I WAS AT a picnic, talking with an acquatintance. She was from California, as she often mentioned, and therefore quite trendy. She saw someone in the distance and stared. "I've got to go see her," she said, indicating a woman standing by the potato chips. Unloosing a string of syllables, she announced the woman's name, and added, "She's hypenated now, you know."
Actually, I didn't know. I thought people with hypenated names were born, not self-made, and born to estates and titles and pretensions on the other side of the ocean. Coming, as I do, from a more southern part of the country, where girls are named Peggy Lou and Bonnie Rae, these hypenated names had always struck me as rather bottom-heavy.
Who was I to talk? I had taken my husband's name. Therefore, if I ever return to high school -- which is a recurring nightmare -- I will be forever relegated to the middle instead of the top of the alphabet. On the other hand, Isee problems with hypenated names which I feel I should point out.
1. Why is it always the wife, and less frequently the husband, who takes a hypenated name? This is liberation?
2. In considering the grim but real possiblity of divorce, who get custody of the hyphen? Is it separate property?
3. Hyphens are insidious. They link perfectly innocent words which become, in combination, pernicious. Consider, if you will, half-baked, dead-end and low-brow. Even well done, which is perfectly fine as two separate words, becomes offensive at a steak restaurant when it is hypenated.
4. Hyphens are hard to reach on a typewriter. They are always on the top row, and you have to stop and check the keys. Worse, hyphens move around from typewriter to typewriter. It I were to change, for example, from the trusty manual typewriter I learned to type on to my spiffier electric model, I would doubtless type a cent sign instead of a hyphen. There is something cheap about that.
5. What about someone like Eleanor Roosevelt? Would she have had to become Eleanor Roosevelt-Roosevelt to make her feminist point?
6. Whats wrong with an empty space, anyway? Hyphens, like Muzak, intrude where nothing should be. It seems odd that in an age when so many are crying out for personal space, some would crowd things even more.
7. For those of us who have enough difficulty spelling our names to store clerks, what hope is there? I envision Jane Doe Hyphen Smith.
8. And now a plug for my favorite punctuation mark -- the dash. The dash has verve and style and emotion and character. In contrast, a hyphen is cowed between two words, a mere arbiter between them, with no life of its own. On my typewriter, it takes two hypens to make a dash. But a single hyphen, alas, is neither dash nor dashing.