Should I change my name back?
February 8, 2019 7:13 PM   Subscribe

Should I take my maiden name back in my divorce? In particular I'm wondering whether it would help or hurt me, even in a subtle way, in looking for a job. My married name is very Anglo, easy to spell, and I've had it for decades. My maiden name is very Italian and hard to spell. I live in a region that's super white, but many institutions--especially the ones I'd like to work at--are really working on diversity. Would it make any difference at all? I'm really not sure of my feelings on this so am trying to look at the practical aspects. Actually any reflections on your experience with changing your name would be welcome.
posted by HotToddy to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I’m not sure diversity at these places would include Italians, though. I think you should chose the name you want to use going forward regardless of hiring.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:24 PM on February 8, 2019 [20 favorites]

I went back to my very Anglo maiden name and was glad I did. But for me it felt like reclaiming my own identity, and I decided that I would never change my name again.

I don’t think an Italian versus Anglo name will make a difference in your career, at least not enough to base a decision on.
posted by FencingGal at 7:33 PM on February 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have an Italian last name which many people have a hard time spelling even though it is frankly quite simple if you can handle more than two syllables at a go. I have never felt that it made any difference in getting jobs one way or the other. I live in an area with a lot of Italian-Americans. Nobody can spell our names, but you find us in all walks of life. Occasionally we notice each other and have a small moment of vague connection; it gives you a very small "in" with other Italian-Americans, a conversational handle to grab onto. As far as pretty much everybody around here is concerned, Italians have counted as white for almost the whole of living memory. We have similar income and employment statistics as other white people, as far as I know.

If it matters, I think it's negligible. Do what you want with your name, I very much doubt that the job thing will come into it.

People will ask you to spell your last name over the phone a lot and no matter how careful you are to enunciate, they will sometimes get it wrong.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:41 PM on February 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just to clarify, no, I know nobody is consciously going to choose an applicant based on an ethnic-sounding last name and nothing else. I’m just wondering if, in a super SUPER white area of the PNW it might have a subtle influence.
posted by HotToddy at 8:25 PM on February 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'd say no it wouldn't make a difference in the PNW, but there *might* be some pockets of isolated North Idaho that are still weird. I think it would more depend if you're 'ethnic looking' rather than the sound of name. Not major or half-size city though. In addition, do you really want to work for shitheels that would discriminate against someone based on a NAME?

I had a fairly simple maiden name, but I'll never go back to that. Mainly it's just because it's been incorporated into my identity after all these years, but also because nobody spells it wrong, I don't have anyone who mispronounces it, and it's easy to remember.

If you feel like and like the sound of FencingGal vs FencingGal then change it. If it doesn't bother you, I wouldn't go through the hassle.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:51 PM on February 8, 2019

I grew up in a very white area, and I got a lot of grief for my "foreign" name. However, my European-descended mother, who took my father's last name but had an "American" first name and looked somewhat whiter than me, apparently had no problems, to the extent that she was surprised when as an adult I told her in detail what a living hell it had been to grow up in that area.

I moved away to saner places and when I got married, did not take my husband's (Italian, ironically) name, because by then I was more comfortable in mine.

I'd recommend using whichever name _you_ want. If you want to use your married name, or if you want to change back, you don't need a rationalization beyond that.
posted by LadyOscar at 8:58 PM on February 8, 2019

A coworker of mine, upon divorcing, chose a completely different last name for herself that was neither her maiden name nor her married name. That’s an option that you might consider, if you are otherwise not particularly attached to your maiden name.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:07 PM on February 8, 2019 [9 favorites]

This is completely your choice. I have a coworker who did similar: marriage ended, kept a surname that would elicit fewer questions about her "ethnicity". Which is simply to say, you wouldn't be the first pnw woman to do so.
posted by tamarack at 9:15 PM on February 8, 2019

I went back to my harder to spell maiden name 25 years ago because I liked it better. I am still happy today that I did. Besides a unique last name is more memorable IMO.
posted by hrhcc at 9:38 PM on February 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

Keep in mind the demographics of your area might change or you might move, etc. Pick the name that makes you happier. Being in a slightly better mental state will almost certainly have just as
much as an impact on your career than the difference in last names here.
posted by cgg at 10:16 PM on February 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Just want to point out, based on the update that a lot of African Americans have super Anglo sounding last names partially from having slave owner’s last names, and people often marry outside their race. So the “subtle influence” you mention would be ruling out quite a few actual diverse candidates. I doubt it’s a problem.

