should professional women change their names when they marry?

A reader writes:

After being divorced for seven years, I have finally found a great guy and am going to be getting married in a few months. I currently use my ex-husband’s last name. We have a child together and I wanted to have the same last name as my son. Now that I am getting re-married, I am debating whether or not to change my last name. One of the main reason’s is because I have built a reputation for myself in my profession and everyone knows me by my current name. Now, in my home office, this wouldn’t be a big issue. Obviously everyone would be able to figure out I changed my name when I got married. But, I am part of professional organizations and I have worked hard to build a good reputation for myself. I have made presentations at various professional conferences and for various professional organizations. I have received grants from professional organizations I am involved in. I write for a professional blog.

At the current time, I am not looking to leave my home location, but I may in the future. I have not ruled out the possibility of working for one of the professional organizations I am involved with in the future. I know that in my personal life, I can use whatever name I like, but could changing my name in my professional life mean I need to rebuild my reputation all over again? Would hyphenating make my name more recognizable?

Well, obviously, there are tons of considerations that go into this, but we’ll focus just on the professional ones here.

If you do want to change your name, one thing a lot of women in your situation do is just use both names — not even hyphenating them. And sometimes they gradually drop the maiden name over time, as people get used to the new last name. For instance, after marrying Jesse Pinkman, Skyler White could become Skyler White Pinkman. (Yes, I just married two characters on Breaking Bad who are highly unlikely to ever get married.) She might then gradually drop the White over time, once people are used to associating Pinkman with her … eventually, in a few years, becoming simply Skyler Pinkman, but avoiding the “Skyler Pinkman? Who’s that?” reactions that she might get if she switched to it immediately.

Enough women are using this option these days that it shouldn’t cause too much confusion. It has the advantage of letting you make the name switch that you want, while still making sure people know who are you.

And if you do this, you can also start using Skyler Pinkman in your personal life immediately, if it’s less likely to cause confusion there.

Or, of course, you can simply keep your current name and avoid this entirely, and there are plenty of reasons for choosing that too.

What do readers think?

{ 135 comments… read them below }

  1. Lexy*

    Also, you can change your name personally/legally but still use your current name professionally.

    Personally I would have trouble keeping straight which name to use, but I know more than a few women who have done this.

    My mom changed her name when she married my stepdad, but she was also changing jobs at the time, so it was pretty easy to make the transition. I was so early in my career when I got married that it didn’t really matter, so I’m afraid I don’t have any first hand advice for you.

    1. Anonymous*

      A coworker still does this about 15 years on.

      Her garage rang up asking for Mrs C Smith and non of us knew who they meant until she said she was expecting a call because we all knew here as Ms K Bloggs!

        1. Anna*

          That could be a spelling variation, as in Catherine/Katherine. (Three of Henry VIII’s six wives had that as a given name in one spelling or another.)

        2. Another Jamie*

          When we worked with an India branch, this actually was a problem. Women would change their first and last names in email, chat, and all official documentation, but everyone in the India office called them by their original first name. I’d travel to the India office and spend way too much time wondering who the heck Pallavi was. When I realized they meant Deepa, the person I’d been directly training, I was a bit annoyed. I would ask what she wanted me to call her and she always insisted on her new married name, even though NO ONE else called her that.

          Anyway. I hope that helps? ;)

  2. SW Engineer*

    My wife still uses her maiden name, as it would cause a lot of confusion with her current and new clients. They would think that she’s a new person, when it’s not. I personally don’t care.

    It’s similar to a company changing it’s “brand”, logo or something else that people identify with that company.

  3. Catherine*

    One of my coworkers is taking this approach to the name change:

    Sally (Smith) Brown

    She wants to go by Sally Brown in both her personal and professional life, but is managing the transition by putting her maiden name in parenthesis. I think I like the non-parenthetical option better but it’s one way of doing it. If I had built up a professional reputation like the OP, I think I would go with the two last names (no hyphen) option as Alison described, and only phase out the maiden name if I felt like it. I’d probably keep the maiden name simply for practicality – business cards, websites, etc. Wouldn’t want to have to get all new things.

    1. Kristinyc*

      I’m starting a new job in 2 weeks, and then getting married in October, and I plan on taking my fiance’s name. For the first few months with the new name, I’m just going to use Kristin (Maiden Name) New Last Name in email sigs and on social media, and then slowly phase out the maiden name. I’ll probably keep it that way on LinkedIn in case people from past jobs are looking for me.

