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What can I expect with an unconventional name change?
April 6, 2012 6:31 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to legally take my spouse's last name. Difficulty: I'm a guy; we've already been married for 10 years. I have professional licenses, clients and a [albeit not very well-developed] reputation. Has anyone done this? What are the pitfalls - personally, professionally, logistically?

This will be done purely for personal reasons. I want a fresh start - trying to rise from the ashes of rather crippling depression - and this will give me a lot of comfort. As a bonus, the new name will be more common and I can enjoy some amount of google anonymity. I'd also use the opportunity to ditch a shortened nickname and revert to my full first name. No children involved, if that's relevant.

- Is there a double standard for men who take their wife's name?
- What is a polite and nondefensive explanation I can give my employer, while maintaining some sort of privacy around the reason for my decision?
- What are the choke points in the bureaucratic process, in seeking future employment, and anything else involving a background check? (Nothing bad would show up on the old name, but I'm worried about raising suspicions.)
- (Extra credit) Can I convince my father that this isn't about him?
posted by moammargaret to Human Relations (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
- Is there a double standard for men who take their wife's name?

There's never been a time when it's more acceptible to do so, but there are also people who will think it odd. Nothing you can do about that, though.

-What is a polite and nondefensive explanation I can give my employer, while maintaining some sort of privacy around the reason for my decision?

You don't provide an explanation at all unless asked. In which case you just say it was a personal decison that was reached after a lot of thought and discussion with your wife.

Alternately, you can still work professionally under the name you already have established and the rest of your life you can be the name you choose.

- What are the choke points in the bureaucratic process, in seeking future employment, and anything else involving a background check? (Nothing bad would show up on the old name, but I'm worried about raising suspicions.)

There shouldn't be any problem if there's nothing under the old name. A background check should show the name change and then they'll look under the old name, too.

- (Extra credit) Can I convince my father that this isn't about him?

That'll be hard to do. I can imagine it would seem to be a rejection of him from his perspective. At the very least he'll think that you're rejecting something of him that he gave to you. That will hurt. All you can do is just explain to him why you made the decision you made.
posted by inturnaround at 6:56 AM on April 6, 2012


- Is there a double standard for men who take their wife's name?

A male friend who took his wife's name gets cooed over by the ladies when they find out. At least in the liberal circles we run in, he gets credit for it. So, yes, there's a double standard, but -- at least in my friend's situation -- it's one you might as well revel in.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:04 AM on April 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


First, get like 10 official copies of your marriage certificate. You will need them all over the place. Women have most of the same problems you will have. Don't forget your bank accounts, passport, car title, mortgage, Social Security, driver's license, insurance, and on and on. There are checklists online.

With your current employer, just be confident. "As of April 25, I'm changing my name to Michael Smith. I will provide the appropriate documentation to HR and the IT department." Boss: "Oh, what's up with that?" You: "It was a personal decision."

With other people, just continue to be confident. Don't look ashamed or ambivalent. Some people will think you're weird or "whipped," but fuck them. They're probably misogynistic and homophobic too if they're so traditional. With your friends, you can joke that you're hiding from the Google police.

Future employers won't care - tell them you're Michael Smith now, but used to go by Mike Kolowicz. Any forms you fill out will have a space for "other names you have used." Someone else will come along with better advice about how to phrase this on a resume or in a cover letter. Background checks will go by your SSN as well as your name. Your address alone will give them a scary amount of information.

I don't have any advice about Dad.
posted by desjardins at 7:04 AM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have a lawyer friend who did this when he got married. He worked for government, so there were no repercussions beyond the expected snickering from some about who wore the pants in that family.

Waiting 10 years to do this may make it more difficult to explain. Sharing a family name with one's children is the most common reason I've heard for a name change later in the marriage; it sounds like that's not really something you could say.

As for professional issues, my wife kept her maiden name as a "middle" name after we married, for use in the workplace, mainly to avoid confusion—even though she has an uncommon first name and confusion would likely be low. My sister, a doctor, works under her maiden name even though she has legally adopted her husband's name. You could consider doing something similar, although that would defeat the "clean break" you seem to want.

You'll probably need to go the full legal route, for the name change, so a court order (or whatever document) will soothe most bureaucrats. (I changed the spelling of my middle name when I was 18, and have never run into any problems as a professional.)

