Thinking about changing my surname.
November 3, 2012 5:07 AM   Subscribe

Using a different surname - practicalities? Logistics? Things to think about?

For personal reasons, I would like to use my mother's maiden surname instead of my father's, in day-to-day life, such as on my resume, at work, on facebook, etc.

Legally, as far as the government/bank/tax office is concerned, my name hasn't changed. I still intend to use the old surname in this situation, and my birth certificate, passport, bank cards, degree/transcript, etc. will all use it. Due to the trail of records extending across several continents, I'd really rather not change this.

Practically and legally (please keep it non-country specific where possible), what issues am I likely to run into?

- Regarding the new surname on a job application (e.g. showing transcript, background checks)
- In general in day-to-day life
- Less concerned about existing friends/family, moreso to people I encounter in the future.
- I'm not married, and not concerned about anything related to kids.
posted by Ashlyth to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
IANAL but I live with a situation similar to this. When my son was born we gave him his father's last name. As we went through the court proceedings, I asked that it be changed back to mine. That change was granted through the court and I have papers saying as such. Those papers have been sent to the state twice and yet, for some reason, I've never been able to get a hold of a legal birth certificate with his name and my name surname. Granted, with a little prodding, I could certainly get it done but he's nearly 8 and up until this point, him using my last name has never been an issue so I've not pushed it. His current birth certificate lists his legal name with his father's surname.

His insurance cards (that his father provides) give my surname. He is registered at school with my surname. His basketball uniform has my surname and his friends call him by my surname. Granted, he's 8 so probably won't run into any legal issues you would (e.g. background checks for a job and the like) but really, it's probably a lot easier than you think to simply switch up your name in daily life. Furthermore, his father and I have discussed changing his name back to his father's surname (after lengthy conversations with our son about it, who is good with either last name) and if I'm not mistaken, the court process to actually do this is not too hard. No lawyer required, fill out the forms, both parents sign off in agreement for the minor child, and after a court appearance, it's done. I'm assuming it'd be even easier for a n adult to initiate this process and get it done.

Barring taking the legal route, I see no repercussions as we have not ran into a single one thus far with our son.
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:28 AM on November 3, 2012

Not sure if it's is a legal thing or just company policy, but my HR dept won't issue business cards or change email addresses unless they have official records of a name change. This comes up when people get married/divorced and want to change their contact info but the company won't do it unless it's official.
posted by headnsouth at 5:45 AM on November 3, 2012

Having two names is a recipe for continual headaches. Logistically, it takes a year or two to replace all the critical stuff, including birth certs, passport, diplomas, etc. Name changes happen all the time and a court order makes the process so much easier. Takes about 2 months to do. Changing to a maternal maiden name is a non-issue for most folks and needs no explanation. By the end of two years, you'll have replaced it all and infrequently, you'll have to deal with some loose end.

Note: Passports in the US don't re-issue on a name change, but if you 'lose' yours and apply for a replacement, you can get the new name on it.

I can't imagine why you'd want to deal with two names, when this is really just a temporary and mostly clerical issue. It will cost you a lot of explanations for the rest of your life; way more than changing everything to one now.

Names are chosen for you, by people who don't know you, and who have no idea of what you'll be or like. It's one of the easiest things to alter about your self-description, sets you firmly in the "I am the master of my life" club, and gives you the chance to cheaply and quickly deal with something you don't have to go through life disliking. It takes a little work, a little self-confidence, a little time. It never ceases to amaze me how many people let life be done TO them instead of taking little steps to fix things they don't like.
posted by FauxScot at 6:01 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Using a name that is not yours on a job application is going to be a headache. At the very least you will need to explain to them when you go in for the interview- and that would piss off a lot of hr people who have already run your background check or googled you before deciding to interview you.

Many people in my industry using informal names professionally, but the companies we work for know their legal names and keep them private. I don't see many issues as long as your day-to-day name doesn't get on any legal papers of contracts.
posted by Blisterlips at 6:12 AM on November 3, 2012

I think this does depend on the countries involved. For example, changing your name in the US doesn't cause massive headaches when you then need to change British documents, but I'd worry the other way round would be a massive pain in the butt because it seems possible to change your name in Britain simply by, er, switching names.

