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Can I Hyphenate My Way Out of This Surname?

For all my life my last name has been Donker. Although its english translation (Dark) is nice, I never have enjoyed having this name. You can only begin to imagine how I was bullied and teased relentlessly for it. I still have deep scars from the days of coming home crying from school. I asked my mum and she's fine with me changing it, however my dad (a foreigner) went berserk and told me he would never talk to me again, probably because I am the only one who can carry his family name on.

I'm looking into hyphenating my last name with [another], telling everyone I have this other name, and only using my full hyphenated name on official documents. Would you recommend me hyphenating my last name at the risk of upsetting my dad? Should I keep it a secret from him? Do I have a right to change it without feeling trapped to this fate forever? Is the other name I'm considering even good?

- Donker No More

I wish I could change your father's attitude toward your decision. Alas, my powers are limited to the realm of names. So sticking to that realm, I'll tell you that the hyphenation solution you've described may seem like a compromise, but could end up as the worst of both worlds.

Let's look at the goals of a surname change:

- To free you and your future children from a surname, Donker, which has made you miserable;

- To give you a surname that's meaningful to you but problem-free in English;

- To appease your parents.

Does your proposed name accomplish any of that?

You'd still have to choose between ending the Donker line or passing on a surname that plagues you to your own children. You'd still leave your dad fuming. As for "problem-free"...I haven't printed the new full surname you're considering, for privacy reasons. But readers should know that the new section is a long name from a different culture than Donker, and that it is uncommon and tricky to pronounce in English. So you would taking on a complicated, hyphenated, six-syllable surname, complete with Donker.

I'm also curious where the new name comes from. I suspect it may be another family surname, from a different branch of your family. That's a natural way to seek meaning and connection, but it could add fuel to your dad's feelings of personal rejection.

After going through the bother of a legal name change, you deserve better returns. If you want to keep Donker but not use it, the simplest way is to make it a middle name. Middle names are easy to tuck away, yet you can still choose to be called Donker around your father. (Deceptions, though, tend to come to light eventually. Perhaps you can tell him that you "use both names"?)

If you're open to a new compromise, consider translation. "Dark," the direct translation of the Dutch "Donker," makes a fine English surname. You could tell your dad that you wanted to keep your family name but make it accessible to your new countrymen. He may still throw a fit, but at least it won't seem that you're choosing another family heritage over his own.


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December 30, 2013 1:21 PM
By Madelyn (not verified)

Since you said you are the only one who can pass on your father's family name, I am assuming you are male, so please consider your future partner and children before hyphenating your name. I do understand that some people choose to keep their maiden name, but others, like myself, would love to take on their partner's surname. My fiancé has a hyphenated last name and it has been a huge burden his entire life. When we get married, he plans on dropping one of the names entirely.

I wish I had some advice to give about changing your last name, but it seems like you are in a tricky situation. I agree that maybe just moving Donker to the middle might be the easiest, or just take on an alias and you wont have to go through all of the paperwork of legally changing your name.

December 30, 2013 1:44 PM
By another anon (not verified)

A new last name, with Donker as a middle, seems like a good idea. Middle names aren't used every day so FN Donker Dark would be fine. Women who change their names upon marriage often drop the middle name from their parents and move their birth surname to the middle. If your dad is traditional, he shouldn't have a problem with that. Of course, there is a lot of sexism in people's response to names, so what is okay for a daughter may anger him in a son.

The LW can always decide to put up with it now, since adults usually don't face schoolyard teasing, and decide that any children will get the other parent's last name. This is an easy out (unless his partner is from the Hogge or Outhouse family).

December 30, 2013 4:00 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I think using the translation of Dark is the best idea. It is fairly common in the US to use the English translation of a non-English last name. Using a hyphenated name does not solve your issue, since the hyphenated name still has Donker. Plus by choosing a tricky name to pronounce, you are really just making things more difficult for you.

But if you really want a hyphenated name, that's fine to. Any partners that want to take your name can take the hyphenated name, or chose one of them. Assuming your mother's maiden name isn't already the one you are considering, perhaps hers is the option? You can then tell your father you want to carry the names of both your parents.

January 1, 2014 7:11 PM
By Juli (not verified)

I speak from experience: hyphens in surnames are a headache and a hassle. Computers routinely reject our name due to the "invalid" character, people take that dratted dash as an excuse to randomly drop half of our name, our photos and prescriptions are never filed correctly, companies feel free to assign half to me, half to my husband (it's all one name, it just happens to be spelled with a hyphen!), and sometimes they actually re-arrange the halves into utter nonsense.

If your goal is to _reduce_ the problems you experience due to your surname, a hyphen definitely isn't the way.

(And if this still "triggers the spam filter", I give up. There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in what I wrote that should in any way, shape, or form resemble unsolicited advertising. Really.)

January 3, 2014 7:27 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

If I were you, I'd look up your father's mother's maiden name, as well as your father's grandmothers' maiden names - perhaps you'll find a name that you like and can be easily be pronounced in English, yet may appease your father as you are sticking to a family name?

January 8, 2014 5:15 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Keep the spelling, change the sound...How about pronouncing it like "Thanks" in German...Danke. I kind of like the sound of Danke...Dark sounds too much like Dork, which defeats the purpose. Sorry you have this problem, I hope you and your dad can work it out. Maybe he would be OK with a spelling change? Danke is nearly Donker...a minor, understandable, change, given the change of language.

January 14, 2014 2:16 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I think moving to a middle name (even as a second middle) is a great option. What about looking at your father's first name as a new surname? Maybe his name is something like Michael, Scott, Thomas... And you could honor him directly with something like that.

January 15, 2014 9:59 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

You could change it to Duister...its another Dutch word for "dark." His ancestors could have just as easily been called Duister instead of Donker, so your dad can focus on that while he gets over it. You will be keeping the essence and spirit of your dad's name while having mercy on yourself and your future family.

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