Hyphenated Names and Email Addresses

2018 Update: We still think this is a great discussion on hyphenated names and email addresses, and links have been updated below.

What IS the convention on hyphenated names and email addresses? Does it matter if you have a long, unwieldy email address? We’ve talked about how to choose a last name (as well as name change after divorce), but never about email addresses and names, and Reader E wonders…hyphenated names and email addresses - image of woman typing

I was wondering if you have any advice on professional email addresses for people with hyphenated last names.

My law firm used to have a convention of using three initials (first, middle, last) for everyone’s email addresses. Last week, the firm announced a new email convention of first initial, full last name. We can have more than one active email address.

The three initials created a problem for me because I never use my middle name, and everyone assumed my email address was first initial, first last initial, second last initial. Now, if I follow the new convention, my email address will be a messy 13 letters long, and there’s the additional question of whether to use a hyphen. I assume a hyphen would look even worse because there will not be any separation between my first initial and first last name.

I want to ask IT for a completely new email address. Is there a convention for people with hyphenated last names? Any tips?

I’m curious to hear from the readers here — what have you and your friends done? (Pictured: Stencil.)  I do have a few thoughts… for the purposes of discussion, let’s say her name is Jane (Marie) Smith-Doe:

  • Go with the initials you’re comfortable with. If [email protected] is not something you like, go with [email protected] It’s easy to convey to people over the phone, and less likely to be confused.
  • Consider going with first name only if you work in a creative industry or small, customer-service related company. I kind of hate this idea for any male-dominated field (law, banking, etc) — it reminds me of that bit in You’ve Got Mail where Meg Ryan goes on and on about how people who only use first names are like a generation of cocktail waitresses. (Yes, I’m a huge dork.) I think this is far more appropriate for creative fields, or very small companies where everyone is like family.
  • Go with the whole, long, unwieldy name, and make no apologies. It could be a pain for someone to type in if they’re emailing you anew (or for you to give to someone verbally) but that’s OK — how many times do you need to give your email address over the phone anyway? (And: you can always use a secondary email address for that purpose, like [email protected], and make sure that the email gets to you properly.)  I went with this option when I changed my maiden name to my middle name after marriage — my personal email address is long and unwieldy, so I use a different one for newsletters/random forms/phone conversations.

Readers, what conventions do you follow (or think exist) for email addresses and long names?  Would you be put off if you met someone at a networking event who only had a long email address on her card?

Working women discuss the conventions on hyphenated names and email addresses, especially for work emails. Does it matter if it's long and hard to spell? If you're a professional woman who decides to hyphenate her name after you get married, should you change your work email -- and to what?


  1. wildkitten :

    I’ve seen a lot of people keep the same email address – [email protected] but add a new name that appears: WKitten-Smith ([email protected]).

    • Just a suggestion. I work under my maiden name. My legal name is hyphenated and I use my married name when it involves my kids. It allows you (and your staff) to immeadiately know whether it is a business call (asking for me by my maiden nsme) a call about the family (using my married name) or someone who doesnt know me (using the hyphenated name)

  2. witness protection program :

    I don’t think there’s a convention; I just accept the unwieldiness.

    My parents gave me a compound first name plus a middle name, and I hyphenated when I got married. People have been having trouble with my compound first name my entire life–everything from government records to doctors offices to frequent flyer programs mistake half of my first name for my entire first name, and it’s an ongoing hassle. Adding a hyphen and extra syllables to my last name, quite frankly, didn’t make things any worse than they already were.

    If you have a preferred email handle, tell your employer’s IT staff–it’s a pretty easy thing for them to give you, and I’d be really surprised if they said no. Or have multiples that all deliver to the same inbox.

    And don’t get your feelings hurt if people get your name wrong. It happens.

  3. Pfff, the OP’s e-mail address is an unwieldy 13 characters long? The front part of mine is 16 characters, including a hyphen, and in my opinion, that’s just the way it is – no concerns or apologies. As a fellow hyphenator, I have no shame about my long name and everyone knows my e-mail address is in the same format as my colleagues’. The whole thing is in my e-mail address.