      For the OP, I would think either slowly phasing the maiden name out, or just keeping it for professional purposes only is the way to go. But if you’re worried about people finding you – you can keep your old email address (if it has your maiden name in it) and just have it forward to your new one.

  4. Mike C.*

    More importantly, I think that professional women should do whatever they feel most comfortable with, and the rest of us should respect and use her choice without question or judgement. It’s her name and she shouldn’t have to worry about what others in the professional world think.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think the OP is concerned she’ll be judged in the professional world; she’s just concerned about ensuring that people still know who she is!

      1. Anonymous*

        Agreed. On a related note, you also see immigrants adopt “English” names when their original names are hard to pronounce for English-speakers. Like it or not, no matter how much ‘Chun Ng Lee’ likes his name, people will remember ‘Chris Lee’ easier, and I think that does carry an advantage professionally.

        1. krzystoff*

          most Asian cultures have their own inscrutable traditions in use, and the reason for choosing a different name or names when in a foreign country is as much an excercise in localising the pronunciation as it is in avoiding offense. for example in China: you should never say a person’s given name unless you are a very close friend, and family names are put in front of the given name, followed by an honorific title, also women don’t usually give up their fathers surname upon marriage.

  5. Anonymous*

    At my office, it takes over a year to change someone’s name in our systems because our systems were not designed to accommodate name changes and our bosses don’t care about the issue enough to insist on a saner system. Up until very recently, they’d simply refuse to do name changes at all. They give women who are changing their names the runaround for as long as possible.

    I don’t think my office’s approach to name changes is typical. However, you might want to make sure it’s even possible. You might also want to make sure that, if your name change prompts an email change, the organization will forward the email correctly to your new address.

    1. Lexy*

      Systems that don’t accommodate name changes make me really irrationally angry. Obviously designed without consideration that half the population may at some point be in a position where it is customary to change their name. GAH! SEXISM! HULK SMASH!

      1. Andrea*

        I get your point, but the tradition of changing the last name upon marriage has sexist roots. (I’m not arguing that women who decide to change their names today are sexist or promoting sexism, and of course I think the system that was described is ridiculous.)

        1. Lexy*

          Totally true, but my point is more that – Since many women change their names, systems designed without name changing abilities are sexist as they ignore the useful needs of half the population.

          I doubt that the system designers are trying to give a middle finger to the patriarchy, they simply are working under assumptions of a default “male” user as the vast majority of shit does. Pardon my language.

          1. Chris M.*

            In my opinion, women should just stop going through all this trouble. Be smart asa men are and keep your name for life.

            I guess I’m just peeved with the tons of emails I keep getting from friends saying “now that I’m no longer married, I decided to go back to my maiden name, please take note of my new email”. Ack. One more thing to remember, their new name. Why not to stick to the name you were born with (I know many women who did, and do not have any problems with their kids at school, which seems to be the justification given by most women for changing their last name.)

            1. Lexy*

              Or it could be that the name you were born with is one that’s actually pretty emotionally awful (like me, my father’s name is nothing I want to be associated with and I’m happy it’s gone).

              But really, the point isn’t to tell women what to do, it’s that: Systems should be designed to handle a TOTALLY NORMAL cultural event (name change due to marriage) and when they don’t it’s not because the system designers are encouraging women to buck the tradition it’s because they didn’t consider women in the system design.

            2. Anonymous*

              There are many other reasons to undergo a name change. One that arises on occasion is gender reassignment surgery. It is very, very awkward to have a name in a professional capacity that can’t be changed if you change gender.

              Other possibilities include midlife crisis name changes, name changes to accommodate a foreign culture custom, name changes to reflect your parents’ divorce, and name changes to get away from an unpleasant family / stalker / bad reputation. Nicknames come to mind, too – maybe you applied with your official name of “Robert” but you really just want to be known as “Bob” professionally.

    2. Catherine*

      I know how you feel – I work at a large university and there are so many databases with conflicting information it’s difficult to keep them all up to date. I graduated from this school before I got married, then came to work there several years later – my boss had to hash it out with the IT dept because my SS # was tied to my maiden name and they thought I was an identity thief, and after I started work, I kept finding my maiden name in various systems. I’ve been here 2.5 years and STILL my email sometimes comes from my maiden name (not all the time, just half the time – so weird). And I submitted a name change form when I was still in grad school there.

