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Diatribe: A Hyphen Is Most Certainly A Valid Character!


Many years ago I invested quite a bit of time, energy and money into the process of changing my name.  I included a hyphen so that my name would more closely resemble that of the children I was helping to raise.  It was a complicated process involving many trips to the county courthouse, piles of forms, countless fees and an appearance before a judge.  But, since changing my name through marriage to their father was not an option, I found this to be a meaningful and symbolic way to bond with them in a permanent and legal manner.

For many years, women would hyphenate their last names upon marriage to remain recognizable in the workplace.  Understandably, after building a career and name recognition it could be detrimental for these women’s names to simply disappear.  Hyphenated names allowed a bride to retain her existing identity while also acknowledging her new role as spouse.  The practice became quite common and caused few, if any, problems.

That is, until the internet surfaced and became an integral part of life.  As computers grew more sophisticated and networks became faster, larger and commonplace, increasing amounts of personal business began to be conducted online.  Email correspondence lead to online shopping and, eventually, online banking and social networking.  Currently, there is very little that cannot be accomplished in a virtual, online, manner.

Unless your last name contains a hyphen.

Despite all the progress in computer and internet technology, a majority of websites still identify the hyphen as an “invalid character”.  Apparently, during the development of many programs and websites the hyphen is often used as a substitute for the percent sign (%), pound sign (#), underscore (_) and, sometimes, ampersand (&).  Therefore, the symbol is not recognized.  It’s valid!  I paid good money for it!  It’s on my keyboard!

Had I known that the hyphen was considered to be invalid, I would never have added it to my name.  My name is rejected by websites and kiosks across the country.  Even government websites (the same government whose laws allowed me to add the hyphen in the first place) do not recognize my name as valid.  If I had a dollar for every time a computer told me that my name contained an invalid character, I would be a very rich man.

A hyphen is most certainly a valid character!

Copyright © 2012

From → Diatribes

  1. Perhaps you should change your name again, from, for example Joe Smith-Jones to Joe SmithhyphenJones
    It does have a nice ring to it.


  2. For what it’s worth, your problem is shared by those who come to the United States from Taiwan. In their situation, it is not the family name but the personal name. Personal names (often called the first name in the U.S., but the ordering is the other way around in much of Asia) in Taiwan are usually two characters which, when written out in English, are separated by a hyphen. As for you, the hyphen is quite real. Some immigrants will drop the hyphen out of frustration, but it is there on their passports nonetheless. Shared frustration.


    • Thanks for your input. I was surprised to learn that they hyphen is very common in other countries, and has been for generations, party to perpetuate family names when no male children are born.


  3. If I ever have a child, I’m going to name him or her #


  4. That’s harsh! It kinda reminds me of some Indian friends, who have really long names that exceed the character count of website fields.


  5. The Real Barman a.k.a. The Drunken Assassin permalink

    Ain’t this the truth with so many things: the computer, Internet or government tells us who we are or what we are allowed to do. The website should take whatever you give it and record it. Who are they to say what my name is?



    a.k.a. TheRealBarman

    P.S. Nice post.


  6. damn straight!


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