When New Jersey writers Alice Kirby and Larry Charny decided to marry in 1988, she refused to take his name, but so did he.
With a nod to the creative world of fiction, the couple abandoned their family names and adopted a new surname. Today, they are Alice and Larry Dark. Alice, 54, is a fiction writer, and Larry, 48, is director of The Story Prize.
"When you get married, you are faced with the decision to keep your name, hyphenate or one changes to the other," said Larry Dark. "Why not come up with a new name? If you don't change your name, you defer a decision you will make when you have children. It's a nonsexist solution to have a common name."
Many women keep their maiden names as a mark of independence. Still, an overwhelming 90 percent of all brides drop their surnames, according to the Lucy Stone League, named for the woman who refused to take her husband's name in 1855.
But today, in a trend that is not new but growing, couples are constructing their own names — sometimes mixing syllables from both sides of the family and often just picking a name that has special meaning or rolls well off the tongue.
Kirby-Charny would have been a mouthful, notes Dark, who toyed with the sardonic moniker Dark Jr.
"I think we were ahead of the curve," said Dark, who liked the contrarian aspect of legally changing his name.
"We think about language and words and we kind of free associated," he said. "Charny means black or dark in Russian, and at the time there were no others in the phone book."
Dark's family initially boycotted the name, but eventually succumbed.
Today, Dark's son Asher is happy with his new family name. "He grew up with it," said his father, who added that when Asher marries, "he can do whatever he wants. Ultimately, a name is not that important."
Darcie Shapiro and Jeff Klein created a new name in preparation for their marriage in 2003. The New York City couple, both 28, constructed it from their fathers' and mothers' names.
Darcie's mother was born Behar and Jeff's was Rutberg. "Har" and "berg" mean mountain in Hebrew and German, respectively. They opted for a blended name — Sharlein.
Darcie Sharlein, who is studying to be a Jewish cantor, said she never assumed she would take her husband's name.
"It was important for us to have the same last name and one day our imaginary children would also have the name," she said. "It was a way we could honor both families, a symbolic way of joining them together."
"We wanted a name that meant something," said Jeff Sharlein, a social worker. "In many ways we are unconventional and our families see this as an unconventional choice."
Though they know at least six other couples who have similarly changed their names, he adds, "We are still far from the norm."
More people than ever before are looking for unique ways to express their identity, according to Pamela Redmond Satran, co-author of the "Baby Name Bible." Her dictionary documents 50,000 names from nouns or colors or even video game characters.
"Statistically, fewer and fewer people are using one of the Top 10 names," she said.
"Everybody is looking for a name that has a lot of personal meaning," said Satran, who took her husband's name, but keeps her maiden name as a middle name. "It's the conscious power of branding and leads people to appropriate a name in a different way. You are not just stuck with and limited to the usual suspects."