A rose by any other name...
August 13, 2010 6:06 AM   Subscribe

Changing my surname back to my maiden name years after a divorce - please give me your advice.

So I got married at 21, divorced at 23 (no kids) but unfortunately this was by the time I'd graduated from a bachelors and was well through a master's degree. Both degrees carry the married name. At the time of divorce I also had a few scientific publications and had established a rather widespread professional network (cross-canada), so when faced with the prospects of looking for jobs or seeking out a possible ph.d., I hesitated to change my name for fear of losing my reputation with it. And now I'm 27 and I've been working in my new career for about a year, where networking has become even more important and I've already been getting some very good exposure.

The maiden name is pretty common, but the married name is fairly unique, more memorable, so it's easy to stand out with it - a reason to stick with it. And I don't really know how hard it will be to switch back to my maiden name, if my career is at risk for suffering from it.

But reasons to get rid of the name... it sounds spanish, and I don't look like I could possibly be from any spanish-speaking country. So that's a little socially awkward. I'm also a little concerned about future prospects for a serious relationship and getting married again. The idea of having to announce to everyone that my parents have a different surname than me is awkward, having to announce I'm a divorcee. And I don't know if I would change my name again, if I did get married - would depend on when. I couldn't stay with my "divorced" name in that event, though, that doesn't seem right. Ideally i'd prefer to just change it straight to the new husband's name, but that doesn't seem right either.

So I can't decide, hence the procrastination for so long already. I don't know how hard it is to change a surname for someone who depends on their name for professional reasons. How did you handle it? Can I get my degree changed to have my old maiden name, especially when the university had me registered under both? Would it really be so bad to just keep the name a while longer? Would it be worse to change it in a few years when I know more people personally instead of solely on a professional level? How would a guy feel about my situation, if he were to be wanting something more formal between us?

Food for thought, please!
posted by lizbunny to Society & Culture (26 answers total)
Perhaps you could do the reverse of what an executive I know has done:

In business, her name is something like Jenny Santorini. This is her maiden name, and the diminutive that everyone called her growing up. It's her professional name because she started at the company where she is now CEO when she was 18. Eventually, she was married and started her family. Her legal name (and the name she uses socially) is something like Jennifer Miller. (She never really liked Jenny much anyway, but since the company she runs is employee owned and has lots of folks there with long memories, she never could get away from it at work.)

Taking a cue from her, you could remain Lizbunny Garcia for business purposes, but be Lizbunny Jones legally and socially. Doing so might also be a good way to filter any potential beaux: if anyone gives you shit for still being Lizbunny Garcia professionally, even if they know you've given up that name in the more intimate, less public parts of your life, is showing himself to be a boor, and not worth being involved with.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:24 AM on August 13, 2010

My mom has kept her married name since my parents' divorce 20 years ago. I think she likes the uniqueness of it and has published a few books under the name. I don't think she ever or would ever consider changing it.

I would think explaining where the name came from might be a bit awkward as you mention, but I don't think the awkwardness bothers her.
posted by chiefthe at 6:29 AM on August 13, 2010

My mother retained her married name for many years due to publications and professional reputation. She changed her name back to her maiden name 10 years into her second marriage as her anniversary gift. I know that it was a decision she's often told me she wishes she'd made sooner than later. Just remember that to do it, it will now be a formal name change case.
posted by Zophi at 6:30 AM on August 13, 2010

Could you change your last name to one you pick? Then you don't have the issues of sticking with the common maiden name or the last name it sounds like it bothers you to still be carrying around awkwardly.

Transitionally speaking I just had a male co-worker change his first and last name. Basically all he did was send e-mails out to important relevant people about the change giving them as much or as little detail as he felt necessary. We all stumbled over his first name for 3 months and now he just is the new name and no one cares. In terms of degrees and registrars he hasn't dealt with actually changing the name, but was intending to send name change paperwork along with the transcripts and degrees and whatnot when necessary.
posted by edbles at 6:33 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh and for a couple of months had the old name in parenthesis under the new name so that anyone he missed in the intital bought of e-mails would have an opportunity to ask about it/know what was up.
posted by edbles at 6:48 AM on August 13, 2010

I changed my name back, but like you, it did take me a little while to get around to it. One of the reasons I changed it back was because it was a French last name, and my first name is also a popular French name. They sounded nice together, but in the work setting, I had people asking me if I was French and it really started to bother me because that would mean I had to bring up my ex in a place where I wanted to avoid talking about my personal life.

