What's the deal with Brits and hyphenated surnames?

I think this applies to a lot of Aussies and Kiwis, too. Is it a common practice in Britian for wives to keep their surnames, therefore having a hyphenate for their kids? I’m guessing it has something to do with old families keeping their name alive…and less to do with women’s lib. Many Americans–myself included–are such mutts when it comes to ancestry that no one would give much of a rip about keeping a particular name.

Just wondering.

It isn’t common at all; historically, it was done for a couple of reasons (and only by upper-class persons):
To preserve the surname of a family with no male heir.
To retain (for the purposes of prestige) the names of both families as having been involved in the union (in much the same way as company mergers often combine both names).

In recent years, though, it has experienced a little revival, but this time more as a reaction to the idea of the female spouse ‘losing’ her name at marriage.

Even so, it is not common at all.

It’s not really common practice but it’s from unheard of. Traditionally it was done by upper class families either to keep a name alive or in order to show that people were related to a certain family. Some people think the idea of a child always taking it’s father’s last name is anachronistic and this is probably the bigget reason for giving a child a hyphenated surname these days.

I have a hyphenated surname. I was born a Thomas, but my great aunt didn’t have any male descendants so she bequeathed me her name. Of course, I didn’t have to take it, but it also came with a title (quite a cool and unusual one, I’m “Keeper of St. Anthony”) and a bit of money, so i thought, what the heck… and now I’m a Hyde-Thomas.
I’m the only person I know that this has happened to directly, the other double-barrelled surnamed people are several generations down the line from the original. Some are so common that they have their own name shortenings, e.g. Featherstone-Haugh = Fanshaw, Cholmondley-Warner = Chumley-Warner.
Has the additional benefit for me that I’m no longer a “Jon Thomas” :slight_smile:

The ‘Fanshaw’ and ‘Chumley’ pronunciations have nothing to do with hyphenation. Featherstonehaugh is a single surname (derived from a placename in Northumberland), while Cholmondeley is pronounced ‘Chumley’ even on its own. And you do realise that the surname ‘Cholmondeley-Warner’ was just made up by Harry Enfield?

One of the reasons this has spread out of the upper classes into the general population is that there are more couples cohabiting and having families but choosing not to get married. A hyphenated surname is a neat way of acknowledging both parents.

An American friend of mine told me that when she moved to the UK with her (English) husband in '97, people told her not to hyphenate her surname as it was seen as pretentious. For most purposes she’s kept her name, but uses his for joint invitations and such, and also for her children’s school records.

Sally Jesse Raphael
Courtney Cox Arquette
Billy Jean King (?)
You do it more than we do, but without the hyphen
You don’t like using hyphens anyway - e.g. miniseries jetski cooperative etc.

In most of these cases, it is not a double-barrelled family name, it’s just a person who prefers to write his or her full name –

Sally Jesse Raphael is Ms. Raphael, not Ms. Jesse Raphael

Courtney Cox Arquette was Ms. Cox, now she’s Ms. Arquette, not Ms. Cox Arquette

Billy Jean King is Ms. King, not Ms. Jean King

J. Pierpont Morgan was Mr. Morgan, not Mr. Pierpont Morgan

Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. was Mr. Lodge, not Mr. Cabot Lodge.


@** OxyMoron**. To back your friend’s husband up, my personal feeling/experience is that it would be very pretentious to create a newly hyphenated name, perhaps less so if you did it to keep the maiden name. As Ticklesome says, I wouldn’t really expect brides to hyphenate, although I have seen it (marriage was probably in the late 70s/early 80s and it was an arty couple). My gf informs me that even people who retain their maiden name at work are still legally Mrs First Husbandslast, IHE.

Note that this comes from someone who is unhyphenated yet found an old trophy to his father that hyphenated the family middle and last names :slight_smile: . As he has reverted to just the last name for at least as long as I’ve been around, I can only assume that in the 50’s British army hyphenation was “kewl” :smiley: .

This is the only real time i’ve seen it done recently - in fact my boss has just done exactly that for her new-born twins.

Double barrelled surnames can be pretentious but can, in certain circumstances, be very useful. My elder sister, for example, married (but later divorced) a “Clayton-Smith.” She still uses the surname because she’s found that in certain areas of the Civil Service having a “snobbish” name can be of particular benefit.

Sounds like hard work:

There’s a knock on the front door. Brainfizz answers it.

Jesus: Can St. Antony come out to play?

Brainfizz: Not until he’s done his homework

Jesus: okay

Except that isn’t surely their full name. Courtney Cox Arquette is actually Courtney Arquette. Isn’t adding in the maiden name exactly the same as hyphenating?

hyphenated names are used to make americans and lower classes look up to us,
yours truely


You’ve lost me.

You’ve lost me even more. She was actually Courteney Bass Cox. Now she’s actually Courteney Bass Cox Arquette. For professional purposes she was Courteney Cox but now is Courteney Cox Arquette. Before her marriage, she would be alphabetised under “C.” Now she would be alphabetised under “A.”

Umm … No.

How can one add a maiden name?

Under the much-discussed-on-this-board traditional American practice, a woman, upon marriage often changes her family name to her husband’s family name and shifts her maiden name to middle-name status. That’s not the same thing as hyphenating.

I was not aware of this practice. Now I understand. Though I would still argue that the woman using both names with regularity is in effect the same thing (though I presume it doesn’t pass down to progeny).


You seem to be in the know. I think the name Spenlove-Spenlove beats them all, doesn’t it? But apart from the snob appeal, how could the name come into being? Mr. Spenlove married Ms. Spenlove? - Doubtful at least.

P.S.: No offense to the Spenlove-Spenloves of the world. I am just jealous.