Agreed that you should take whatever name you feel comfortable with.
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 10:53 PM on February 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Since you asked for anyone's experience, here's mine. I did not change my name back (Houbolt) and one reason was that I was not any fonder of my born name than my married name which I had taken for the sake of appearing more conventional than I was. And I simply did not want to bother.

More recently I have appreciated the fact that my last name is very unusual so I am not going to be mistaken for someone else, but at the same time have felt like I am living under an assumed identity in a funny way. I know my dad when he was still alive was sad that I didn't take his name back. Family names carry more energy than I was willing to acknowledge at that time.
posted by luaz at 3:00 AM on February 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

To clarify my above comment, I have never detected any influence, subtle or otherwise, on my job prospects from having an Italian last name. I've never even been in a situation where it crossed my mind as something that might have been in play. People think of Italian Americans as white. We get full white privilege, including in job searches.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:48 AM on February 9, 2019 [7 favorites]

I kept my married name for several reasons:

- I'd had no connection with my father's side of the family since I was 16, and so going back to that name held no sentimental weight.
- My maiden name, like my first name, is one syllable, and is an odd spelling. Nobody could ever understand it when I said my name over the phone.
- My first-name-and-married-surname has the "Frere Jacques" rhythm that's easy for people to 'get' on first hearing and to remember.
- Professionally I'm known under my married name. I'd have to jump through hoops to change it back and at my stage in life it's too much trouble.
- My married surname is fairly common and so when I'm Googled there are many, many hits before you get to me.
- As my job involves dealing with the public in situations that can sometimes be difficult, the harder it is to Google me, the better.

Anecdotally, I have an African-American friend whose husband is of Czech descent, and she took his surname. She told me that when she's been on job interviews, it's not unusual for the interviewer on first meeting her to look surprised. And once the interviewer actually exclaimed: "Oh! You're not what I was expecting!"
posted by essexjan at 5:31 AM on February 9, 2019

Note that in some states any change of name will need to be accompanied by official documents supporting it. When my state went to more rigorous identification requirements for drivers licenses, there were a lot of frustrated women who had to dig up divorce decrees and such when renewal time came around.
posted by scorpia22 at 5:48 AM on February 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

At first I just kept the married name.

But within a year of the divorce, I ended up in the hospital with a serious illness that would affect me the rest of my life. The people who were supporting me the most, bringing me flowers, having conversations in hushed tones in the doorway, were my friends and my parents. My former husband had no idea I was even sick and he lived thousands of miles away.

And I thought, why on earth would I keep the name of someone who isn't even here?

So I went back to my family name, and I'm really happy with my decision.
posted by mochapickle at 9:49 AM on February 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

Seconding what scorpia22 said. After I got divorced after 31 years of marriage, I didn't take back my maiden name for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is because I thought it would be easier.

I then moved to a state that requires proving the arc of name changes from birth to present moment - in order to get a driver's license in my new state, I took in my still valid driver's license,social security card (in my married name), birth certificate, an expired passport, utility bills in my name, and a copy of my divorce papers. The clerk rejected my application.

The divorce papers were exactly what the state gave me when my divorce was granted and the MVD rejected them because they weren't certified copies (seriously). The clerk said I might have typed them up myself. To make a very long story short, I needed my birth certificate to show the name I was born with, a (certified) copy of my marriage certificate (to show the name change), a certified copy of my divorce papers and current social security card (to show I didn't change my name after getting divorced) and my still-valid driver's license from the state I moved from. Total cost to me to get a new driver's license (the certified copy of my divorce papers was $320) was nearly $350 and several weeks of frustration.

As long as you can show legal documentation of every name change, you're good with whatever name you decide on as a matter of personal preference.
posted by faineant at 9:57 AM on February 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

No, I don't think it will make even a subtle difference in terms of hiring. I have had the same experience as essexjan's friend with both my maiden (Anglo) and married last names (Eastern European), and I've also had the experience of absolutely zero surprise because most people realize that names are not a good flag of anything, anymore, if ever.

For the first six month I had some regrets about changing my last name. My maiden name was a lot easier to spell, pronounce, and fit on forms. It was also a PITA to get my name changed everywhere in all the places it needed to be changed. But I didn't identify with my old name, have no relationship whatsoever with my family of origin, and didn't want to come up with a new name -- I really did (and still do) want to share a last name with my husband.