      1. Anonymous*

        OH Don’t get me started on school email systems … I went to school, graduated, got married and then went back to school. I reapplied with my new name, was given back the same ID number, but with my new name on all my paperwork and on my ID card, BUT my user ID, login and email address for EVERYTHING school related is my first initial, maiden name. I asked if I could change it and they told me that I would lose my entire online history … which kind of blows considering they want you to do EVERYTHING online now. They basically told me it would “too much trouble” for them, for me and for my professors and that I would probably miss out on very important communication because of it. So its less confusing for my professors to get emails from an address with a name they won’t recognize because I’m listed as my other name on their roster? In what world does this makes sense!? UGH. Sorry .. /rant

        1. Anonymous*

          Well, for emailing purposes, I’m surprised they don’t at least allow you to set a ‘display name’ of sorts. I can see why the userid itself might be tied to an absolute nest of legacy systems, and it probably is in your best interest to not change it.

          1. Anonymous*

            Agreed! They use gmail as their email service … so the address is [at] xyzschool . edu, but the options are REALLY LIMITED. I also use gmail for my work email and it actually shoes up as to and from my company’s domain (it was easy to figure out). So it really shouldn’t be that difficult in my eyes … *sigh*

        2. Catherine*

          Sounds like you tried this where I work! And no, they won’t lose everything, that is the entire purpose of a single ID number. Yeesh. I mitigated this somewhat by doing the double last name thing during my last semester of grad school.

          Not to mention people in charge of public-facing materials just don’t update things…one of my coworkers has been with us for nearly 2 years, and her old department’s website still lists her as a contact, so she still gets emails and calls relating to her previous position.

  6. Stells*

    I went the “made my maiden name my middle name and went by both for a year or two” route. They aren’t hyphenated, and as I am reaching my two year anniversary, I hardly need to use my “middle” (maiden) name anymore.

    I’m also in my late 20s, so the transition wasn’t too difficult. Based on the implication that the OP has been working professionally at least the 7 years she’s been divorced, I’m assuming it might take longer before everyone catches on – old habits are hard to break. Heck, it was over a year in before I’d answer the phone with my new last name consistently!

  7. Amanda*

    My plan is to keep my maiden name; in order to make myself stand out professionally, I use first + middle + last, and all three names plus a new married name would get confusing. My master’s degree is in my maiden name, so on and so forth. That said – I will most likely go by my married name personally. I know some women who have kept their maiden names and get upset when people call them Mrs. Husband’s Name; that’s not worth getting bent out of shape for, to me.

    1. Anonymous*

      Well, technically speaking, they are the ‘mrs’ of the husband. I was taught that if a woman keeps her maiden name, it would be ‘Ms’, because ‘Mrs. Maidenname’ is their mother.

      1. AnonA*

        Actually, Ms. was invented in the US for business use for women–solved the issue of trying to figure out if someone was married or not. Miss is the alternative to Mrs, not Ms. I personally always address women in the workplace as Ms.

        1. Andrea*

          Yes, that’s correct. ‘Ms.’ is really the most proper title for any woman because it is independent of age and marital status, just as ‘Mr.’ is for a man. Of course, some women may prefer another title for personal reasons, but you can’t go wrong addressing all women as ‘Ms.’, at least initially.

          1. Anonymous*

            I’m the Anonymous from above. I agree with the sentiment of addressing all women as ‘Ms’ initially, and in fact, do so in day-to-day life. What I was referring to was the people that get upset when people call them ‘Mrs Husbandname’ – I think that you married him, you’re his ‘mrs’, and it seems rather silly to get offended.

            1. Laura L*

              It completely makes sense to get offended by being called Mrs. Husbandname. If you keep your last name when you get married, Husbandname isn’t your name, so people are getting your name wrong.

              It’s also sexist. No one ever thinks “oh, that man is married, I’ll call him Mr. Wifename because he’s her Mr.” They just don’t. That’s because men were never viewed as women’s property and therefore get to keep their individuality while women don’t. The idea that you shouldn’t be mad to be called by your husband’s name because you’re his now is way to close to the idea of women as property and it ignores women’s individuality and agency to make their own decisions about their identity.

