You know my name; look up my number
June 27, 2016 7:49 PM   Subscribe

I want to change my middle and last name. But I also want to buy a house, move, apply for fellowships and grad school, and/or get a new job, not necessarily in that order or with equal degree of certainty. When's the best time to do the name change given these life factors?

I'd like to keep the cred I've built up in my career, and also avoid spending extra money and time working out legal confusion. To that end, is there any advantage or disadvantage to timing the name change differently in relation to these various life events?

The most pressing potential event is applying for a new job. Is it better to speed through my name change so I can apply with the new name, or wait till I'm a bit settled in the new position (how long is settled?) before taking care of that? Can I use the new name even if the paperwork isn't through yet? Is it better to apply with my current name, so they can Google it? Would you find it odd if someone applying to work with you had changed their name without a marriage- or gender identity-related reason?

If I change my name, is there a significant risk people will not realize that the person who held [current job] is also the person who holds [new job] and I will lose some reputational power or access to social capital? I don't have a hugely visible role, but it is somewhat visible and in my field I have the start of a reputation. I don't have any time restriction on changing the name.

Anything else I'm missing?

I'm female, somewhere between "wet behind the ears" and mid-career, not married and not planning on it anytime soon, with a rare first name. My plan upon changing the name is to put up a professional website using the new name and switch my social media properties over.
posted by ramenopres to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you should wait until after you get your next job. It'll be easier to negotiate references, etc.

Most people will perceive this as a marriage-related change, I think. Which may or may not hurt you, depending on your field (eg if hyphenating or keeping birth names is more typical, I'm thinking there's potential for it to be seen as regressive. Doesn't matter in some fields.) But if you've got a long name, some might get it - but will probably still assume you married. They may ask about it. Do you have an idea of what you might say in that situation? (I've thought about doing this but haven't a clue how I'd explain it. Or come up with a good-feeling alternative.)

Edit: also, not sticking with an ethnic name might also be seen as regressive, I'm thinking.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:25 PM on June 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

You can use the new name socially and at work before you change your name legally - just make sure to give your legal name accurately if needed and also list other names you use. Along those lines, I'd definitely use the new name with coworkers If you get a new job - it will be simpler than changing it later. If/when you give permission for a credit check or when you are hired, you can give your current legal name but ask that your email, etc. reflect the new name.

Regarding buying a house - a name chamge shouldn't affect your credit score, since that is generally linked to your SSN. I changed my last name a couple years ago and it didn't affect my credit - all my pre- and post- name change accounts are on there. However, though it shouldn't have any effect and didn't for me, there is a non-trivial chance that the credit bureaus will mess up and it will take some effort to get straightened out.

As for what people will think - lots of people will assume you got married or divorced. Most people won't care, some people will be curious enough to ask for your reasons.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:58 PM on June 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

My impression of the name change process (note: haven't tried it myself but I have to look at various people's court documents for name changes) is that they take several months. What of all of your list of things is likely to happen within the next say, four months? Is it worth postponing the change for waiting on those things, or would it just be easier to get it over with first?

Some people will think it's weird to change, some won't care, probably most people will assume you're getting married or divorced. There's no help for that, so do what you want. I have heard that for resumes and the like you can put some kind of "also known as Jane Bryant Smith" sort of reference if you want to clarify what you were previously known as and who they should ask for in references.

My thinking on this is that anything involving complicated legal documentation that drags on for months to process, you'd probably want to do the change first so as to not mess up or complicate the paperwork. Hopefully a job won't have that issue. I'm assuming that buying a house definitely would. Grad school may be somewhere in the middle of that. But since it sounds like moving for a job and/or grad school is more of a priority right now before you buy a house, I'd vote for changing your name before purchasing a home, whenever that is. But as for grad school and jobs--who knows how long those processes are going to take, but they probably have easier setups in their system for name changes.

