Brangelina. Kimye. "Combined names" are a key step in becoming a celebrity "it" couple. But regular people all over the U.S. are doing the same thing. And making it legal.

I recently read about the phenomenon of married couples legally taking a smushed-together — or otherwise completely invented — version of their last names. Smith and Johnson become the Smithsons, for example. I started asking around: Had anyone else heard of this?

Turns out, a ton of people had. Almost everyone I asked knew a couple who had done it officially, done it unofficially, or at least thought about it.


It might sound kind of odd, but there are a lot of great reasons modern couples choose to do something like this — everything from gender equality (FTW!) to giving the kids a fresh family identity to make their own.

Here are eight forward-thinking, creative, and diverse couples who chose to use a combined name, and why they did it.

1. Carla Cole + Brian Martin = the Latimers

Photo by Carla Latimer, used with permission.

These two turned to an unlikely tool when they decided to combine names: an anagram generator.

"We wanted a family name to share with the kids," Carla says. She says they almost had guests at their wedding vote on their top five favorite names. Instead, they wound up choosing on their own.

"We dropped our middle birth names, moved our maiden names to our middle names, and added the new last name," she says.

And lived happily ever after.

2. Blair Eckenrode + Megan Christensen = the Eckensens

Photo by Shawnee/A Lovely Photo, used with permission

When Eckenrode and Christensen got married, they had some understandably complicated feelings about the institution.

Questioning the long upheld standards of marriage gave the couple a lot of freedom to define their own union how they saw fit. The first thing to go? The historic coverture laws that originated today's commonplace tradition of a woman relinquishing a part of her identity, her name, and assuming her husband's.

"We are a family, and we share every part of our lives with each other, and we also desired to share a name," Blair says. "So we got creative and here we are — a nontraditionally created name for a 'nontraditional' marriage."

3. Sally and Ryan Stauffer = the Elainskas

Photo via Sally Elainska, used with permission

When these two first got married, they did what Sally calls "the normal thing," and went with her husband's last name of Stauffer. A few years later, Ryan had a confession to make — he wished they'd gone another route.

"In the end we decided to combine Gaelic to represent his ancestry and Polish to represent mine," Sally says. They chose words that loosely translated to "people of art," plus a few tweaks to make it easy to spell and pronounce, and suddenly they were the Elainskas.

Their families have had mixed reactions, Sally says, but there's only one thing that really matters: "I couldn't be happier with the decision and with my perfect partner!"

4. Sonia Abrams + Stephen Moss = the Abramoss kids

Photo via Sonia Abrams, used with permission.

When these two tied the knot, they both agreed it'd be best to keep their own last names. The kids? That was a different story.

"We both felt a little weird about not having a little bit of [both] our names in our kid," Sonia says. That's when they got the idea to combine, and Abramoss just felt like a winning combination.

"My dad did not like it at all, but I think he got over it," she says. "It feels neat to have our kid's' names be a combo of ours, since our kids are a perfect combo of the two of us."

5. Sara Kunitake + Jonah Horowitz = the Horotakes

Photo from Jonah Horotake, used with permission.

"Sara has a very strong attachment to her family name. She’s the last Kunitake grandchild, and she hesitated to give the name up," Jonah says. "Also, she has invested a lot in building her brand professionally as Sara Kunitake and didn’t want to have to rebuild as Sara Horowitz."

So they merged to become the Horotakes. "We really like the sound of it and it merges our Japanese and Jewish heritage."

6. Jesse Rauch + Lissa McManus = the McRauchs

Photo via Jesse McRauch, used with permission.

Feminism has been an important thread throughout Jesse and Lissa's relationship.

"As our relationship deepened, I felt it was important to be completely equal in our relationship," Jesse says. "We both wear engagement rings. I didn't get on one knee — so we looked each other in the eye."

Jesse says most people are really supportive, or even jealous they didn't think of it, but his parents keep asking, 'Are you really doing that?"

"They may need more time," he says.

7. Ash Russell + Crystal Fields = the Rocketships

Photo from Ash Rocketship, used with permission

That's right. Meet Mrs. and Mrs. Rocketship.

Ash says the couple talked a lot about "how neither of us were really attached to our family names and how it would be nice to share a name once we were married."

Her alternative? Pick something random, but meaningful. It got the couple talking about their shared love of outer space.

"We joked about Lightyear, after Buzz, and then one of us — probably me because I am nothing if not overjoyed at being obnoxious — said, 'We should just pick something random ... like, rocketship.' And it just stuck."

From there, the paperwork was a breeze, and the Rocketships became the coolest family in the solar system.

Update 8/23/2017: One couple has been removed from this list.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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