Changing your name...some of the time?
February 26, 2014 3:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm getting married, and am considering what to do about changing my name. My finance and I both like the idea of changing my name, both for personal and practical reason -- we are both sort of traditional when it comes to things like this, both like the idea of both having the same name as our kids, our names sound awful hyphenated, etc. That said, I worry about this professionally.

Specifically, it is almost never done in my profession -- of all the married women I know through my career, the only ones who have changed their names are over the age of 60. I do have a professional name out there, including on publications, and I worry about both the impression it would make and the potential confusion for people searching for my past work.

I know some people use different names in different settings (professional versus personal), but this sounds potentially annoying/complicated/confusing as well.

I'm curious as to:
a) What you did if you were faced with a similar dilemma
b) What the potential legal/practical issues are with changing one's name 'officially' but still going by a maiden name professionally
posted by rainbowbrite to Human Relations (43 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If your husband does not face the same professional dilemma, perhaps he could just change his name and then you could all have the same name.

I kept my name. I could not fathom the loss to my personal brand if I changed my name. No one would know how to look me up on social media or even in the phone book. People who called an office looking for me would be lost. I already experienced this when I made a change to the pronunciation of my name in college. When I saw how even that caused confusion and led to calls being missed, I realized that I would never change my name. Even recently, 20+ years later, I was at a meeting with an old college friend who introduced me to an audience using my former pronunciation. And then I had to correct her. It was a shame, as the discussions she'd had of me up till that point were using my former pronunciation. I see that as a loss of brand identity or else brand confusion.

I had a boss who went by her birth name at work. But she put "Jane Doe Smith" on her door. That was just in case the school ever phoned asking for Mrs. Smith. But, honestly, I have kids at school and I am involved with the school and I don't think anyone would ever mix up who I am. In fact, they're more likely to call my cell or a direct line. Nobody calls into a switchboard these days. Nobody has ever seemed confused about my kids have a different name.

I know more than a few families where the kids' have mom's easier to spell name or where the whole family changed to mom's name, sometimes because of mom's publications and academic work, and so on. Where I live, most people keep their names, at least in professional circles. Maybe some school teachers change names (those are the only instances I can think of), but most of the professionals I know kept their names. I actually generally associate keeping one's name with being a professional - almost like a class marker or something. (Not that I mean this as a negative - it's probably confirmation bias, but it seems the way.)
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 3:57 PM on February 26, 2014 [11 favorites]

I have published work and am known in my field under my maiden name. When I got married I added my husband's last name to the end (not hyphenated, just a space in between) so that I can use his last name or my maiden name interchangeably. It hasn't been particularly annoying to me. No legal issues, aside from making sure that when I book travel that I use whatever last name is on the form of ID I plan to show.
posted by joan_holloway at 3:58 PM on February 26, 2014 [14 favorites]

Among lawyers, it is very common for a woman to continue to use the name she used before marriage in the profession, while still taking her husband's name for other purposes.
posted by yclipse at 4:03 PM on February 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

My mother (a musician) changed her name when she got married but just kept right on using her maiden name for professional reasons. My partner works under a name that's not the one on his birth certificate - he has a bank account under the stage name. Neither have reported any problems with this situation. The "stage name" thing is very common among performers.
posted by emilyw at 4:06 PM on February 26, 2014

I do this for my sideline profession. The only real issue I've had is getting checks made out to First Name Maiden Name, and having a bank account for First Name Married Name. You just endorse the check as Married Name, and walk it in to a human the first few times it happens. YMMV, because I don't do this with my day to day job, but I think it's totally doable.
posted by rainbaby at 4:07 PM on February 26, 2014

Then don't do it professionally. I understand the need for continuity of names to keep your name out there. And in your private life and every other aspect but professional, you can adopt whatever name you wish.
posted by inturnaround at 4:09 PM on February 26, 2014

As for b), you may need to make sure that the name you want to be paid under is the one that matches your social security card (assuming you're an American). I changed my name on my drivers license and banking accounts when I married, but I never bothered to change my social security card from my birth name (long story). When I started new jobs during the short time I was using my married name, there was often a lot of confusion during onboarding because the ID didn't match. In one job, this issue ended up being escalated to the executive level because no one really knew what to do with it. I even got a letter from SSA(!).