As for your father, if you keep your original name in some fashion—such as a middle name—it will be a lot easier to convince him it's not about him.
posted by mikewas at 7:04 AM on April 6, 2012


The "using your original name as middle name" thing is how most women handled changing their name upon marriage when the overlap between women having careers and still changing their names upon marriage was at its peak. For a year or so, you sign all professional things (changing your email ID, your professional licenses, your stationery, business cards, name on the door) Michael OldName NewName. Then eventually you drop the old name. It's cumbersome and annoying, but it pretty much worked.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:18 AM on April 6, 2012


I took my wife's name.

What others say regarding documentation is very important. Get lot of copies early and don't let anything linger. Change everything as quickly as possible, that will go a shockingly long way to minimizing fallout. Advice on wedding websites for the ladies is typically very applicable.

double standard Yeah, but it's likely worse in your mind than reality. Some people might say dumb shit but i think you're clear as far as actual career or social repercussions. In my experience the challenge for me was Less than it had been for my female counterparts. They have to deal with a bunch of assumptions and sexism you will be spared. "does this mean she'll have kids next?" "no more overtime for sharon" etc and gross etc. You might just get teased a little.

(anecdotal generalization) Women and Gay men generally respond very positively.

nondefensive explanation Mine are, with varying levels of humor: "It's a much cooler name" "No one could spell/understand my old name" "I never liked being Mr. BLANK" "I'm just trying to avoid my taxes" "I didn't want my children to be named Childy BLANKSON-BLANKERTON"

choke points As others have noted above, and I repeated. Go after EVERYTHING and do it quickly. Form a professional standpoint it can actually be a boon, you get to reach out to every contact with a memorable and interesting bit of information. So it can be a networking opportunity not a hindrance.

my father Well it depends if it is about your father or not. It is certainly something I worried about, family name and all that. Shit I never had worried about in my whole life suddenly was keeping me up at night. For me it did have at least a little to do with my family or what that name meant to me. But it's best to talk about it, it is oddly personal and can be a hard talk to have. But this guy spent his whole life wanting to make you a better man. Make it clear this is part of that processes and hopefully he'll understand.
posted by French Fry at 10:35 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can't speak to your specific circumstance but I have changed both my first name and my last name and have many friends who have changed their names. I think the best strategy is to just start going by your chosen name. At work you may need a short announcement by email or perhaps at a staff meeting. I would come up with least detailed explanation possible, as in, "I've decided to change my last name to Green so that my long-time partner Jill and I can share a family name." Period.

In my experience, there will be a short period when people will comment behind your back about this, perhaps some minor eye rolling from the more judgmental types. Others will think it's sweet or cool, and a few people will probably be nosy and if I were you I'd be prepared with some short, bursh off answers. Some people will forget your new name. I would correct people or not - I actually didn't and people finally just got used to seeing my different name on my email signature and hearing you introduce yourself with your new name. Then it will be over and everyone will adjust.
posted by latkes at 12:00 PM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, on your dad: I have this issue too. I actually went back to his last name, but my first name was something he chose for me and is strongly from him and I don't use it anymore. I still twinge over this because I didn't change my first name to distance myself from him, on the contrary, I feel enormous fondness and love for him. I don't have an answer, except that since this is your last name, it might not actually come up all that much in your relationship with him.
posted by latkes at 12:03 PM on April 6, 2012


Would you consider keeping your original last name as your new middle name? Become Firstname OldLastname NewLastname, and your father might take it easier than if you dumped his name entirely.
posted by easily confused at 4:31 PM on April 6, 2012


Is there a double standard for men who take their wife's name?

Oh, sure. It's "weird," and some asshole is going to tell you that you're pussy-whipped, and some well-meaning people are going to be deeply concerned about the genealogy research challenges for a 100-years-future cousin or niece. Pfft. Whatever. Tell 'em to pound sand and it's your gorram name.

What is a polite and nondefensive explanation I can give my employer, while maintaining some sort of privacy around the reason for my decision?

You're married -- you have a golden, inarguable defense, which is that it was a Personal Marital Decision. So you say, "my wife and I decided." Oh, why now? Because it's time, because you want to, because 10 years is a nice round number and you're celebrating it by doing something meaningful that you've been wanting to do, etc.

If you seem happy and content and relaxed about it, it'll be a gossip item but not really a big deal. If you're anxious about how people are dealing with it, you'll come off as anxious and people will assume the worst about your anxiety.
posted by desuetude at 10:44 PM on April 6, 2012


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