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Life with a hyphenated last name

I suppose I believed, naively it now seems, that Texas was ready for a woman with a hyphenated name. After all, it was 1991, and I knew an artist* who had shared his wife's name for over 15 years without difficulty. The British have had hyphenated names for centuries. Magazines were full of interviews with well-known celebrities sporting double names. How complicated could this be?


Now I had spent the first 35 years of my life with Chance. I had a friend with a complicated Greek last name who made all of his reservations by saying "First name, Jay. Last name, I'll spell it." You would think that unnecessary with a common, everyday word like Chance for a last name. Ah, if only it were so. I got Chase, Chantz, Chintz, Chants, Chan and mostly, "can you spell that?". I finally took to just saying "Chance, as in - take a".

I'm not sure why I thought Chance-Rainwater would be any better. I liked the little joke embedded in the name, the joke that only I get, apparently, because no one ever comments on it. The real joke was on me.

For starters, most people do not realize that two words connected by a hyphen should be treated as a single word. They automatically split off the last half and say Mrs. Rainwater. When corrected, they simply don't know what to do. At the dry cleaners, they have taken to calling me Mrs. Chancewater. It's not uncommon to hear Mrs. Chancerainwa..., as if the speaker is just embarrassed to say the entire name. I wonder if Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg has this much trouble picking up her dry cleaning?

Then there's the length problem. I think it was a prescription label where this problem first surfaced. The name simply wouldn't fit in the space the computer thought proper for a last name. The pharmacist settled for abbreviating it to Chance-RainH2O. That worked for a man with chemistry background, but confused the heck out of the little slacker clerks behind the counter. "Last name" they would demand. "Chance-Rainwater" I would reply, and they would head straight for the basket marked R, and return with the news that there was no prescription. "Try looking under C", I would suggest. "Why?" they would ask. "It's the first letter of my last name." I would say in exasperation. I think they finally have the hang of it, after seven years of trying. They never did catch on in the photo processing department - we just had to take our film somewhere else.

My doctor's office likewise wanted to file my records under R. When I insisted that they be properly filed under C, the clerk responded "Well, then you'll always have to tell me Chance-Rainwater" as if I were going to come in one day demanding that my name was Schopenhauser. I suppose you would file that under H.

The other day, I was standing in line at the pharmacy. The woman ahead of me was vainly trying to get the clerk to look for her prescription under S. "Hyphenated last name?" I asked. She nodded. "Me too," I said "I had no idea how much trouble it was going to be.". "Yeah," she replied, "but it's worth it.".


*Dallas-based artist Ken Loss-Cutler died quite unexpectedly of a heart attack on January 14, 2000. His ebullient charm and energy will be missed by all those who knew him.


Copyright © 1999-2003 Susan Chance-Rainwater