This was 10 years ago, and at this point I'd never change my name for anyone. And I hate to admit it, but I have an instant bias against young, accomplished professional women who change their names. It's unfair, I know, and I am working to overcome it. But I am not the only one who feels this way.

Possible to keep your birth name and just use your married name socially?
posted by mochapickle at 4:10 PM on February 26, 2014 [9 favorites]

In my profession (law), it really didn't make sense to change my name to my husband's and I kept mine.

Be aware, too, that legally changing your name to Brand Husband means Brand Husband''s your name unless you legally change it back. In these days when it is damn hard to fly without a completely consistent ID, that can be significant. For example, my poor husband, who has been known all his life by his middle name, has been forced to return to using his much disliked first name to fly.
posted by bearwife at 4:21 PM on February 26, 2014

I know some people use different names in different settings (professional versus personal), but this sounds potentially annoying/complicated/confusing as well.

It's not.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:35 PM on February 26, 2014 [14 favorites]

It's really easy to use two names.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:39 PM on February 26, 2014

Generally speaking, under common law, you can go by any name you wish to as long as you are not doing so to defraud someone.

I have experience paying checks to, and accepting checks from, performing artists who use stage names. That is, people who decided the classical music world would be more accepting of "Cecilia Tetrazzini" than "Cindy Tompkins" and had their checks printed as "Cecilia Tetrazzini, aka Cindy Tompkins". My boss at that job used her birth name professionally, but her checks went to "Sandy Husbandsname". And I ONLY found out about this when it was time to pay them or take their money. Other than that, no issues.

I advise you to consider the legal, financial, and professional implications of *using* a name versus *changing to* a name. For example, I kept my birth name when I married, and although my grandmother writes checks to Hypatia Husbandsname, and my other grandmother sends mail to Hypatia Lastname Husbandsname, I never have problems. (Seriously, carry a small copy of your marriage license in your wallet, it works for me.)

In your case, if you legally changed your name to your husband's, could you still publish under your birth name? I really think publications would let you do so--I urge you not to "throw away" your previous years of work and experience! And again, I think the only people who will care about your "legal" name is H. R. -- and once they've checked your ID and your tax returns, you're good. Consider the number of people born "Sarah" who have "Sally" on the company webpage--no one gives them crap about it.
posted by Hypatia at 4:51 PM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd become Rainbow Brite Smith professionally (and legally), even if you're changing to going by Rainbow Smith personally. Make your maiden name your middle name and take his name as your last name, and then go by all three professionally.
posted by amaire at 5:35 PM on February 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

On preview (and the site coming back up) I was going to say what Hyapatia said about checks to/from actresses.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:44 PM on February 26, 2014

I legally kept my maiden name when I married, and in most family-related public contexts I end up getting called Mrs. Husbandsname anyway. I'd say the easiest route to your desired endpoint is going to be keeping your maiden name for professional AND legal contexts (so that your professional name is also the one on your paycheck, etc.) and just, as Hypatia suggests, using your husband's name in family-related contexts. It's not like the playgroup is going to ask to see your Social Security card, anyway. And there's no reason your children can't just have your husband's last name; ime this has never been an issue.
posted by Bardolph at 5:50 PM on February 26, 2014

Why doesn't your husband change his name? Then your whole family can have the same last name without you and your husband implying by accordance with a tradition that your husband owns you and that you are now HIS wife, and HE is the head of the household.
posted by Blitz at 5:58 PM on February 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think the OP already mentioned that she and her husband are "sort of traditional" about this, which would rule out having the husband change his name.
posted by BurntHombre at 6:07 PM on February 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just to be clear since some answers seem to be missing this, I WANT to change my name, and not only for practical reasons. I am 100% for other people doing whatever they want with their names upon marriage (or otherwise), but my fiance and I tend to be more traditional/conservative when it comes to our personal relationship. I get all the negative historical connotations, etc. but honestly it just feels right to me on a personal level, and it makes me sad to have to compromise about this for professional reasons. But, I do worry that the professional implications are very real, especially since, as mochapickle points out, a lot of people do have a (conscious or unconscious) bias against it.

