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New Yorkers Brush Off the Hyphens and Get Creative With Baby Surnames

By Amy Zimmer | April 2, 2013 6:33am

DITMAS PARK — When Elana Karopkin and Michael Rabinowitz had twin girls four months ago, they decided that saddling the kids with the surname "Karopkin-Rabinowitz" would be too unwieldy.

Instead, the Ditmas Park couple called their daughters Ella and Sophie Gold, inspired by the fact that Rabinowitz’s maternal grandmother’s name was Goldberg and Karopkin’s maternal grandmother was Goldman.

“It was really important to me that we have a shared family name,” said Karopkin, 37, a high school superintendent.

“While we are both close with our parents and have a strong sense of family history, this is our chosen family, and we wanted to make sure we were a cohesive unit together.”

More and more New Yorkers are choosing an egalitarian solution when it comes to the decision as to which parent's name to give the kids. With "hyphens" now procreating throughout the next generation, there are families who mash up their last names for the sake of the children or — gasp! — give siblings different last names

In the height of last year's wedding season, from June through September, roughly 8,250 women kept their last names, compared to roughly 14,200 New York City women who took their husband's name, according to the City Clerk's office.

Approximately 65 couples that involved a man and a woman changed both of their names as soon as they married. For female/female couples that number was 112 and there were 67 male/male couples that created new names.

Karopkin and Rabinowitz, 35, a political consultant, did not legally change their own names. But they are both now going by a hyphenated surname, using “-Gold” at the end of their last names.

That is, when they remember to do so and it makes life easier, they said.

“We are about to travel internationally and so we will reassess after we take the trip and see how complex it is without a legal common name,” Karopkin said.

Some family members had a hard time adjusting to it, Rabinowitz admitted.  "One or two even were hurt," he added, "because it felt to them like a rejection of important family history and connections."

Susan Crumchau (nee Crumiller) was already familiar with the idea of a new surname. Her parents, born Jenny Crum and Jon Miller, changed their names to Crumiller when they married in 1980.

“I had never planned to change my name unless my husband did also," she said.

"As a feminist, it was a no-brainer for me.”

The tenants rights attorney instead melded her name with that of her husband, Arastu Chaudhury, an assistant U.S. attorney.

“When I became pregnant, we decided the mash-up was the way to go,” said the 31-year-old Ditmas Park mom to 5-month-old Zohra.

“We looked at many, many combinations and finally settled on Crumchau,” she explained, noting that they changed their names legally but were still using their birth names professionally.

“I think my husband's family is in a little bit of denial but they've never said anything negative to him about it."

She has no qualms if the Crumchau name doesn’t live on.

“As far as our new name being passed down, no, that's not a consideration for us,” Crumchau said. “If our daughter gets married, I'll be happiest if she picks a man or woman who is also willing to change names and that they pick a new name together.

"But, of course, we'll support whatever she decides."

But sometimes it’s hard to break with family names, especially if they are rare, like Cassandra Ritas and Josh Rooke-Ley’s.

Rooke-Ley didn’t get his name because of a liberal-minded family. Rather it was hyphenated more than 100 years ago in England when a wealthy family unsuccessfully tried to merge with a titled family that was dying off, Ritas explained.

“There are only a handful of Rooke-Ley's left in America,” said Ritas, 40, who teaches public policy. “I am the last Ritas, with the exception of my father.  So passing on our names was important to both of us.”

They decided if they had a boy, he would get Rooke-Ley’s last name, and a girl would be a Ritas.

So, seven years ago, they had Atticus Gjesdal Rooke-Ley, and 18 months ago came Mabel Ann Ritas.

“If anyone gets to pass on a name, it should be the person who puts in the effort [during pregnancy] — there’s only one oven,” she joked. “But then that’s silly because it’s my dad’s name so that argument breaks down pretty quickly."

Atticus was initially upset that he was going to have a different last name than his sibling, Ritas said. "I think he wanted to be on my team," she said.

But it’s no longer an issue.  

“Now it’s just the way our family is," she said.

Rebecca Busansky also gave her daughters (Miranda Busansky, 13, and Nola Busansky, 7) her name as a "maternal line," while her son (Kaleb Zuckerman, 10) got her husband Jonah Zuckerman's name.

A mash-up of “Buszuck,” for instance, wasn’t going to work, said Busansky, who moved with her husband, Jonah Zuckerman, from Clinton Hill to Northampton, Mass. two years ago.

“We never went in depth discussing our decision. It was like ordering Chinese food,” said Busansky, 46, a director of community economic development for a nonprofit.

“Jonah was completely on the same page. He said, ‘I’m her father [of Miranda], and if her teachers call me Mr. Busansky then they haven’t gotten to know me well enough.’”

It took some time for Zuckerman, a furniture designer who still works frequently in New York, to win over his father, and some relatives apparently still don't comprehend it. Luckily, Busansky said, their local bank didn’t give her daughter problems when she deposited checks made out to “Miranda Zuckerman” from her bat mitzvah.

"Sometimes Christmas cards sound like band names," Lisa DeLange said of the families she knows with various permutations of last names. She combined her last name, DeMairo, with the Lang from her then-husband (adding an “e” to honor the original spelling from his grandfather).

Though she's divorced, she isn’t planning to change her name, which she also gave to her 5-year-old son, Chet.

“I’m still fine being DeLange,” said the 42-year-old Jackson Heights resident and adjunct professor at a Brooklyn community college.

“My old last name used to get misspelled or mispronounced all the time… I chose this name. Even though it’s associated with my marriage, so is my child.”