What’s in a Name

Stephanie Forte

On a radio station’s call-in show today, a woman was in a quandary. She didn’t know how to ask the guy she was about to marry if she could hyphenate her name, which was her preference. This was troubling.

I don’t care whether women change, keep or hyphenate their names; that’s their business. What I do care about is why in 2021, women in the US still feel like they have to ask a guy whether they can retain their identity.

When I was in my early 30s, I accepted a marriage proposal. It wasn’t romantic at all. Instead, it was a last-ditch effort to save the day, a whim to get me back in his good graces. The guy I was dating had stood me up for our Valentine’s Day climbing date and wanted out of the dog house. Like a moron, I granted him a fast exit.

It was 2001, and as we made plans, it never even occurred to me to change or hyphenate my name. I’d been Stephanie Forté for more than 30 years. And let’s face it, as far as surnames go, mine’s a really good one.

Forté, you know, like in music.

Forté, you know, like strength.

Forté, you know, like John of the Fugees.

My refusal to take the guy’s name became one of the bigger things of our many, many things. I made so many concessions and lost so much of myself in that relationship; when I look at photos of us, I don’t recognize the woman.

But I never gave in on changing my name. Someone else manipulating that piece of me was too much. We never got married, but it still matters that I was willing to fight for my identity. It was the thing I could hold on to, and that led me back to myself.

After all, forté does mean strength.

A person’s identity is not something anyone should have to fight for– we are who we are.

We still have a long way to go.

This is an old photo of me taken about the time the guy and I split. (According to iPhotos.) The route is called Nirvana.


Photo: Michael Clark



Stephanie Forté is a storyteller, connector, and problem-solver inspired by the great outdoors and energized by the transformation of people, communities, and brands. She is a longtime advocate for public lands, outdoor recreation, and women’s health.

She spotlights people and organizations creating meaningful change in her writing and award-winning PR strategies. Stephanie also mines her life for stories, and her published essays have helped others navigate challenges and to feel less alone.

Stephanie Forte