On July 30th, 1994 I married Jennifer Wilson and we became the Wilson-Burnses. When we were engaged I asked her if she wanted to take my name but I knew even before she answered that that just wasn’t us, so we decided to take each other’s names instead. We wanted to communicate to the world that we saw our marriage as an equal partnership. We wanted to say that although we remained ourselves, Wilson and Burns, God created something new with us. Also, I’ll just say right now that this was never meant to be a criticism of women who take their husband’s names. We respect people’s choices for their names.
Hyphenated names were becoming common, so I didn’t think it peculiar at all until I went to get a new driver’s license. A woman with a brusque manner at the tag agency said, “You can’t change your name without a judge.”
I said, “Are you married? Did you need a judge to change your name?”
She scrutinized my face for a moment and then called to the back, “Can this man change his last name without a judge? He says he just got married and wants to change his name.”
A younger woman stepped to the counter and assured her that is was no different than a woman changing her name.
The brusque woman sighed as if to say “what is this world coming to?”
Then I legally became David Hill Wilson-Burns. And Jennifer became Jennifer Nicole Wilson-Burns.
There’s actually another guy in Oklahoma that hyphenated with his wife and he and his wife are both United Methodist ministers. There are lots of men around the world who have a hyphenated name. It seems more common especially in Hispanic cultures, but I don’t think it’s the same deal.
One day a coworker and I were driving back from lunch in Oklahoma City and I got pulled over for speeding. The officer asked for my driver’s license. He muttered my name to himself and then said, “Hyphenated. What are you? Mexican?” And then he laughed. I knew what he meant.
It’s so hard to communicate my name to people especially over the phone. “Williamsburg? Burns? Wilson? Can you spell it?”
I used to really take this personally. Exasperated I would say, “Listen, it’s two names. Wilson and Burns. W-I-L-S-O—”
I’m in databases as Wilson or Burns all of the time. I’m just used to saying “Can you look me up as Burns? Try Wilson. Try my birthdate.”
“I’m sorry, we don’t seem to have you Mr. Burns. Have you filled a prescription with us before?”
Only for eight years.
At some point I stopped taking it so personally. I started answering to any combination of those two names. After all, I chose this. No one is obligated to accommodate my lifestyle choice. It’s just my legal name. Who cares?
In 2011 I had a bit of a breakdown and started going by Burns again. I felt like I wanted my name back. It confused the hell out of everyone. So now at church, for example, many know me as David Burns. I don’t correct any one anymore. It’s all good.
But I bear this name with pride now. I’ve been a Wilson-Burns for 23 years. My kids are proud to be Wilson-Burnses, too. I honestly don’t know what they will do with their names if they ever get married and have kids. But our attitude has always been, “Well that’s THERE problem!”
When we stood up before God and our family and friends we made the following vows,
I take you to be my wife/husband, to love and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do us part. This is my solemn vow.
And for us, sharing our names has become a symbol of those vows. It means that we are flesh of each other’s flesh and bone of each other’s bone…and name of each other’s name.