I went to school with someone who used her mother's surname rather than her father's, despite legally having her father's surname. She did work while we were in school, but she would have had to show her employer documents with her legal name on (e.g. a Social Security card or passport for the I-9 form) and I don't know which name she was officially employed under. She was registered at school with her mother's surname, mostly because if Jane Smith shows up and says "I'd like to enroll my daughter" no one is going to think twice if the daughter is also called Smith. However, her 17th or 18th birthday present was her mother and grandmother figuring out how to change her name (they may have had to track down her father), so by the time she finished school her documents all had the right name on.

It has been mentioned on AskMe before that you can tell your bank to list an 'alias' on your account to simplify the problem of getting checks written to the wrong name. AskMe also told me you can endorse a check with both names, which has so far worked for me when I get checks written to my middle name (which isn't on my bank account).

Some job applications will ask for other names and, as mentioned, some companies are stubborn about only using legal names, but I don't think the sort of policy headnsouth describes is obligatory in the US. (For some technical legal reason, my university will only recognise a name change if shown a new Social Security card. A court order or marriage record isn't worth the paper it's printed on. But, paradoxically, you're theoretically allowed to have any name you please on your diploma, though you might have to convince some office. At the same time, there are all sorts of people with university email addresses derived from former surnames.)

"Note: Passports in the US don't re-issue on a name change, but if you 'lose' yours and apply for a replacement, you can get the new name on it.

This is not true in the sense that you don't have to pretend to lose it. If you change your name within a year of getting a new passport, you don't even have to pay for the replacement.
posted by hoyland at 6:13 AM on November 3, 2012

I was a bit unclear. That first paragraph was mean to say 'it depends on the countries involved whether changing your name via some official channel is worth it and/or necessary'. (I imagine there are some countries where what you are proposing would be totally impossible. In the US it would be a headache, but feasible. In Britain, though again I may be wrong about this, it would be simpler.)
posted by hoyland at 6:16 AM on November 3, 2012

Please note: I don't want - at this point - to change my name legally.

I have birth certificates, passports, degrees, bank accounts and other various legal things in (from a rough count) 5 different countries, with incomplete documentation for some of them (it's in currently-inaccessible without international travel storage.)

Each country/institution has different legal requirements for a name-change (outside of marriage) some of which are a lot more complicated than the US. A legal change, cost-wise and practicality-wise, probably isn't worth it, and isn't possible at this point in time. It's certainly a future possibility, however.

To answer a PM: I'm not changing names to hide anything and am unconcerned about people knowing both names, as long as they use my preferred name. The reasons are more along the lines of 'separated parents, mostly raised by Mum, dislike current surname, and would like to change before I start a career.'
posted by Ashlyth at 6:18 AM on November 3, 2012

Just change your name. The time spent to do it now will pale in comparison to potential hassles long term. Just do it and be done with it. Choices sometimes require work, get at it.
posted by wkearney99 at 6:33 AM on November 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

I am totally ignorant about this, so maybe this is a stupid question, but would you actually need to officially change your name in multiple countries? Like, could you just change your name in the country you live in now?

As others have mentioned, your employer (or school) may refuse to use your preferred name if it isn't your official name. This is why I can never find one of my coworkers in the directory: he's listed under his hated first name rather than the middle name he actually goes by. So not-officially changing your name for professional purposes (which I assume is part of what you want since you say "before you start a career") might be difficult.

In general day-to-day life, people are going to take you at your word when you tell them your name. I mean, I guess if they see your driver's license or passport or something, they might ask about it, and then you can explain. People change their names all the time, it's not a big deal. Lots of job applications and applications for government documents like passports and driver's licenses will have a space for other names you've used in the past. Changing your surname as a young adult is a pretty common thing, at least for women.
posted by mskyle at 6:39 AM on November 3, 2012

I know lots of women journalists who continue to write and act professionally under their maiden names but legally change their last names upon marriage. Just use your chosen professional name. If applying for jobs, make sure to let them know that you were previously known as (whatever) before they get to background checks. When you fill out HR paperwork, use your real legal name.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:04 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I legally changed my surname for somewhat similar reasons about twenty years ago. Unfortunately, I suspect what you're doing is going to create a mess.

Right now, you have various documents from five countries in one name. In the future, you'll have those various documents from five countries in one name, plus various other documents in another name, and there'll be overlap between those documents that'll be complex to explain. For example, your passport and drivers' license will be in one name but your CV and job references will be in another. Your work will book you into a conference under your chosen name but you won't have an ID in that name to show at the conference door, or at the hotel, or at the airport. You'll have to rent an apartment under your legal name, but when the landlord calls your workplace to confirm you work there, the receptionist, who only knows your chosen name, will say that you don't. Even something as simple as booking concert tickets to pick up at the box office (which usually requires presenting an ID) can become a hassle.