Sounds like a lot of people do go by both depending on the context, and seem to encounter less problems with it than I would have thought, which is good! I may end up going with Firstname Maidenname Husbandsname, which is okay, although I LOVE my middle name and am only so-so about my (maiden) last name. Maybe I will keep all four and make forms a nightmare. :)
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:09 PM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like what Bardolph said and plan to do it myself: keep my maids name on official ID and such (I have certifications in this name) and just go by Mrs Hisname socially.
posted by JoannaC at 6:10 PM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

The original Jessamyn West's birth name was Mary Jessamyn West, her writer name stayed the same her entire life as Jessamyn West and her married name which is how she was known socially was Mary Jessamyn McPherson. This is a thing that a lot of people do and it's not that complex.

If I were you, I would not worry about the bias aspect of it, people are going to have biases on both (all?) sides and try to figure out how you'd really prefer to be known. If you're still early-career, it's easy enough (thanks to authority control and your local librarians) to link up your past work with your current/new name if that is otherwise what you really want to do in your heart of hearts.
posted by jessamyn at 6:17 PM on February 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Two names is easier than you think it is.

First Maiden for professional settings. First Maiden Husbands for personal and legal situations. No one bats an eye at this, and any confusion is easily and quickly sorted out.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:22 PM on February 26, 2014

I say, if you really want to do it, just go while hog and change your name personally and professionally. You can make sure to include "as Rainbow Maidenname" on your CV/headshots/whatever and make sure to get everything well-linked on whatever personal and professional websites you might have. It might cause a slight amount of confusion or bias, but if it really means that much to you, and a compromise will leave you unsatisfied, then I think it is well worth it.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:24 PM on February 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

My sisters both took their husbands's names, but use their maiden names professionally.
I use a different last name professionally than my given name for various reasons. It hasn't caused me any issues, and I don't think it has caused my sisters any issues, either.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 6:27 PM on February 26, 2014

I'm not married, but I work with a lot of professional women who do a lot of publishing and maintain professional certifications. Those who change their names legally and professionally upon marriage and divorce go through hassles I wouldn't wish on anybody, and they tend to rub off on their colleagues.

My advice is to keep your maiden name as your legal last name and continue to use it professionally. It will make your life and the lives of everyone you will work with over the course of your career so much easier, especially if you travel for your profession.

Then, for all other purposes besides work and legal documents, you can use your husband's last name.

You might consider taking your husband's last name as a legal middle name, even if that leaves you with two middle names. (e.g., if you're Mary Ann Smith marrying John Robert Jones, but you really like and want to keep the Ann, there's no reason you can't be Mary Ann Jones Smith, with both Ann and Jones being middle names.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:06 PM on February 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have all four names, and it really isn't much of a nightmare. I hyphenate at work, but just use our in-common last name otherwise. An added bonus is that I know where someone knows me from based on the name they use.
posted by bizzyb at 7:15 PM on February 26, 2014

My legal first name is not the same as the name I use at work (and the name I have been known by all of my life). My passport is under my legal name, so I must book tickets using my legal name. I carry around my company ID in case someone asks, but there are very few hassles.

Several people I know have 2 middle names by birth (or a space between their first name, such as Mary Anne), so having 4 names is not that rare.
posted by xmts at 7:26 PM on February 26, 2014

A coworker legally changed her name when she got married recently. She uses her birth name professionally. She is her husband's last name for tax ID and health insurance and everything in her personal life, but her birth name for all of her work life. It has not been an issue even a little bit for us at work.
posted by phunniemee at 7:39 PM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Depending on the nature of your work, it's probably at worst a temporary transition anyway. Once everyone knows you and your new name, you can bring up the old one if specifically relevant but presumably you will be building work/reputation/etc with the new name.