People will forget, people will leave the company, your job will change. Don't hang on to a name you don't want for those reasons alone. Put LizBunny Maiden (formerly MarriedName) in your e-mail signature and note it in your voicemail. Most people who assume you got married, and I chose to handle that by making a joke about it so people wouldn't feel too awkward about their incorrect guess.

My college degree has a different name on it, which I don't care about because I just list that name when necessary. It hasn't ever been an issue.
posted by smalls at 6:52 AM on August 13, 2010

My mom's first name is Carmen and she is neither Spanish nor Italian. She went to a school with a decent Hispanic population and whenever anyone looked for a Carmen, they never expected it to be the fair-skinned German. Did it actually cause any problems? No. Do people act surprised or insulted that you aren't Hispanic? If not, then I don't think this is a problem.

I couldn't ever imagine changing my name, I've had this name for close to 30 years, it's who I am. When you think about yourself, what do you feel most comfortable being called? That should be your name.

As for losing reputation, that's something you're going to have to consider, there's no way to associate your new name (if you do change) with your old papers, etc. The names on your degrees don't matter. Some colleges will even give you a new physical degree with your new name on it, as long as you pay for it, but it's not necessary.
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:08 AM on August 13, 2010

I would change your name by adding your maiden name in with your old name so that you are now FirstName MaidenName Lastname. That way you feel like you are gaining back some of your old identity and people would start to associate your maiden name with you. Then if you decide upon getting married that you cannot keep your married name then you can drop it and either not take on your new husband's name or just go by your maiden name. So you would have a choice of FirstName MaidenName NewLastname or FirstName MaidenName.

This reminds me of Hillary Rodham Clinton. When Bill was in office I think that she mostly went by Hillary Clinton, but as she started to branch out on her own she went more by Hillary Rodham Clinton. I could be wrong about this, but this is how I remember her.

I think that you may expect some teasing from people that know you well, but I think that for a lot of people they will just assume that you either kept your maiden name, but you weren't using it as much or that you want to be more distinct. I don't necessarily think it will be connected to a life change.
posted by aetg at 7:19 AM on August 13, 2010

I've been divorced for 2 years, so not nearly as long as you. I chose not to change back to my married name when I divorced because my entire current career has been under my married name. Also, because my married name is rather common.

My main reason for not changing my name back (aside from career reasons) was that I make the name...it doesn't make me. For me, it's just a word and my actions are what define it (by no means am I tarnishing his family name...actually the opposite). The ex's family (what's left of them) are all in the same town, including him. To be honest, had I moved back to that town, I would have changed my name back in order to no longer be associated with them (they aren't a horrible family, but they've got some drama attached to their name). But I live in a different state and since nobody here knows the family, I basically have a clean slate.

Why would taking a new husband's name straight from your current name seem wrong to you? I plan on getting married again someday, and I'll take my new husband's name at that point (or change to my maiden name-new married name combo...we'll see). At some point you will tell your history to anyone you get serious with so they'll know long before marriage comes into the picture that you are divorced. It's not necessarily first date material, but it will probably come out sooner rather than later. If he takes off, that's OK...it just wasn't a match.

I've also tested out using my maiden name-current name hyphenated professionally but haven't really done anything with that.

I can't really tell you what to do, but I did wrestle with the question of changing my name less than a year after the divorce because my ex got remarried and for some reason I didn't want to have the same last name as the new wife (probably because she came onto the scene under some dubious circumstances, but whatever. Not my life). After thinking about it, it wasn't so much the name that was bothering me, but it was more about settling into my new "identity" and getting used to being my own person again. So I'm back to being OK with the name. After all, it's just a word that I get to define.
posted by MultiFaceted at 7:25 AM on August 13, 2010

I like ocherdraco's suggestion. You could be Lizbunny Garcia Jones or Lizbunny Jones Garcia legally, so both names are there, and then go by Jones socially and Garcia professionally. That's not odd at all, and if both are in your legal name, lots of people will assume it's just a middle name choice thing, not even a divorce issue. (Probably they'll assume your middle name is either your maiden name and you're married, or, if they know you're not, that your middle name is your mother's maiden name.)

