Have you heard about that facebook war that’s been heating up lately? It appears some lady wanted to hyphenate her last name once she got married. However, her boyfriend didn’t think it was such a great idea. So she took the matter to the best court possible: facebook. And what a surprise! Most people agreed with her guy.
When I got married, I too wanted to hyphenate but didn’t know how to go about it.
See, we got married twice. At the mayor’s office, so Steve could file my petition papers right away and at church, to celebrate the occasion with family and friends.
I remember asking the court clerk how to go about the whole process of hyphenating my name. She said she wasn’t sure, but she thought you can just do it later, like when you start signing your married name. I took her expert word for it.
A few months later, I asked the clerk at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) office in La Union if he could hyphenate the name that appeared on my passport. His response was short and to the point, “Pag nag-asawa ka, apelyido ng asawa mo magiging apelyido mo na rin. Nag-aasawa ka ng taga-America, di mo alam yan? Paano ka mabubuhay doon?” (Once you get married, you take your husband’s last name. You married someone from America and you don’t know that? How will you survive there?)
Now, if you’ve been to that DFA office you would know that if you tick those clerks off, you’ll be waiting forever for your passport. You would also remember how you have to travel and be there at the crack of dawn to be first in line, and then spend the rest of the day under the direct heat of the sun and wrapped in the humidity of the lowlands. (Things have gotten way better, I hear.) So you will forgive me if, even though I wanted to climb over the counter and pull the lower half of his smirking lips over his face, I held my peace. If I change my citizenship, I promised myself, I will hyphenate.
Years later, I stood before a television screen with President G. W. Bush’s face on it and swore allegiance to America with mixed emotions. Earlier that day I asked the lady behind the desk if I could hyphenate my name. She said it was a legal process, and it would take at least a month. As we were due to leave for the Philippines in two weeks, I had to let it go.
Sigh. I wanted to hyphenate because I wanted to keep my past identity with me. I had nothing to hide. Instead, I was proud of my name. Also, just because I was getting married didn’t mean I was turning into a totally different person (which was how it felt like to me). I wanted something to represent the old and the new, what better than a hyphenated name?
More so, I wanted to hyphenate because I knew what I was in for.
See, I learned that in most cases, in America your first name is what will appear in legal documents and your second name becomes your middle initial. Since I never used my first name and went by my second name instead, I felt a bit lost.
I can’t count the many times I was waiting in line and someone called my name and I didn’t respond. At school, teachers called me by what was on the class list, and it took extra effort on both our parts to get them to call me by my preferred name. Strangers speak a foreign name: a first name I don’t like and a last name that still feels new to me.
The other thing is, my children do not have my last name on their passports. Their second names have become their middle names. I cry foul at this and sometimes wish I never gave them second names.
Sigh. And things can get a bit complicated. A few examples, if you will…
Meeting new people can get awkward. When I tell them my name, they immediately associate me with people they know with the same name. And I always have to smile politely and explain that those people would belong to my husband’s side of the family. And they say, “Oh. Right. Well, blah blah blah.” The conversation moves on and I feel like my own family gets left out of the introductions.
I also always get mistaken for being Hispanic. I’ve no problem with that, but it does get awkward when people come up to me and start speaking in Spanish. I’ve had an old guy follow me around at Wal-mart speaking rapid Spanish. I’ve had a guy follow me around the Metro. Although I explained I didn’t speak Spanish, he sat across from me and stared accusingly at me for the rest of the trip. Now, if you couple this with my Hispanic-sounding name, the whole thing gets amplified. I remember my first day at work at a previous job. After I met the big boss, I could tell he was curious about my accent. Once my name was mentioned, his face cleared and he asked me what Hispanic country I was from. It’s not fun to have to correct the big boss on your first day.
However, all’s not lost. As a writer, I get to pick my byline. So I hyphenate, to recognize my parents and to acknowledge my husband. I get to use the name I want, and that makes things all better.