              1. Andrea*

                This, absolutely. I don’t get mad about it, but I do correct people, just as I would if they got my first name wrong. I always introduce myself with both names, same thing if I am introducing my husband, he introduces himself and me with both names, too. Anyone who then addresses me with his name probably just isn’t paying attention. I correct them politely, usually just, “oh, maybe I was unclear, but my last name is actually S____, not D____.”. But after one or two corrections, I address it directly: “My last name is S_____, not D_____, because I didn’t change my name when we married. I do not use his name in any setting because I have my own. Thanks so much for taking note.”

                Incidentally, I have also dealt with some individuals who purposely addressed me by the wrong name because they “disapproved of my choice” and “didn’t understand why I had to be different.”. I am familiar enough with that brand of disrespect that I can say that I don’t believe Anon 4:23 was pushing that here.

                1. Tekoa*

                  I kept my birth name after getting married. If someone calls me Mrs. Husbandname, I’m not at all offended. It does irk me however when I’m called Mrs. Tom Husbandlastname. My first name is not “Tom” nor is my husband female.

                2. Laura L*

                  I agree that Anon 4:23 wasn’t being purposely disrespectful.

                  But their justification for not being offended (you’re his Mrs.) is based in sexist practices. (I’m not calling them a sexist either, just pointing out my problem with that line of thinking.)

        2. Catherine (a different one)*

          Actually, AnonA, Ms. dates back to the 16th century, to solve the very problem Anonymous describes–married women needed an abbreviated title (of mistress) that could be used with their own given names, not their husband’s. Because it is used with a woman’s own name and is marital status neutral, it can be used whether a woman is married or not. Women who need to be known publicly by their own names rather than their husband’s has always been a situation that has existed, it just became more prominent in the 20th century, hence the rise in popularity–not invention–of Ms.

    1. Michelle*

      I almost lost my head when I saw it because I am a season or two behind on Breaking Bad, and I thought I had inadvertently seen an EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILER! Alison, if you had not included the subsequent sentence, I was going to have to seriously re-consider our blogger-reader relationship! Thank Buddha it wasn’t true.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Can you imagine? I think we can safely say that Skyler and Jesse will never marry … although oh how I would love to see if it they did! (I almost paired her with Saul the lawyer, but I decided Jesse was more amusing.)

        1. Kristinyc*

          Yeah, the Breaking Bad reference made my day. :)

          Anybody else want to give Skyler a hug and Jesse a high-five after this past week’s episode? Wow.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                She does, but she wants it both ways — she’s complicit and then she wants to act like she’s not complicit. And the giving away of the money to her old boss pushed me over the edge.

                1. Stells*

                  I just want to say I agree with you! I could go on all day about what a coniving little brat she is, but I’ll refrain since it’s a bit off topic.

        2. Anonymous*

          I know this thread is a day old, but I just wanted to correct your factually incorrect statement (even though it’s only hypothetical, but whatever). IIIII am marrying Jesse Pinkman!

          And I second the Breaking Bad thread. You mentioned a while ago about possibly doing something with AAM and literature, but pop culture would be great as well, I think.

  8. Andrea*

    I didn’t change mine at all. It was mostly because of the reasons behind the name-changing tradition and the fact that I simply didn’t see any reason to change it–he wasn’t changing his name, after all–but it has worked out better because of my professional life, anyway. If I were you, I wouldn’t because it sounds like you have established a reputation that you are (rightfully) proud of, but people will figure it out eventually if you do. Do what’s best for you, but giving it some serious thought is the way to go.

    I’d caution against changing it personally but not professionally, though. From what I’ve seen, that just causes confusion all around and it seems like more trouble than it’s worth. And I knew two women who went that route but later ran into complications with various government agencies because they’d (gradually, usually years later) changed their name with some but not all or dropped their “maiden name” afterwards but forgotten to change that on official records, and then had to go around and get new Social Security cards and deal with the IRS after being married for a decade or so. It was ridiculous. So if you decide to change it (or alter it with a hyphenate), make sure you do so across the board to avoid that.

    1. Ariancita*

      +1 to all of this. I don’t even particularly like my last name but would never change it. Interesting aside, I have two friends married to each other; both kept their last names for professional and personal reasons (personal/political because the reasons you state). When their son was born, he was given a new last name that was a combination of the first two letters of both their last names. I thought that was really interesting!

      1. Anonymous*

        One potential pitfall to that approach is that they might run into trouble at airports and whatnot, where it would seem like two strange adults are taking an unrelated child on a flight. A birth certificate would solve that problem of course, but it’s still a pain to carry around.