    The one concession out IT guy has made to my name (at my request) is setting up a ghost e-mail address without the hyphen, so that I get any e-mails that people accidentally send through without the hyphen.

    My initials at work are [first name initial][first last name initial][second last name initial].

    • That’s how my work initials are, too: HSM.

    • Yes, I agree. Talking about UNWELNDEINESS, I am VERY lucky I did NOT marry Alan. He wanted us to hypenate our names, but he wanted HIS name to go first. I thought that was dumb.

      Imagine “SHEKETOVITS-BARSHEVSKY”? Fooey!

      I told him that I would rather keep my name by itself, b/c as an attorney admitted and in good standeing in NY, I have built up a GREAT reputation at the Bar and in the courthouse that would be lost if I had to put his name FIRST.

      At worst, I would have my name first “BARSHEVSKY-SHEKETOVITS”, but that is also silly, b/c I would be seen as carrying him — literally! DOUBEL FOOEY.

      Beside’s, Dad and Grandma Leyeh did NOT like the concept of me carrying along another name, particularly one that was NOT of royal lineage. TRIPEL FOOEY.

      So it was that once he started drinkeing, it was an easy fix to JETTISON both him and his name, forever sepereated and banished from the name Barshevsky.

      I have NOT looked back since. YAY!!!!!!

      Now I have to Juggel Willem, Fred and Sam, with Micheal makeing a comeback through the Judge. I am convinced that it is all b/c of my smaller tuchus, but dad still INSISTS that I do the FITBIT each day to keep my tuchus in tone for the winter, when I will NOT be abel to walk to work thru the snow (which it did today–FOOEY!).

    • I’m glad someone mentioned a ghost e-mail – always a good option!

      When I got married, I’d been at my financial firm for about a year. I had IT change my e-mail address from [first initial][maiden name]@company to [first initial][married name]@company, but our server still recognized my old e-mail and captures anything sent there.

      Also, to the OP, I don’t think 13 letter is really that long at all for an e-mail address.

  4. been there :

    I just used the first of the two names for the email. E.g. [email protected] for the example below. My thinking was that people will drop the first name and treat it as a middle name if I used the second, and I didn’t want to have to deal with the entire name in an email address.

  5. I don’t think there’s a convention. My last name is hyphenated at work, and I just smush it all together, so it’s first initial lastname lastname, with that being 11 letters all together. It doesn’t really seem like that big a deal for anyone. I think it does work out a little easier than a colleague who hyphenates and kept the hyphen in the email address too.

  6. Is it just me or do all the readers who write in with questions have the first initial E? I am sure that’s not actually true, but for some reason I always remember it as E, or sometimes J. I can’t help but picture one very inquisitive Enid writing Kat all of these emails, followed by the occasional query from her sister Julia….

    • TO Corp Chick :

      Could be Ellen!

      • OMG. Can we just please talk about how consistent and present Ellen is on this board? I am really dying to know more about the phenom that is Ellen, because I remember when she first showed up and everyone thought it was a passing troll. But she’s here every day, and some what attuned to the topics at hand! I also keep waiting for a Friday post to go up as “FRUEGAL FRIDAY.”

        • That would be totally hilarious. I’m in favour.

        • wildkitten :

          You should google her – Ellen Barshevsky. Also: http://ellenwatch.blogspot.com/p/known-information.html

          • Wow, I had no idea. I can’t believe she was banned from the ABA Journal site!

        • Do we know her birthday (or maybe she could drop a hint)? The next time it corresponds with a Friday, it should be FRUEGAL FRIDAY in honor ;-)

          Or maybe she could guest post next April… just sayin’ ;-)

          But if we don’t say it enough, nice job, Ellen. You brighten my day.

  7. kjoirishlastname :

    While I like the idea of handing out an easy email address over the phone as an example ([email protected]), to then forward to your “main” email address, receiving an email from an address you don’t remember writing to can be confusing, if not disconcerting. So, you tell me that your email address is [email protected], and I sent you an email, which then automatically forwarded to your [email protected], and you replied via that address…it’s just cumbersome. Then as the outsider, you have a merged contact blah blah blah.