My ex-wife changed her name and just dealt with pointing everyone to the new name/etc for a while. That said, by the time we divorced she was successful enough under that name (and used it for her company name, in advertising, etc) that she kept my name after the divorce, so the specific details of your job / what people need to find/know about your name probably matter.

(Also included that to point out that if you do change your name and something happens in the future, you're not obligated to change it back if you actually did divorce! Not that most people worry about that scenario in this way when getting married :) )
posted by wildcrdj at 7:44 PM on February 26, 2014

I'm just going to throw this out there. If you want to change your name, just go ahead and do it. I changed my name, even getting married after the ripe old age of 30. It's really not that hard. I hesitated for a little while, but once I made the switch, it was super easy. Do keep a copy or two of your marriage certificate for future needs. (I'm still using it occasionally, 5 years later.)

I've known others who hyphenated, just because they were afraid of the consequences, and now they're stuck with a long cumbersome name that they didn't really want.

Don't worry about what others might think. Trust your gut, and do what you want. Will there be little hiccups? Probably. But if it makes you happy, and bonds you more to your husband, then do it.
posted by hydra77 at 9:57 PM on February 26, 2014

When I married, I began using my maiden surname as my middle name. Professionally, I use all three names: (first) (maiden) (married).
posted by summerstorm at 10:21 PM on February 26, 2014

Whatever you decide, check to be sure that you will have, or be able to get, the proper form(s) of ID in the proper name for voting. A recent change in Texas law, for example, is proving glitchy for women who, because of name changes related to marriage or divorce, end up with a different name on their current official ID than the name already on file with the elections board.
posted by Corvid at 12:49 AM on February 27, 2014

I know some people use different names in different settings (professional versus personal), but this sounds potentially annoying/complicated/confusing as well.

Only if you are completely random about which one you use when. I go by my surname, his surname, and a combination of the two, but I seem to choose depending on how I feel at the time and then forget later which one I've used, which means I occasionally call up a company and say "Hello, it's Jane Doe...oh actually you might have me as Jane Doe Smith...or maybe just Jane Smith?", which makes me sound slightly unhinged but even then we all cope. Just having one name professionally and one for everything else would be an absolute breeze.

I may end up going with Firstname Maidenname Husbandsname, which is okay, although I LOVE my middle name and am only so-so about my (maiden) last name. Maybe I will keep all four and make forms a nightmare. :)

I have all four names on everything official, and it's very doable indeed!
posted by raspberry-ripple at 3:24 AM on February 27, 2014

I know people who changed their middle name to their maiden name so they could go by either if they really wanted to and they go by all three names at work.

If it ever becomes an issue for me I might flip that convention and replace my middle name or have two middle names and keep my maiden name as my last name. To be this would be better because legally my first and last name would change, but socially I could use my married name for things like picking the kids up at school.

Also I know a ton of women who said they were going to change their name and just.... never did except on Facebook. Socially they still go by their married name and I guess they might actually change it eventually, it doesn't seem to have caused them any issues.
posted by whoaali at 3:39 AM on February 27, 2014

I LOVE my middle name and am only so-so about my (maiden) last name. Maybe I will keep all four and make forms a nightmare. :)

Hey OP, I have two middle names, I love them both, and forms aren't such a nightmare - they've never caused me any problems!
posted by greenish at 3:46 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Those of you who have four names, do you know what the limit on forms tends to be? We are considering this for our future son, but his name would have 28 letters, plus spaces (17 plus a space for the two middle names). My own (birth and current) name has 26 for three names, but I haven't had a problem (except in the olden days of email, when apparently last names could only have 10 letters...).

Sorry to piggyback, but hopefully this is a useful comment for the OP and others that would look at the answers...
posted by Pax at 4:30 AM on February 27, 2014

All of my degrees prior to my marriage are listed as FirstName MaidenName and after are listed as FirstName MaidenName MarriedName with my legal name being FirstName MiddleName MaidenName MarriedName shown as two middle name instead of two last names. That way when anyone Google's me they get all of me, not just married or single me. It's worked really well for me. There was an adjustment period where people got used to the new last name but in general people just said congratulations and switched what they called me.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 4:35 AM on February 27, 2014

I was lazy and did an unofficial hyphenation of my last name. My official documentation is all in my maiden name (passport, social security card) my driver's license has the hyphenate, and socially I have Husbunny's last name.