        1. Ariancita*

          They’ve traveled extensively internationally and haven’t reported any problems. I don’t know what they do (carry a birth certificate? Maybe. May also be easy to just keep it tucked into his passport). I like the idea. I’d not let logistics get in the way.

          1. Chinook*

            You would be surprised how many people will take a well thought out explanation. I changed my name and then moved to Quebec where marriage was not a legal reason to change your name. So my driver’s license and health card was my maiden but I couldn’t change my credit card and passport back because I never got divorced (so photo identification didn’t match credit cards and this causes problems when ordering plane tickets on line). Moved back to Alberta and sweet talked motor vehicles agent into putting my d.l. In married name (helped that I still had my old license plate and copies of old license). I still joke that I have found the perfect way to have 2 legal identities!

          2. KayDay*

            Actually, I remember that when I went to Canada for vacation when I was young (before you needed a passport) my parents always brought my birth certificate along (and we all had the same name). I don’t think it’s that unusual to carry proof that you are a child’s guardian when travel internationally.

          3. Ariancita*

            Chinook & KayDay-

            Yes, exactly. It’s pretty much not a hassle (I have a first name change that is not legal but on some documents and not others and have had no problems once easily explained). I figure a birth certificate is super easy to tuck into a passport, much like your vaccinations card for traveling to countries where you need proof of certain vacs like for Yellow Fever and Japanese Encephalitis. Easy stuff.

            1. Anonymous*

              I forgot that North American birth certificates come in ‘wallet size’ form. That makes it so much easier! Mine is a “book” that was filled in and stamped by hand – quite irreplaceable, but fortunately I’ve never really had to use it much.

      2. Artemis*

        I know a couple who, when they married, made up a last name unrelated to either of them, and both changed their names to that. Their child carries the new last name. If name-changing is going to happen due to marriage, this makes the most sense to me.

      3. anonymous*

        I think that giving a child a completely different, made-up last name is a little odd. If I were them, I would have given the child both last names. But it seems that parents often do odd things when they have their first child.

    2. jennie*

      Same here. I didn’t see the point of changing my name and would have been frustrated with the hassle of making it stick. The only confusion I’ve had is people assuming my husband has the same last name as me when they meet him for the first time but that’s certainly no big deal.

    3. doreen*

      I didn’t change my name either personally or officially so Social Security , IRS, bank records ,credit cards , driver’s license , etc are all in my maiden name. If my mechanic calls me at work , they will be using my name, not my husband’s. That said, I don’t mind at all when people I know socially and relatives address me with my husband’s last name.

      I originally didn’t change it because I didn’t want to have to drag my marriage certificate in every time I got a job to prove that I really did have a degree. In my current workplace, people who change their names have a real problem- we commonly refer to each other by last name only, and generally only one last name. When people change their name for any reason, people who don’t actually interact with them often don’t connect the two names . There’s one coworker who has use three different names. I am one of a very few people who know all of them refer to the same person.

    4. krzystoff*

      if you think it’s too much hassle and not worth the trouble… don’t get married. changing your name is no harder than changing your address when you move.
      there is more to it than tradition and outdated beliefs, there is an expectation from your family, your partners’ family, your friends and colleagues, and most of the people you meet to make the change, and it is just the same as wearing a ring — sure some people will skip that, but it underscores for most observers that you aren’t serious about the relationship to care and implies that you are still open / still looking.
      true, YOU may not feel that way, but if you care enough what others will think about you, (and your professional interests appear to confirm that), then consider what the wider reaching impact will be.
      of course, in LBGTQ partnerships and many non-English-speaking cultures — not changing surnames, or a reversal of the name change, or even double-barrel names are quite common and acceptable.

      1. Sarah*

        Wow, if people feel free to assume things about the state of my marriage based on superficial things like rings and name changes, you can bet I don’t give a rip what those people think of me.

  9. Katie*

    If I’d been working for longer when I got married, I would have kept my maiden name. I think the additional concern of wanting to have the same last name as my child would also factor in. I like Alison’s suggestion, though, if OP is really wanting to change her name.

  10. AdAgencyChick*

    Don’t forget that a lot depends on what the names are.

    My maiden name is a common English word. Very easy to say and remember (although people inexplicably spell it wrong). I decided for a while to keep my maiden name at work instead of my married name, which is much longer. This became annoying, because I’d have to explain to security personnel when doing client visits, to admins who were booking my travel, etc. that the name on my driver’s license is not the name that I go by.

