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Manlius: Surname is part her name

For Rev. Leon Oaks, June 1975 was a great time. Freshly out of seminary school, ready to lead a congregation and set to marry his love Rosey Lee next month. The two just had to pick a name.

"We wanted a family name," he said. "We recognized that our family names were really important to us. We were both part of families that were very important and we liked each other's family."

The final decision: Rosey and Leon would be "Oaks-Lee."

"The decision came to quickly," Rosey Oaks-Lee said. "We'll all have the same last name and everyone will have it."

Though the Oaks-Lees knew couples that had also hyphenated, the man taking the woman's name in any form was still uncommon. So, from 1975 on Leon Oaks would be Leon Oaks-Lee.

"There was very little reaction to it," he said. "I think my father said, 'At least you have two easy names to put together.'"

Symbolism

The hyphenated name has worked symbolically for the Oaks-Lees as they've gone through 32-years of marriage.

"We see our relationship as a relationship of mutual sharing, mutual trust and a sense of common purpose," the 58-year-old pastor at the First Baptist Church of Manlius said.

Rosey cautioned that hyphenating the name or combining the names is a tiny fraction of what makes up a good relationship. Friends of the Oaks-Lees who tried the same hyphenation ultimately divorced. Rosey recalls the wife seeing the name as a symbol for the separation between husband and wife.

"It is just a name," she said. "It's the relationship that's important. The name didn't make us more united. It was the hard work on the relationship that made it work."

When talking about their two now-adult sons, Nate and Ben, the Oaks-Lees both said they have taken ownership of the name, though they haven't discussed it in a few years. Early on, Rosey said the children knew only their last name and didn't see anything different.

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