McGee is my maiden and legal name, but all the time I go by HusbandLastName (we'll say Smith) socially. For that matter, Husband frequently goes by McGee socially. :) Nobody thinks anything of it. Generally when I give someone I only know socially my business card, or tell them to contact me professionally, I just say, "I go by Smith socially, but McGee is my legal name," or just, "I use McGee professionally." Nobody ever even asks why, it's very common, especially for women.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:45 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I didn't change my name the first time I got married; the second time, I already had a pile of movie credits as Fairytale Boston and wanted to change my last name.

Legally I'm Fairytale Los Angeles; at the end of the credits, my office knows that I prefer "Fairytale Boston Los Angeles."
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:47 AM on August 13, 2010

A woman I knew in grad school married and divorced twice while I knew her, and changed her name each time. She contacted the registrars at all the schools from which she'd graduated and got new diplomas issued (with appropriate paperwork, I think).
posted by catlet at 7:54 AM on August 13, 2010

Somewhat similarly, I moved from the US to Canada and changed my maiden name to my (first) married name for my first marriage at 23, which only lasted for two years. But all of my ID and immigration papers were under that name, and so were the degrees for my education for my field at the time, and many connections took place under that name. In that short time, it became more complicated to legally change my name back. It was no longer one simple form. But that name, which was Jewish, also helped to get me in the door with one particular job, and it was useful for that reason (I'm not stereotyping - back then, here in Toronto, in the field of high-end estate jewellery and auctions, Jewish helped) so I kept it. I also liked it better than my maiden name, which was nothing to be ashamed of - but is the name commonly used as the butt of all Polish jokes and that did come up sometimes. (And my grandma's name was STELLA. Truth.) I met my current husband soon after splitting up with the old one, and we were together for about six years before we married and my only regret is that my old married name is the name on my current marriage certificate. We've been married almost eight years now, and haven't mentioned either of our previous marriages to our six year old daughter yet, and some day there'll be questions to answer because of that I guess. There's one reason to change it sooner rather than later, if that's going to ever be an issue.

At any rate, to answer your question, what I did was to just assume my new married name (which is legal here) and to use my old married name as a middle name with my new married name. So, I was Pea Kitty Good for around three years. Then, as it was time to renew any ID or information, I'd update it with the name change form to just Pea Good. It was a pretty smooth transition. If people commented on the name change early on, when it was still a duo, I was able to say "got married!", though you'd be able to just say "resuming my maiden name" and move on. As I grew older and gained more and more experience and a strong client base under the new name, my old married name mattered less. There's a point where nobody wants to actually see your degrees, not even hanging on the wall, including yourself; and now the only legal documents it exists on are my landed immigrant paper and my current marriage certificate. My birth certificate still has my maiden name, of course, as most will. No problem there, and changing it on my Social Security and SIN cards was as simple as showing the current id with the change form.

So, I'd say resume/assume your maiden name in conjunction with your professional name as soon as you're able; change your professional name where you can on documents if you like and if you can; and let the old married name fall away when it will. And then there'll come a time when, as Brian Puccio says, your name is just part of who you are, and I'll say it's not the largest part.

For that matter, I kind of like how my name changes coincided with three periods of growth in my life, and was glad for the opportunity to take a new name at each time.
posted by peagood at 7:58 AM on August 13, 2010

My non-Hispanic mother still has my dad's last name, over 20 years post-divorce. That's not really a thing to worry about. Yeah, she did it to match with mine, but really, nobody looks at her funny.