Reservations are tricky, so are visits to the doctor's office.

What I recommend for you is to officially change your last name to your husband's last name, and change your middle name to your maiden name.

This is what my mother did. So her name is now:

FirstName MaidenName MarriedName

Her names would have sounded DREADFUL hyphenated (my hyphenated name is the opposite of poetry).

Everyone who needed to find her professionally, could easily do that, but she was always Mrs. LastName.

Would that work for you?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:26 AM on February 27, 2014

I have all four names, and it really isn't much of a nightmare.
As do I. Having all 4 of them on my driver's license makes it easy to show that I am both Sarah MaidenName and Sarah MarriedName. I didn't change the names on my bank accounts for several months, but neither one had any problems with my direct deposit that used my married name. If I had physical checks to deposit in my married name, they may have had an issue.
posted by soelo at 8:02 AM on February 27, 2014

Those of you who have four names, do you know what the limit on forms tends to be? We are considering this for our future son, but his name would have 28 letters, plus spaces (17 plus a space for the two middle names). My own (birth and current) name has 26 for three names, but I haven't had a problem (except in the olden days of email, when apparently last names could only have 10 letters...).

The limit on forms where I work is around 20 for first, 20 for middle, 20 for last name. So you're not putting all four names on one line, but if he has two really long middle names it could be a problem still. People who have longer names than Banner accommodates for have to get a note in their electronic file so we can at least put it all on their diploma, but they're always annoyed at us for cutting off part of their name on everything official for their entire educational career up until then.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:09 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I remember my paternal grandmother being shocked when Mom gave my sister and me middle names at birth. She said, "But when they get married, their maiden names will become their middle names." Mom had never heard of that custom, and neither of us ended up getting married, but apparently it has been A Thing at some point in some circles.

In our databases, when we have an entry with two middle names, we put one with the first name in the FIRSTNAME field and the other on its own in the MIDDLENAME field.

Honestly, you should do whatever feels right to you. If you decide to make any changes, start making a list now of all the places you'll need to have it changed. Just make it part of the planning process for your marriage. And, although I hate to sound cynical, I'll be the voice of cynicism and advise hanging onto the list in case the unimaginable happens and you end up wanting to change it back later. Maybe give the list to your best cynical girlfriend to hang onto for you.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:36 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Even having all four names doesn't seem like too big of a deal. The FLOTUS' name is Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama. Most of the world knows her by Michelle Obama these days, but I remember hearing a rumour that in her high-powered lawyer days (before she quit to support Barack), she went by Michelle Robinson.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 10:39 AM on February 27, 2014

If you are asking for permission to change your name both personally and professionally, it's fine -- it's your choice, do what you want. You don't need to conform to anyone else's standards on this.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:41 AM on February 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

Thanks to everyone for your thoughts -- it's great to hear how people have dealt with this both themselves and with co-workers. We have a while until the wedding, so I don't have to decide immediately, but I think I'm going to sit with the 4 name route and see how that feels. All the names are relatively short (the total would be 26 letters+spaces), so it sounds like it would ok for most forms.
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:52 PM on February 27, 2014

My wife didn't legally change her name, but socially she goes by whatever is convenient. Around family (even her family, oddly) and around my friends she is Mrs. Tehhund. To colleagues, her friends, and the government she is Dr. Maidenname. If anyone asks we'll explain that she is legally Dr. Maidenname, but in nearly a year not a single person has asked. The big compromise was kids would get my name (neither of us is thrilled with hyphenation) - her identity was more important to her than kids' names. I imagine that we'll have a couple of times where it becomes confusing in the future, but I can't imagine it being a crisis worth worrying about.
posted by Tehhund at 5:57 PM on February 27, 2014

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