I hate hyphens. I adore commas, and I'm soft on semicolons, but hyphens raise my hackles. I get edgy and out of sorts when a perfectly down-to-earth person -- a buddy, a pal, a chum -- transforms herself from Rosey Levine to Rosey Levine-Santini. It sounds so snooty, so affected -- like ersatz British peerage. The snob in a 1930s comedy was always named Mrs. Davenport-Footstool or Lady Handbag-Doorstop. The hyphen denoted pretension, social climbing and foolishness.

I worry about the future married daughters of today's hyphenated ladies. If Rosey's daughter Jennifer weds that nice David Chan, will she call herself Jennifer Levine-Santini-Chan? In the future, stationery will be 18 1/2" x 11". We'll need the extra width as, generation by generation, the hyphens mount up.

And then there's the rising divorce rate. Suppose things don't work out, and poor Jennifer leaves that rotten David, and then meets and marries that terrific Danny O'Riley. She'll have extremely wide note cards printed, announcing her new life as Jennifer Levine-Santini-Chan-O'Riley. She begins to sound like the entire bomber crew in a World War II movie. The incredible multiplying hyphen gives a new meaning to "Let's stay together for the sake of my good name."

The hyphenated name is not only unwieldly, it's unfair: she hyphenates, but he doesn't. It's time to establish more egalitarian rules for the name game. Ideally, we'd have a system that indicates marital status (as hyphenation does), but permits us to select our own names (as hyphenation doesn't). Many people are unhappy with their given names and would be delighted to have a second chance. If movie stars do, why shouldn't you? Likewise, many face a humiliating future if forced to bear the name of their beloved. My friend Lucille jilted her fiance rather than go through life as Lucille Skincoat.

All these problems can be dispatched through my method of Marital Nomenclature. During their engagement, the happy couple select what will be their surname after the wedding. They must follow two rules: It must be the name of an animal. Thus, when Michael Lawnsky and Melissa Hedgerow walk down the aisle, they become Mike and Mel Mink. Throughout the world, it will be understood that those with animal surnames are married. If the Polynesians could learn that a woman with a flower behind her left ear is engaged, then the Pennsylvanians can adjust to animal names.

It's a democratic solution, with the name jointly chosen and jointly worn. Furthermore, animal surnames provide an additional, if minor, restraint to philandering. It's easy to slip off your wedding ring at a key moment; it's tough to forget your name. Someone you know will run into you and say "Michelle Otter; nice to see you," revealing you as a married woman.

The system can accommodate changes in marital status by following the rule of thumb: animal vegetable, mineral, nation. Thus, an animal name denotes only a first marriage. For a second, the couple choose the name of a fruit or vegetable, perhaps becoming Dave and Debby Honeydew. For a third marriage, take the name of any chemical element (check your periodic chart): Steve and Sally Sulfur. For a fourth or further marriage, employ the name of any member state of the United Nations: Mark and Margo Malta. In case of variation in marital history -- may it's his first but her second -- go by the more-married partner.

And what about the children? Do as the Danes do, nearly. They add a suffix to the parents' surname meaning either "son" or "daughter." However, this new nomenclature employs a single suffix meaning "child" -- ska. Thus, the fruit of the union of Dave and Debby could be little Jessica Honeydewska. Steve and Sally may have a little bundle of joy named Jason Sulfurska. When the kids grow up and are ready to marry, they get to choose animal names of their own.

This sytem may seem a bit peculiar, but it's more graceful than hyphenation, and it's simpler than sticking a hibiscus blossom behind your ear. Write your representatives: Senator Badger and Congresswoman Beans.