Posh or Equality or Custom
In England double barreled surnames are perceived as posh while in America the trend from marriages in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, was for socially aware, independent, liberal thinkers to combine their surnames in a meaningful way to connect their newly created family, parents and offspring. In addition, some unmarried parents use hyphenated surnames to create a family or tradition. Some women with children by multiple spouses use hyphens to connect those spouses’ names in a way that give the mother part of the names of each of her children. Other families with common surnames, like Miller, Smith, Jones, or Brown might hyphenate with a less common surname to differeniate between Millers. Now according to MailOnline there is a newer trend in Britain, meshing, combining parts of each surname to create another freestanding surname for every one in the family. Either way, that’s a lot of baggage to hang on a surname. Then the inevitable question comes up, what to do when two hyphenates marry, create a four barreled name? Leaving aside the social questions, how does this compound surname type affect research?
For Google searches, punctuation is superfluous, Smith-Jones or Smith Jones are searched the same, as are O’Reilly and O. Reilly. Using those same four surnames in an indexing situation, there will be four different initial letters.
In the United States, Native Americans have some wonderfully expressive compound surnames, some of which use hyphens. Double surnames with a Spanish origin use hyphens once in a while, however the greatest majority of hyphenated surnames in the United States appear to come from children born since the 1960s from families trying to preserve both parents’ surnames.
Compound surnames have a propensity to be longer than database field entry requirements allow. There are single word surnames too long also. When I searched for Blankenbeckler in the social security death benefits index in the mid 1980s, I found none. Until I came upon the exact place where the computer field data entry length cut off the surname, I found no hits. Using Blankenbec revealed all. Some programs allow wild cards and some don’t. You must guess at the length allowed by the program and search, with a space, without a space and with a hyphen, even if the name was always spelled without a space. Be inventive, creative and relentless in searching.
Hyphens keep surnames connected and in order. Some families of hispanic origin add hyphens to their compound surnames to keep the order straight, paternal line and then maternal line, Garcia-Lopez. Other families rely on user knowledge which works great in some areas and in other areas, the compound surname is broken by ignorance and those individuals may be filed under the last part of the surname, the maternal line Lopez instead of the first part of the surname, the patenral line, Garcia. Many families in the United States use maternal surnames as middle names, so not only does the person have the surname broken, the assumption may be that the first part of the surname is a middle name.
Native Americans have some of the same issues except the first part of a compound surname is sometimes mistaken for a first name. Sitting Bull is a compound surname not a person with the surname Bull and a first name Sitting.
In old style manual book indexes in recorder’s offices, clerks offices and other filing systems, it may lead to several different letters in the alphabet being the possible first letter in a surname. In newer computer based systems, it may be in how you use quotation marks ” ” to hold the names in order, ie “Garcia Lopez” vs. Lopez, Garcia, “Sitting Bull” vs Bull, Sitting. In a Google search commas and hyphens are invisible, while the quotes are paramount in keeping a string of characters together.
More detail is available in the article on compound word surnames. It is important the researcher understand what the name is and what the name isn’t, but it is more important the researcher imagine how the surname might be or have been perceived, indexed, filed and retrieved by others.