Comment: 'How do you spell hyphen?' - the pains of having a hyphenated name

The hilarity/pain of having a hyphenated name. Source: www.frinkiac.com

Robert Burton-Bradley describes the daily frustrations of selfishly having a "two name" surname.

So I have a condition. A rare and exotic condition that causes no end of confusion and angst to others it seems. I have a hyphenated name. Or as some will loudly declaim: “You have two surnames?!”

Ugh.

Today a fellow sufferer of this most mysterious of conditions had her Facebook account suspended because, Facebook it seems, does not know what a hyphenated surname is. She was obviously lying about her identity. I mean no one could possibly have that many names, it’s just unheard of.

"Thanks for changing my name Mark Zuckerberg," the post read. "So glad you locked me out of my account until I changed it to something you approve of. All these years I've been walking around with an 'inauthentic' name and I had no idea. How embarrassing. Anyone else with a hyphen had this problem?"

“Are your parents hippies?”, “Is your mother a feminist lesbian?”, and my personal favourite “do you know Jane Austen?”

I’m all for preventing people changing their name from the humble “Tiffany” to the more attention catching “Tippphannnai-Epihiannnai-Chastity-Bogart”; the two name madness had to stop somewhere I guess, but spare a thought for the unfortunates born with this condition.

Those afflicted with the “two names” all have their own stories of woe and ridicule. Mine begins in kindergarten where some shunned me for alternately: being weird, a snob or whatever else the five-year-old mind could conjure to explain away the weirdness of so much difference. Children can be so cruel.

By the time I reached high school the questions changed to the more original: “Are your parents hippies?”, “Is your mother a feminist lesbian?”, and my personal favourite “do you know Jane Austen?”. Tired of the taunts and continued goggled-eyed stares elicited by my many, many names, I opted for the far more mundane Bradley as opposed to the confusing mouthful of words - Burton-Bradley for my surname.

I’d clap with one hand at this point but I’m too busy spelling out my many names.

Of course this proved difficult for the NSW Board of Studies to comprehend when I changed my enrolment. So when I finished my HSC I was presented with two marks - one for the normal me, Robert Bradley, and another for the pretentious weirdo Robert Burton-Bradley. I’d clap with one hand at this point but I’m too busy spelling out my many names.

As an adult it got worse. Airlines either don’t know or don’t want to know what a hyphenated name is. Whenever I try to book a flight it’s like playing the russian roulette of names. Sometimes I can get away with sneaking in my many fabulous names with the hyphen, but more often I can’t make a booking as their online system won’t accept the outlandish “two names” joined by a dash like symbol.

Which wouldn’t really bother me except that at check in there’s always a problem. I think my favourite was the time I was nearing the end of a series of long flights and needed to transfer when my many names broke the lady at the ticket desks concept of identity.

“You got FOUR NAMES! Is this a joke?” After a brief history lesson on the origin of the two names and my family story for the last two hundred years I was able to get my boarding pass.

Explaining to her that was not part of my name but you know, that dash thing, was like painfully turning a 14th Century mill wheel by hand.

Of course if it was just travel and hotel bookings that presented a problem it would be one thing, but when you choose a profession that requires you to constantly cold call people all day and start with your name, it presents a few challenges.

Often when ringing places as a journalist and introducing myself and my reason for calling I am asked to spell out my names. To be helpful and forestall confusion I’ll even say hyphen between my two surnames. This just adds to the confusion, like the time a young girl asked me “how do you spell hyphen?”. Explaining to her that was not part of my name but you know, that dash thing, was like painfully turning a 14th Century mill wheel by hand.

Sometimes you will call up people and state your name only to be met with a confused silence. I often have to check I am holding a phone and not a sea shell as I only seem to hear the sound of the ocean coming down the line.

The most common scenario though is when confronted with my full name of Robert David Burton-Bradley, people opt for the least likely option as my name. “So, you are... Burton?...”. Yes, pick the only one that isn't a common first name.

As I write this I am also scanning my gmail account -  no hyphen in my address because that would be insanity, and I read through various emails addressed to “David Burton-Robert, Robert Bradley, B Burton Robert, Mr Robert”, and the fantastical “BB Burton Robert-David”. Then I pick up the phone and answer a call with my name and hear the sound of the ocean.

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