.

My ma decided to hyphenate her last name when she and my pa got married, and when my big bro popped out not quite seven months later (WINK!) the rents decided he'd have both their names as well. As hyphenated names go, it's not too shabby; both names start with P so it has the benefit of being flowingly alliterative. But I think my parents failed to realize what saddling us chickadees with this 21-character surname would mean.

Second grade. Junior Great Books awards. My envelope says "Nina P-P," and that's how my teacher calls it out. Everyone laughs at me. Unfortunately, this same year I thought I could hold it and I couldn't, and I really earned all that ridicule.

Middle school. The start of standardized testing. It takes me forever to fill in all the letter bubbles that correspond to my last name and thus start my exams much later than my Smith, Jones and Johnson classmates. Plus there are never quite as many bubbles as I need, so "Perlman" becomes Perl, Perlma, or, my favorite, Perlm.

High school. I decry the cruelties of hyphenation in my student newspaper column, "Nina Petersen-'Perls' of Wisdom." I begin to take ownership of my PP-ness, aided by my older brother's forming of the J-Triple-P-- the Jake P-P Posse. People call out to me in the halls, "NPP!" I respond, "Yeah, you know me!"

Working life. It's impractical for me to have a company email address that incorporates my first initial and entire last name. Must choose one, feels like I'm choosing the parent. Spelling my name out over the phone feels like it takes days. People never get PetersEn right. Perlman becomes PeArlman, PeArlmOn, or, oddly, Broman. People assume I'm already married since my name is hyphenated.

Affianced. One of the main arguments I made against hyphenation in my column is that it delays the decision-making for another generation. I can't very well hyphenate a third name onto mine, and I want to have the same last name as my babylehs so I couldn't keep it. Thankfully, I like the Dude's last name, so the decision to change mine was somewhat easy. But what about my broskis? Are their intendeds supposed to take both of our parents' last names and neither of their own?

So though I feel like being a PP is part of my identity and I'm feeling a bit nostalgic about its loss, holy man am I excited about having a one-syllable, six-letter new name. And when people over the phone want to know how it's spelled all I have to say is, "Graham. Like the cracker." Bliss.


  1. Angelica (could be) Nelson-Matthes-Yackel-JuleenJune 10, 2011 at 11:58 AM

    As you know, I recently married a hyphenee. The subject of hyphenated names is really a very complicated one, and I firmly believe that couples should be briefed on all of the implications of a hyphen before hyphenating.
    It was six months ago that my now husband and I got engaged, and not long after, the topic of our soon-to-be last name became a hot one. At first, he could not understand why I would prefer not to take both of his parents' names while dropping my own. Eventually he came to understand, and then the big question was: well, what name do we keep? During this time, we begged the question to his parents: "did you think about the future trouble hyphenating your name would cause when your children marry?" His mother's answer: "We figured our children and their spouses would be bright enough to figure it out on their own." Thanks, mom-in-law, but we still have this troubling question to answer.
    Fast forward a few months, and he decides, somewhat untraditionally, to take his mother's name, as his grandfather has had a big influence on his life. We have to wonder if mom's answer would have been different had we chosen dad's (prettier) name.
    Fast forward to the day before the wedding, when we make clear to our families what our name will be. Mom-in-law is SHOCKED that I would not be adding my own name to his last name. We explain that we both want to have the same names as our children (while I personally reflect on what a pain in the arse this hyphen has been and how I just wouldn't want to make someone else go through that!) and we chose one name for all of us to have.
    I guess I have no good way to finish this story, because it comes to an abrupt end. I am glad you will find yourself with a completely un-complicated name in a short month and a half, and hope that your brothers' quests for a last name to share with their beloved don't get too complicated.

  2. I hyphenated because I felt I needed to maintain my pre-marriage identity. I also remembered my own mother's poignant story about receiving a set of monogrammed luggage as a wedding gift. The night before the wedding she took a close look at the set and realized that the initial of her family's surname had been replaced by that of her soon-to-be husband's family. Overwhelmed by what that meant, she sat down on the suitcase and began to cry. It might have had something to do with the fact that she was an older bride and had been a Watson for a 27 years, but I always had the sense that she felt she was losing a part of who she was. I was also an older bride and had worked under my family's name for almost ten years. I couldn't give up my daddy's surname, but I wanted an overt connection to my new husband, so I tacked his name on to my own. End of story.

  3. I grew up with a hyphenated last name too! B-B, and since my first name also starts with B the first day of school was a lot of the same joke over and over again. Is your new last name a unique one? It's hard to go from always getting noticed to being Mrs. Johnson. It does kind of feel like part of your identity's being taken away. Even more so when your grandparents send you letters to Mrs. husbands-first-and-last-name. At least people don't do that anymore.

  4. My last name is PetersEN too! And people always spell it wrong, even when I spell it out for them. Somehow that last E becomes an O.