I live in Australia, so I cannot speak to your individual circumstances, but I never had a problem getting things like bank accounts, passports, etc, put into my newly-legal name. People change their names all the time for all kinds of reasons, and organisations are used to dealing with it. I understand you don't want to change your name legally right now, but if it's only the idea of the effort putting you off (rather than personal/emotional reasons), I think you'll be happier in the long run if you take an all-or-nothing approach.
posted by Georgina at 7:13 AM on November 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I nth legal name change. It's not as bad as you think. I lived out of my home country when I changed my name. All I did was change my name on my passport and on documents in my country of residence. When I moved back to my home country seven years later, I changed my name on all the papers at home then - including bank account, tax ID, records for health insurance and drivers license, etc. There were zero issues having paperwork out of sync for years, mostly because the only active paperwork I needed from my home country was my passport.

Also, you don't change your name on static documents like degrees or birth certificate. If you need to associate those documents with yourself, you supplement those documents with a legal proof of name change.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:45 AM on November 3, 2012

Either change it legally, or use your current (legal) name for all official and work-related documents. Using two different names for official records --- say one for your resume but another for a job application --- is a recipe for even more trouble than you already have with stuff spread over five countries.

*If you insist on using two names, use the non-legal name only for friends, facebook, and that sort of thing: casual stuff.
*Use only your actual legal name for your resume, job interviews, all work and tax-related paperwork, as well as any credit cards, home or car rental applications, passport, school transcripts, etc.
posted by easily confused at 7:57 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I work at a college. We will only put your legal (with shown legal ID) first and last name on a diploma. If you want to put some wacky middle name on there you made up, we don't care (so you could add the new last name in as a middle without issue), but you can't just start calling yourself by another last name without a legal name change and a change to all of your school records. If you want to get a replacement diploma because you changed your name, you can do that, but again, we have to see the legal proof.

I knew a girl who was going by her father's name rather than her mother's throughout school (her parents weren't married at the time of her birth, the country she was born in insisted on her having the mother's name legally). She went through most of school under her dad's name, but I heard later that towards the end of high school/getting into college, this became A Problem legally and she had to start using her legal last name on all records.

I think having two versions of you all over the place is actually a lot worse drama to deal with than officially changing your name in one country. It's one thing to use an alias for your book writing/freelance career, that's more accepted there. I don't know if that's your career, though. But overall, I think in this day and age you're going to get way more in trouble/burned/something with not having legal proof of what you're going by. Work is one of those "official" things that I don't think should be messed with. It will confuse people, it will screw with your paperwork and paychecks, it may make you look shifty to be known under different names without the excuse of "I got married," which is usually the one reason people accept this kind of thing going on.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:14 AM on November 3, 2012

I use 'Kadia' rather than my full name in all aspects of my life including academic publications. However, there are certain things that will only be given to me with my full name (which is a bit different and a lot more complicated). It's no different to being called Elizabeth and being called Liz but it's more similar to your situation because people don't get the relationship between my legal name and my chosen nickname.

The things with my real name include:
Work name badge
Work email address
Work contract
Credit/debit etc cards
Cheque book
Telephone directory

Some of the headaches this has caused me have been:
Confusing my clients and work colleagues a great deal
Arguments with HR
People writing cheques that my bank will not cash, likewise bank transfers to the wrong name
People booking tickets or flights in names that do not match my ID
Not being able to pick up post/orders where the name on the parcel does not match my ID

Basically it's a pain in the neck and I would suggest not doing this if you have any other options. At least mine is only my first name which people are occasionally willing to be flexible with!

On the other hand, my sister changed her first name legally just before she qualified as a doctor and is successfully using that for absolutely everything.
posted by kadia_a at 10:09 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

To change name legally in many countries one need to do it in only one jurisdiction. Your lawyer will tell you in which one.

Changing a name is simple conflict of laws problem and is routinely handled by authorities.
posted by przepla at 3:14 PM on November 3, 2012

Work + fake name (unless you are a fashion designer or other non-corporate creative) is a no go.

When you apply for a job at most corporation or government sponsored entities they will run a background check. You don't want anything on your resume that is legally untrue.

It's much much much easier to have your personal/social name be your non-legal name than your work name.
posted by French Fry at 5:01 PM on November 3, 2012

« Older Best pipettors for a biology lab   |   Can't Connect both Windows Latop & iPad to... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.