Eh, why don't you get started on the process now, mention name change in process/former alias when you have to?
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:04 PM on June 27, 2016

[Friendly reminder, please don't use edit to add content; just make a second comment.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:08 PM on June 27, 2016

Women change their names all the time when they get married, and then again when they get divorced. There are sometime minor difficulties (like mail returned), but the system is set up to deal with this. It's not going to be particularly more difficult if you do it for another reason (and the reason is no one's business). Presumably you're doing it through a court, and then you'll be able to take the documents with you to get the name changed at the bank, and so on. Your professional work is still your work, so claim it. You could have "My New Name (nee Old Name)". (Nee -- there's an accent over the first e, I think-- just means "born"-- you were born Old Name.)
As long as there's no attempt on your part to deceive, just think of it as going from maiden name to married name, or back again. It happens all the time, and banks and employers and the post office and social security are all set up to deal with it. Lots of forms to fill out, probably!
I'd love to know what names you chose! :) It's like starting anew. Best of luck!
posted by my-sharona at 9:13 PM on June 27, 2016

I know multiple people whose credit history simply disappeared when their name changed. For some, it did reappear after a few years, the others may not have waited long enough yet. I would change my name as far in advance of buying a house as possible because of the mystery surrounding credit reports.

Doing it in the middle of a job search or applying to grad school isn't the greatest choice, but I think it's largely a wash whether you do it before or after. Do keep in mind that if you change your name after starting a job (or accepting the job) or applying to grad school, you'll possibly be stuck with your old name as part of an email address or with it appearing in some system or other.

You are absolutely allowed to use your name without it being your legal name. You'll need to get/keep your legal name on things like payroll and insurance. It's sort of inevitable that you'll lose a little social capital changing your name, but people are used to people changing surnames due to marriage/divorce, so the hit is much smaller than changing a first name (I'm assuming you don't use your middle name professionally), especially since you have an uncommon first name.
posted by hoyland at 4:21 AM on June 28, 2016

I've been married for double digits but when I started my newest job show/use my maiden name instead on everything, even email. Paychecks and ins cards have my married name.

In your shoes I'd do it after the job is gotten unless you have to do it sooner to get your preferred names on a diploma and can't any other way.
posted by tilde at 4:40 AM on June 28, 2016

I had my name changed as a minor twice (it's complicated) and then again when I got married. All of those names, and many variations of them, followed me on my credit report. When purchasing a house, I had to sign a total of 14 signatures. It did not affect my credit negatively, but the closing agent sure thought it was hilarious.

A colleague of mine just got married and changed her name when a bit further along in her career. Prior to the name change, she had published several papers and gave presentations that got her some national recognition in our field. With her new last name, I think a lot of people didn't realize she was the same person and she may have lost out on a lot due to that lack of name-recognition. Of course, she has a very common first name, so YMMV.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 6:36 AM on June 28, 2016

I did this exact thing back in 1997 just because I never liked my old name. I did it at a major change in my life (starting my own business), but I was in the same small city and the same profession, so I had lots of people who knew the old name. For a long time, I had to answer to the old name and say "but I changed it and am now called new name." If they got it, great. If they didn't, I didn't care. All my new customers used the new name and eventually more people knew the new name than the old name. Now, hardly anybody uses the old name. As far as I can tell, there were no legal repercussions on credit etc. There's a lot of rigamarole what with changing the drivers license, changing the SS name, etc. but there's always a form to fill out and people to work it through. It's not hard. Go for it.
posted by MovableBookLady at 8:56 AM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding hoyland that weird things can happen with your credit report after you change your name. (I changed my first name only.) Change all your accounts as fast as you can once it's legal so they take less time to show up. If you had bad stuff under your old name, it might not appear on the new report. My score went WAY up because of that.

I would get the job before changing the name because it will be a big hassle to tell all your references, change your college records, etc.. I don't think there's a real reason to wait to change it after starting the job. I don't see as much of an impact on grad school - if someone writes you reference letters, make sure they put "Jane Maribel Doe (formerly Jane Eliza Smith)" in there.

Don't forget to change it on your health insurance and at the doctor's office! Not having them the same causes big problems, ask me how I know. :(
posted by AFABulous at 10:45 AM on June 28, 2016

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