If you're a hyphenated person, as I am, you are open to all sorts of scrutiny. You won't be able to escape. People are too curious. Anyone with two last names separated by a hyphen is, in his or her own way, asking to be noticed. It's as if you're saying: "Hey, look at me. I'm name-enhanced, so please don't hesitate to discover what that's all about." Even worse, and while I hate admitting it, a hyphenated name is an attention-seeking device.

Having sufficiently flagellated myself, I don't mind admitting that I've been sporting a hyphen for a while. It's become part of my MO, which I've incorporated into my persona -- a dichotomous balancing act merging my historical resume.

I am not alone. To illustrate this point, let's take the case of Amanda Hamilton, which she was until she met Mr. Stephen Smith, got married, and became Amanda Hamilton-Smith. "Hamilton" seemed rather stark, not fully clothed, but "Hamilton-Smith" exudes elegance and class, and Amanda feels comfortable going through life as a hyphenated woman.

Her husband agrees. "Smith" standing alone seems ordinary and dull, but having a wife who inserted a hyphen between the two names has elevated them both to new heights, and they are basking in the pretentiousness.

"Hello," Amanda says when being introduced. "I'm Amanda Hamilton-Smith" and suddenly the atmosphere is highly charged and electric. People stare and care, and occasionally gasp.

Similarly, when I took Marks-White out for an airing, things happened. I once attended a cocktail party for the unbearably rich and infamous, where a man parading himself as Peter Xavier-Wood of London, confronted me. Discovering that we were both hyphenated sent Mr. Xavier-Wood into a euphoric frenzy as though he had just encountered a cataclysmic meeting of the minds that sent him reeling.

"Tell me," he asked excitedly, "are you British?"

"Not exactly," the words tripped delicately off my tongue, while I tried feigning an accent.

"Marks-White sounds decidedly British," he said, hoping he had found his soul mate.

"And you?" I asked, "What about the Xavier-Wood?"

"Oh that," he inched closer and whispered. "It's a pen name I created for my books. My real name is Peter Peters, and well, that would never do, so I became Peter Xavier-Wood."

"Nice touch," I said.

"The women seem to like it," he agreed. "They attribute qualities to me I don't actually have, but it serves me well, if you catch my drift?"

My two last names and I slithered away.

Marks-White, at best, is a conversation-stopper. At worst, it leads people to make erroneous assumptions, and some are inquisitively intrusive enough to press me hard until I confess all.

"Yes," I say with a nonchalant air, "It's true. I have a past."

Being that I am of small stature, hyphenation has provided an instantaneous growth spurt. I am now elongated, pulled up, stretched to the max. I can stand tall. "Marks" going solo makes me feel small; "White," a similar affliction. But when combined, I can view the world from a loftier perch."Marks-White" holds endless possibilities. I can rise to occasions, moving onward and upward, a mere hyphen, my mode of transportation, and I fly high on its coattail.

And it provides constant amusement as it did when the AmEx Customer Care person, when inquiring as to my name, paused and asked:

"Can you please spell `hyphen?' "

Moments like that make Marks-Hyphen-White a glorious adventure.

Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer, and her "In Other Words" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com.