    As for the real question, I think it is actually not a bad idea to have your whole hyphenated last name in your email. That way, when you meet people that you’ve emailed, they remember your whole name. “It’s great to finally meet you in person, Mrs. Smith-Doe.” as opposed to “oh, crap, was her last name Smith-Doe, or Smith-Deer?” Maybe not a problem, as we are always well-prepared for our meetings, but nevertheless, I am sure it has happened.

    Another note–when you work for a giant company, there are bound to be multiples of the same trio of initials. So then you add the digits. And then you’re left with potentially emailing the wrong JSD because you forgot which digit to include.

  8. Echoing previous comments to say that 13 letters isn’t long at all. I have a totally normal, unhyphenated name and mine is 12 letters.

    I actually think it’s a bit odd that your firm would use 3 letters. It would be really difficult for me to tell who is emailing me and I imagine it would make typos more common. In the places I’ve worked, it’s usually firstname.lastname or firstinitiallastname.

  9. Clementine :

    I say ask IT if you can have two addresses- Jane Doe-Smith would be [email protected] and also [email protected]

    I have a hyphenated last name, but professionally I’m still Clementine Maidenname. I hyphenated when I got married last year and honestly wish I had just kept my name. I have an awesome husband who appreciates my quirks and is a pretty solid feminist (which I really appreciate) and he didn’t pressure me to do anything with my name. I hyphenated thinking it would make it easier for future children, but now I am realizing that this is outweighed by a lifetime of annoying hassles.

    Also- in the process of buying a house it has not been lost on me that by adding a hyphen, I now have 70% more letters to write when signing my name. I went from a 10 letter name to a 17 letter name, plus a hyphen!

  10. Reader E is lucky that her organization lets her have multiple email addresses. She can pick the format she likes best then have one or two alternates that will still work and can be used by people who won’t remember her actual address and try to guess at the right combination of initial and name.

    My company uses [email protected] so that makes it easy for me, but since I have 3 names on my business card (Firstname Lastname1 Lastname2), I also have [email protected] and [email protected] just in case.

  11. Famouscait :

    I bucked convention at my current workplace by going [last name][first initial]@job.com because when you put the first letter of my first name directly in front of my last name (as most other people do) they make an unflattering word… =)

    • Anne Shirley :

      Oh this is too tempting. Catherine Unterman? Brenda itchotovic? Jenny erkstein? Savanna Lutton?

      • Oh what I wouldn’t do to have “Jerkstein” as my work email. . .

        • Famouscait :

          HA! So glad y’all took the bait and decided to play along. Unfortunately, I can’t reveal, as that would (obviously) reveal my identity as well.

          I will say its more along the lines of a Samantha Nobby, and certainly not so bad as “Catherine Unterman” (shudder!).

      • Felicia Ückermann?

      • TO Lawyer :

        hahahah thank you for this – Anne Shirley, you made me actually LOL

      • Famouscait and Anne Shirley, thanks for livening up my day!!

      • Baconpancakes :

        Hahaha, I did actually laugh out loud at this. Fortunately my team isn’t hard at work right now so no one seemed bothered.

    • Anonymous :

      Hahaha, yet another thing for parents to consider when naming their child.

      Wendy Horeson?

      • Anne Shirley :

        Geraldine Roper?

      • We totally tested our baby names as FirstInitialLastName combos before settling on them. Maybe because our last name does start with a common syllable that lends itself to accidental word formation. But I too have seen too many unfortunate or just humorous combos. Sometimes embraced and useful – who’s going to forget your e-mail address if you’re an East whose first initial is B? But we didn’t want to stumble into that. If our daughters stumble in to such a combo by changing their names later, so be it.

    • We have “short names” that form the basis of our emails at work. Essentially the first initial(s) of the first name, (if middle name, first initial(s)) and first initial(s) of the last name. In a company of 30,000 plus people this can lead to interesting email addresses.

      [email protected] is one I saw, and noticed especially, but there have been plenty of others where the letters happen to form words, good, bad and worse.