    So, when I changed jobs, I decided to start going by my married name. This was a mistake. Nobody can remember it, say it, and heaven forbid spell it. This is no bueno when you need clients to remember who you are. I now use my maiden name again, because I’d rather deal with the minor issue of explaining the issue to support staff than with the major issue of clients not being able to remember me to get in touch.

    1. Rana*

      Agreed. My maiden name (and professional name) is short, clear, and easy to spell. My husband’s name confuses many people and is long.

      That said, people will often, despite one’s intentions, do odd things in order to reconcile their understanding of your marital status with your name(s). So my husband sometimes gets addressed as Mr. MyLastName by people who meet me first, and I end up as Mrs. HisLastName when the reverse is true – equal-opportunity confusion!

  11. Sparky629*

    I feel like the OP has a special set of circumstances other than changing maiden name to married name.

    She already has a maiden name and she is asking should she change to a different married name after she built her career with her first married name.

    I feel you OP, if I ever got a divorce (and I’m not planning one anytime in the near future) I would be in the same boat. Frankly, it would feel silly to go back to my maiden name because I’m not that person anymore and I established my career with my married name.

    Also, it is confusing as hell to get married and not take your new husband’s name but still keep your old married name.

    But I will say, that there’s hope.

    Celebrities do it all of the time, it’s their professional or stage name. Demi Moore, Patti Labelle, and Donna Summer come to mind.

    I say discuss it first with your soon-to-be husband so he’s OK with it and understands why you are keeping your old married name for professional purposes.
    But your personal friends will begin to address you by your new husband’s name and your professional colleagues will address you by your professional name.

    Just remember who they are talking too though. ;-)

    1. fposte*

      That’s not an uncommon situation in my realm–one of my mentors has exactly this (and she kept the first husband’s last name personally as well as professionally). It doesn’t seem to cause her much problem, and she alerted me in the beginning that calls to “Ethel [husband’s lastname]” were for her too.

      I think people adapt more easily than databases. (If you’re developing a body of published work, for instance, count on some people missing part of it if it was published under another name.) In general I think there’s a slight advantage to not changing your name, but it’s not big enough to count more than personal preference; you’ll be fine either way.

  12. Suz*

    Whatever you choose, don’t hyphenate it. You’ll grow sooo frustrated, especially if you travel a lot for your job. If your name is Jane Smith-Jones, your hotel will be under Jane Smith, your rental car will be Jane Jones, and your flight will be under Jane SmithJo because their computer systems won’t like the hyphen. And when the name on your ticket doesn’t match your ID/passport, you won’t be allowed to board. Mine used to be hyphenated but I went back to my maiden name because it was such a hassle.

    1. Kerry*

      Amen to this. I had a double last name for 10 years, and finally gave up and took my husband’s name.

      The world (at least, the American world) is not set up for double last names.

      1. Rana*

        Or double middle names (my husband has this, and it gets very complicated quickly figuring out how to deal with databases, and remembering which variant he used).

    2. Ellie H.*

      I second this. I have five stupid names and I don’t like any of them (hyphenated surname and two middle names). I can’t wait to get married, take my husband’s last name and drop everything else – I might even get rid of both middle names. (I’ve also considered just adding my future husband’s last name and making my current four names “middle,” but this is probably too royalty-like.) When I went to college I started using Ellie Last 2 instead of Ellie Last 1-Last 2, and it’s worked out ok – I have a pretty good sense of when it’s ok to use “Ellie Last 2” and when I need to use the full legal thing. It’s only really screwed me up once ( when some of my college applications didn’t get my transcript from a college course I took under “Ellie Last 2.” But, now that I’m an adult, it seems like it’s more acceptable to have a preference for last name due to the above reasons – i.e. people my age will have changed their name because of marriage or divorce or whatever. But it bothers me that I have to do “Ellie Last 1 Last 2” for Southwest, when legally it should be “Last 1-Last 2”, because Southwest doesn’t accept hyphens. The whole thing is just a huge headache, and I constantly feel guilty for slighting my mom by dropping her surname, even though it really makes me much happier to be simply “Ellie Last 2.”