I like ocherdraco's suggestion to use one professionally and one socially, but I think from your question, you seem like you'd be happiest going back to your name.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:27 AM on August 13, 2010

Response by poster: I appreciate all the responses so far, still not decided though. I'm still wondering what the guys think regarding a girl with her ex's last name, or his friends/family. I'd like an honest answer - sketchy or no? What would they think if I didn't change it?

I've just started dating someone who I'm really into, it's what got me thinking I might want to finally change it. Of course I'll ask him next time we talk, but I wanted to give this some thought as to what the general consensus really is. I know, I know, f*** the general concensus, people close to me won't care, etc.
posted by lizbunny at 9:40 AM on August 13, 2010

I have never known anyone who thought it was weird or not that someone had not changed her name after a divorce. Your name is your name. It is not your ex's.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:45 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

If anyone were to look up those papers and see Lizbunny oldname, you could mention it on your CV something like:

Papers published:

2005, Super Awesome Paper, Prestigious Journal, pg 45, (published as Lizbunny oldname)
posted by fontophilic at 9:58 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

My husband, who is a little old school, understands that I carry my previous husband's name because it's how I established my professional reputation. However, he admits to a little jealousy that I changed my name for the ex instead of him. I have considered reverting to my maiden name when I retire; my husband, would, I think, prefer that I switch to his last name then. In our case, there's an added complication--we're in the same field and our first names are nearly identical (think Angelo and Angela)--which makes it easier to evade the issue now.
posted by carmicha at 9:58 AM on August 13, 2010

oops; I mean "changed my name for the ex but not for him." How I wish we could edit our typos away after posting!
posted by carmicha at 9:59 AM on August 13, 2010

Just be careful---- I changed my name back, but on the paperwork forgot to list my middle name. Legally, I don't have one anymore. Just one more thing I lost in the divorce, I guess.
posted by From the Fortress at 10:17 AM on August 13, 2010

Previously. I ended up switching back to my original family name. When I was in the hospital with an illness, my parents and brother visited me every day but I never even thought to contact my ex. It dawned on me soon after that it made more sense to use my own family name because my ties to my family name were stronger and more meaningful to me.

Before I reverted the name, I did encounter people who thought it strange to still be using my married name, and it attracted somewhat intrusive questions about the current state of the relationship where such questions were not warranted. I never took those people terribly seriously, but it's something to watch out for. I don't ever plan to take on a different name again should I every remarry. I have much more pride in my family name now because it's my choice.
posted by mochapickle at 10:45 AM on August 13, 2010

I'm still wondering what the guys think regarding a girl with her ex's last name, or his friends/family.

I know one woman who didn't change her last name back to her maiden name after her divorce and then got remarried and changed it. My wife didn't change her name at all. Another women reverted to her maiden name after her divorce and then just kept the damn thing when she got remarried.

Some guys will freak out, some guys won't care. I have to confess that I would find it a little odd if I married you and you kept your name from your ex-husband (you were willing to change your name for him but not me?), but I'd get over it. Some guys wouldn't. People, as always, are different.

I really wouldn't worry about it. Change it if you want to, don't change it if you don't want to. Don't let the fact that your name is Hispanic and you aren't change anything (I know white guys with Chinese last names, a part-Indian woman with the last name of Smith, a blonde-haired blue-eyed Portuguese woman, and Sonia Gandhi is Italian. We really should be used to this stuff by now).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:00 AM on August 13, 2010

I'm still wondering what the guys think regarding a girl with her ex's last name, or his friends/family.

I can't imagine anyone on earth caring about what someone else's name is. Shakespeare was right.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:53 AM on August 13, 2010

My former mother-in-law kept her maiden name legally and uses it professionally. Since she's in the same field as her husband, it lets them have distinct identities. But socially she goes by his last name, as do their children.

I didn't change my name when I got married. Now I'm divorced and I still have the same name.

You are very young and it's early in your career. If I were you, I'd pick another name (either your maiden name or something else) and stay with it professionally, and I would pick something that might not incur jealousy in a future partner. Then you can choose to be whatever name you want socially. It's great freedom.

