Here’s a problem we’ve all faced: you are a member of a noble family, and so is your spouse: clearly, your child must inherit both of your venerable royal surnames, but how?
One solution is to combine both names into a new hyphenated name.
But this really just kicks the problem down the road—it’s not feasible to double the length of a surname with every generation.
If you do that, you’ll end up with a name like these (real) people:
- Friedrich Wilhelm, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg
- Prince Ludwig of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg
In fact, if hyphenation is rigorously followed, then after 10 generations a single last name would take over an hour to write out by hand.
Fortunately, there is a simple solution!
This solution has a natural inspiration: in mammalian biology, even though a child inherits genetic information from each parent, the size of the genome does not double with each generation. Instead, the chromosomes are mixed together (“recombined”), and each parent only contributes 50% of the theoretically-maximum amount of hereditary information (Figure 1).
Fig, 1: The parents (yellow + orange for one parent, and green + blue for the other parent) contribute shuffled-up versions of the four chromosomes shown at left. The child inherits a total of two “recombined” chromosomes, as seen at far right.
We can do exactly the same thing for last names!
We’ll split up each name by phoneme (or by syllable, but usually a syllable is too “large” a unit), and then mix the names together.
For example, for parents “SMITH” and “KOBAYASHI,” we would write out the names phonetically….
S M IH TH (Parent #1's last name) K O B A YA SH EE (Parent #2's last name)
…then arrange the two different-length names so that they match up in length (the shorter name will have some extra blank spaces in it)…
S _ M _ IH __ TH K O B A YA SH EE
…and finally pick randomly from each parent as we read along from left to right. In this case, the chosen phonemes are highlighted in red:
S _ M _ IH __ TH K O B A YA SH EE
S B A YA TH
Giving the name “S’bayath,” perhaps also written as “Sbayath” or “Sibayath” (3 syllables: S•ba•yath)
See figures 2 and 3 for an in-depth illustration of this method to existing hyphenated names.
Fig. 2: If we have two parents with hyphenated names (“Smith-Walton” and “Kobayashi-Jones”), then the phoneme-based name recombination will work as follows. The original names are at left, the gray highlighting in the middle shows which phonemes were (randomly) chosen to contribute to the child’s name, and the name at the right is the recombined name, each of which will be one half of the child’s new surname.
Fig. 3: In this case, the final name is “Salton-Jobashines,” but there are hundreds of other possible surnames that could have arisen. For example, if the name recombination were flipped (so that the gray-highlighted regions were discarded instead of selected), the final name would have been W’mith–Koya, perhaps also written as as “Wuhmith-Koya.”
Next time you’re about to inflict an 8-part hyphenated surname upon your royal heir, think of the plight of Mr. Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg described above, and consider this approach instead!
PROS: Inspired by nature, which means that it’s inherently good and true.
CONS: There is a very small chance that your child could end up with an unpronounceable last name with no vowels, or a name like “Aaaaaaa.”