      According to company mythology, there are people sitting somewhere in a committee in HR whose task it is to select the shortnames for new employees. In reality, I suspect it is computer generated by now.

      People tend to keep their short names throughout their career in the company. Whenever they change names, they just change the main display name in SAP and Outlook, the shortname remains the same.

  12. Our workplace convention is three initials at work dot com. I have four names, so they had to ask me which three initials I wanted to use, which was weird to me. I just picked three and have stuck with it. I think the OP just needs to do what works for her. 13 letters isn’t that long. During law school our clinic program had us set up with email addresses that were “[email protected]” It was impossible to leave out our email address. And thus was born “If you give me your email address, I’ll send you an email right now and you’ll have mine for future reference.”

  13. Diana Barry :

    We use lastname only. BUT the company name is long so it ends up being long anyway. It’s better than my last firm, which was [email protected]!

    • yeah this is my sitch. I have a short last name, so [email protected] isn’t that bad, but then the url is SOOO LOONNNGGG

      • My current work email also has a long company name (and starts with “the” which confuses people as well). I also have a long last name. Reading through this thread, I realized my email address includes all of the vowels, including w and y.

  14. Amberwitch :

    Interesting. None of the places I’ve worked ever gave the emplyees any choice regarding email adresses. You get a set of initials when you start. 3-4 letters, preferably based on the letters in your names. If that doesn’t work out, you get an X or a Z or something thrown in. Then forevermore your emailaddress is [email protected] Usually the initials are autogenerated based on some sort of algorithm, and they are used for all your user accouts and identification in the company.

  15. My small law firm uses first name only email addresses. I had no idea it was something that people looked down upon.

    We are a plaintiffs firm, and get a lot of random people calling us for help. These people are not sophisticated in house counsel, sometimes do not speak English very well, etc. It’s much easier to give out an email address over the phone when it’s simple, and not involving unfamiliar spellings.

    It’s a perfectly legitimate business decision for law firms, and I resent the idea that it’s somehow inappropriate and cheap, because it’s not formal enough.

  16. big dipper :

    Don’t hyphenate your email – you will regret it. Hyphens and apostrophes are not email friendly. Many computer systems can’t recognize emails that use them which is an enormous pain.

  17. Hyphens are a pain in @$$! Just saying. Also, 13 letters in nothing. Mine is whopping 23, and that’s before the @ sign. Company policy for email address is as follows: first name.middle initial.last name @ country code.company name.com. Haha… Yeah and my last name has a ton of vowels in it. I usually just ask the other person for their email address and get them to respond to… Oh the joys of a multinational company.

  18. I have a hyphenated last name which is the name that “appears” on the e-mail, but my e-mail address is [first initial][married last name]@work.com. I like it, but many people get confused with auto-inserting my name or finding me on the website (they auto-insert looking for the first letter of married last name, but should be first letter of my hyphenated name). Not enough problems to change anything, though!

  19. I agree with not using a hyphen. I started out that way and switched to first initial of first name, first initial of original name, married name. Now I actually get my emails. My trick is that I never ever refer to myself by just my married name. Now people are just used to the inconsistancy with the e-mail and it is not a big thing.

  20. I wish I had the option to have a shorter work email address! Mine is 20 characters before the @ sign (firstname.middleinitial.lastname) and, like bunny, is followed by countrycode.companyname.com. To top it off, my (married) last name is an uncommon spelling variation on a common name. Therefore people understandably tend to assume that they know how to spell it and don’t totally tune in when I spell it for them.

    I do have to give out my address to miscellaneous client contacts fairly frequently, so I try not to forget to carry business cards (how quaint)!

  21. PurplePenguins :

    I kept my maiden name email, which is [email protected], but I changed my email name to be my current name, which is compound. I’m First Maiden Husband’sName. I specifically did NOT want a hyphen because my mom’s name is hyphenated, and she’s constantly referring to herself on the phone, stores, anywhere that has to look up her name, as Jane Doe Hyphen Smith, as if “hyphen” is part of her name. I thought my choice would be simpler. Its fairly common in the South, where we were married, but I relocated back to my hometown of Boston, where people are very confused. They think my “first” last name is my middle name.