Pick the name that makes you feel like you.
posted by sm1tten at 10:27 AM on February 9, 2019

I kept my married name for many reasons:
1. It’s less work.
2. You have to wait a year before filing divorce in my area, with at least three months processing time after. It seemed strange to announce a new name so long after the real end of the marriage.
3. I have the same last name as my daughter.
4. I’m not real keen on my parents. I didn’t feel right moving myself closer to my family of origin by name.
5. My adult identity was formed with this last name, the maiden name is for a person that doesn’t exist any more.

I toyed with getting a brand new name but nothing ever spoke to me. I’m fine with this choice.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:07 AM on February 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

> People think of Italian Americans as white.

I've known white Americans who are now in their 70s and 80s who thought of Italian-Americans as "other," so it does happen. But I doubt those people are hiring, and probably their children don't think that way.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:44 PM on February 9, 2019

I kept my married name for a few years, and I'm not sure whether it helped in my job searches. It is a more "ethnic" name that I think is of Lithuanian origin. My married name wasn't too terribly hard to spell over the phone. I just got used to doing it, so it wasn't a big deal or a huge hassle.

A few years later, I changed back to my maiden name (had to show divorce decree, which I luckily already had certified copies of). I found that it made it easier to transition out of the married period of my life, and forge my own destiny on my own without being saddled by my asshat ex-husband's name. I wanted to put all that behind me.

My maiden name is very common for both first & last (I do not have a middle name), and I am glad I am not really very google-able. Like someone above mentioned, it takes several pages to get to anything related to me. Ha, I just checked, and I'm not even in the first 100 results! This may or may not be helpful to your situation.

My mother made a different choice - she decided to keep her married name, since it matched us kids' last name. Luckily I did not have any children with the asshat ex, so that wasn't something I needed to consider.
posted by cats are weird at 1:14 PM on February 9, 2019

If you have your current name for decades, it seems like there could be a great deal of potential for confusion to change back—legal documents, work history, credit reports, etc..
Why not start using your “maiden” name as a middle name, and make that your new standard naming preference? Gina Lollabrigida Spencer.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:31 PM on February 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm a guy. Took my wife's name when we got married. Immediately got a much better return rate on my CV, I assume because my once ethnic and challenging last name was now dead simple. Kept the name after the divorce and never looked back, plus I have a story to tell. Now everyone knows me professionally by the simpler name, and it never left me feeling less true to myself (in fact I'm very happy with it, never liked my old name.)
posted by davejay at 6:03 PM on February 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Substitute Mexican for Italian and it's me. I picked a third, totally different last name after my divorce, rather than go back to my maiden name. I love it and I'm happy about it every day, almost 10 years later. Highly recommended.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:27 PM on February 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

My mother kept her maiden name because she's a journalist and bylines are a thing. Unless you are concerned you may seem like a different person due to a name change, I think you can probably just do whatever feels right to you and let the rest of the world work out its issues.
posted by axiom at 12:16 AM on February 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

In particular I'm wondering whether it would help or hurt me, even in a subtle way, in looking for a job.

Everyone carries with them some form(s) of implicit bias that subconsciously inform their decisions every day. So your maiden name could be an issue.

On the flip side, there are occasions where HR is trying to meet diversity goals and only forwards non-anglo-appearing resumes to the hiring manager. So your married name could be an issue.

As others have said, choose the name that makes you feel like you. People are going to prejudge you either way.
posted by headnsouth at 4:57 AM on February 10, 2019

I worked in hiring at companies where we were very strongly incentivized to promote diversity candidates and an Italian name would not have been considered a plus in terms of that goal. In my experience in hiring, Italian = white.

I'd probably go back to my very ethnic maiden name if I were to ever get divorced, although my married name is much easier to say. My family name is mine and reflects my upbringing and heritage. My married name is just a convenience.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:52 PM on February 10, 2019

If you want to signal your maiden name, you can put this next to jobs that you worked under that name in your CV/resume:

That Place I Worked (Jan. 2009-Nov. 2013) (as Firstname Maidenname)

I do this especially for places I'm using as a reference, because I'm always afraid they will call and ask for Firstname Newname, and my former workplace will be like "no one with that name worked here."
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:13 AM on February 11, 2019

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