Feminist Last Naming Practices

Nontraditional Last Name Stories

Gail Murphy-Geiss

Gail and her husband chose to hyphenate their natal names to create a family last name. Both parents took the hyphenated name upon marriage and passed it on to their children. Gail felt strongly about a shared family name, and is happy with the unique nature of it.

When asked about the reason for her decision, Gail said “My single name was Murphy, my husband’s single name was Geiss…And at the time a lot of people were starting to hyphenate their names, it seemed to be the trend. So that seemed to be the best option in our community of Feminists, we were both overtly Feminist. We didn’t–there was no question I was not going to take his name, he was gonna hyphenate, we never–it wasn’t really debated that we were gonna do something Feminist….And we didn’t want to keep our own names because I didn’t wanna have children that had his name, and I didn’t want to have children that had different names, and I didn’t want to have all this different. So, I wanted us all to have the same name, and I didn’t necessarily think that there was a word out there that was meaningful to us as there were for some people, so we hyphenated.”

In the mid 1980s, the Murphy-Geiss’s faced some legal roadblocks in their hyphenation process. “And the interesting part of it is that in the marriage license in Massachusetts at the time it said ‘maiden name’. I don’t use that term myself, for me. So I could write Murphy and then ‘married name’ and I wrote Murphy-Geiss and for my husband it just said ‘name’. So we said “Well, where does he put his maiden name?” ‘Cause he was changing his name as well and they said “That’s not allowed on the form you have to contact the Social Security Administration.” So he just got married and became Paul Geiss–which he was–I got married and became Gail Murphy-Geiss, and then he changed his name legally to Murphy-Geiss through the Social Security Administration.”

Despite some of the hassles of having a hyphenated name, Gail is infatuated with the idea of being unique. “So, I’m actually pretty happy with it, I think I could answer that better after my daughters decide what they are gonna do in their lives. And if it becomes a real hassle for them maybe I would rethink it. But I think we’ve all sort of enjoyed–like one time somebody said “Oh, Murphy-Geiss are you related to Kathy?” (my daughter) and it’s funny because of course I am, there’s no other Murphy-Geiss’s and I always wanna say “No, who’s that?” You know, it’s sort of fun being the only 4 people on the planet with that name. So, that’s a pay off, I guess I would do it again, you caught me on a good day.”

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