As far as telling everyone, I deal with a great number of people through work, and this kind of thing happens all the time. There are a few slip-ups every now and then, but five years from now, you'll be updating your CV and thinking, "Wow, I used to have that last name! How weird! No one in my professional field would know me by that name now."
posted by aabbbiee at 12:04 PM on August 13, 2010

Well, perhaps I'm odd, but at no point when we were getting married did I not assume that Herself would not keep her own name. It's probably not an exaggeration to say that if she'd been the type who wanted to change her name to mine I'd have been slightly less likely to marry her in the first place. Then again, we were old enough that changing names would have been a major pain in the arse and probably have cost real money in lost business to her. And it doesn't help that my own name is a) adoptive anyway and b) I've never liked it because it's weird and there's only so many tens of thousands of times you have to spell it to fucking everybody always until it becomes tiresome.

My mother acquired the same name (but was a singer with a stage name, which she used exclusively in her work life, even to the extent that her forename was different depending on how people knew her). So, professionally-speaking, this guy can say that you're not even slightly as weird, namewise, as most performers.

She kept her married name after quitting work for the twenty years between divorce and when she died. She said it was because she liked it (and I can remember exactly how she spelled it incessantly for other people from repetition) though on reflection I wonder if it wasn't because her children had his surname. None of her work-era friends called her by her legal name though, and never had.

A contemporary of my own, though, is now divorced from someone she (for extremely good reason) wants no association with whatsoever despite the fact that her son and she share his surname at the moment. She's started to re-insert her original surname in the middle - which in the UK is far less normal than it is in the US because over here two surnames is usually a signifier of poshness or pretension. I've been assuming it's part of a transition towards ditching the married surname at some point in the future, but these things take a while and I know she won't ditch the married surname until people in general naturally gravitate towards putting the emphasis on her first rather than her second surname -- if she eventually does it at all.

(To others who are young or unmarried enough to not have been here yet: Really. Don't change your name. Lots of marriages don't work, marriages not working isn't so odd that anyone you'd want to marry should care either way about names, and that guys never have to worry about this shit really ought to be your tip that there's something inequitable about the whole thing.)
posted by genghis at 7:47 PM on August 13, 2010

I'm about to marry a guy who was neither put off by my having kept my married name nor upset about having to explain to his very traditional, VERY conservative Catholic mom and Greek dad that he was marrying a divorced woman who had kept her ex-husband's name.

In fact, when he proposed, he made a point of saying "will you marry me, First Name Middle Name Maiden Name Married Name?" with a huge grin.

Now, before that, he'd never really questioned why I kept it, but I did discuss it with him briefly before I met his folks, which is how I'd learned about him already telling them I was a divorcee and that my mother's name was different, father's name, sisters, etc. because we are a blended family.

I kept my married name for many of the reasons you cited; as an editor with almost a decade of publication history myself, it made sense. I also believe that in this life, you go forwards, damn the consequences, and learn from your mistakes. So no, I never went back to my maiden name, though it is unique, well-loved and I am the last in the family to have borne it and carry my grandfather's insignia ring with that initial.

And despite having published under my maiden name and my current name, I have no qualms whatsoever about taking my fiance's name in a few months.

It's a name that's difficult to pronounce and spell to some, which is why I'm having cards with my new name printed up to have on hand shortly after the wedding. Again, me personally, I'm going forward -- and being prepared about it. I'll just have my name changed on the publication masthead, use both names briefly during the transitional period, then get on with my life.

One note, though; as others have mentioned upthread, when I divorced, I requested my maiden name become my middle name, so technically, depending on which documents of mine you read, I will soon have four or five names; I plan to legally have my name be First Name Middle Name Maiden Name NEW Married Name and no longer include my ex-husband's name on anything, with the exception of the aforementioned CV references.

Maybe my guy is a shining star of an exception, but he's made a point of meeting my ex-husband and being cordial to him. We both believe that every experience in our pasts led us to becoming the people we needed to be when we met and fell in love, and jealousy and regret have no place in that journey. Neither of us would change a thing; however, he's said that originally he felt divorced women or women with children might not be right for him, but once he met me, none of that mattered.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:12 PM on August 14, 2010

« Older Yogurt sauces. I want to make some.   |   Antique Carpentry Charts Online? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.