  13. Verde*

    I did the maiden name as middle name route – I had a very distinct name that was known in the business I worked in, and I knew no one would remember that I had changed it. I probably would not necessarily have added my husband’s name (legally or professionally) if it weren’t for his daughters (from a previous marriage) – I felt like it gave us a little more family unity in their eyes. People call me both names still, and I answer to both, and it’s really no big deal either way to me. It definitely helps to have both when I’m dealing with people I haven’t spoken to in a long time, as they knew me as one not the other.

  14. AP*

    I was in the same boat, and I changed to my new husband’s last name. It was a pain. I used Firstname Maiden-name-as-middlename (old last name) NewLastName for a while. Over time I became known as Firstname Maiden-name-as-middle-name NewLastName.
    Here’s the deal: If I had to do it over again I would never have changed my maiden name in the first place, or gone back to it when I remarried. End of story.
    By the way, the president of Harvard earned her professional rep using her ex-husband’s last name and she just kept it, even though she later remarried. So it’s a very viable option.

    1. AP*

      to clarify: I should never have changed my name when I got married the first time. And when I got married the second time, I should have changed back to my maiden name then.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      My aunt did what you suggest & went back to her maiden name, even though she had 2 kids with the ex’s name. She was single for a long time, and kept her maiden name when she remarried.

      Personally, I’d keep my married name if divorced and maybe forever. My maiden name is associated with a family I’m not too fond of, and it’s a weird spelling of a common name. My current name is in the top 5 in the US. Can’t mess it up.

      There are so many considerations, but I think as long as you keep the old name around long enough for people to associate it with you, you’ll be fine. The only problem I see would be in the academic world (and similar situations) where people are searching for publications under an author name. Most of us can retrain coworkers and clients & aren’t even slightly famous.

      Not on topic, exactly, but I work with someone who picked his own last name after not having his dad around and being tired of having the name of an ex-stepdad after his mom remarried again and took a new name. Maybe we should all just pick something we like when we’re 18, and leave it at that!

      1. Andrea*

        I wish I’d changed my first name (which is not Andrea), but that would definitely have been a hassle. And my parents would probably have been hurt if I had, and everyone knows me by this name that I’ve had for thirtysomething years. But I HATE my first name, and hearing it is just grating, and the only name I hate more is the common nickname for it. Also, it has a religious meaning that really irks me. So yeah, choosing your own name is definitely a good idea, but in practice, I guess it can’t really work.

        1. Ariancita*

          I changed my first name at around 22. Not legally, but in usage. I hated my legal first name, which incidentally, was never used as I was called a derivative nickname which I also hated. So since I never went by my legal first name, it was easy to switch it. There was just some stubbornness by some family members (who liked to mock that I changed it–luckily, as time went on, they grew up and accepted it). Some day, I’ll change it legally. But in any case, it’s not been an issue at all (I think many admins and such are used to people going by a different first name). I even got my university ITS to change my email address to my chosen name (they don’t like to do it, but they will if you pester them enough). So it is entirely doable.

  15. Another anon*

    I’ve done the (very unusual) maiden name as middle name for almost twenty years now. I still have my original middle name legally, but I never ever use it and so it’s pretty much dropped away. My maiden name is usually just an initial. I didn’t want to give up my maiden name, but I didn’t mind taking on my husband’s and this middle ground works well for me.

  16. Karyn*

    I was married and divorced young. Thankfully no kids, but I did change my name when I married him. When I divorced him, I changed back to my maiden name, and had my undergraduate degree reissued with my maiden name (yes, you can do that, apparently). I’ve told my current boyfriend that since it’s been seven years since I divorced, and I’ve built my professional reputation around my maiden name, that I am never changing it again. However, I’ve also said that it’s not really so much about some “feminist” thing for me, as much as it’s just a pain in the butt. So if someone refers to me as “Mrs. Husband’s Name” I’m not going to get huffy about it. I just don’t feel like re-establishing myself in that way.

    Whatever you decide, YOU should be comfortable with. I once dated a guy who said he EXPECTED his future wife to change her name, whether or not she liked it, so that his kids (yes, HIS kids, which he didn’t even have yet) wouldn’t be thought of as “bastards.” To each their own, but really? In this day and age, you think anyone’s going to care? Oy.

  17. AnotherAlison*

    I also know a hippie-type couple where the husband took the wife’s name. I didn’t even notice it at first, and then like a year later realized he was using HER name. Hey, whatever works!

    1. Catherine*

      My best friend’s husband considered that because her name was so much cooler than his. Had I been male and saddled with an awful last name I would be more than willing to change it to my wife’s…or even just change it regardless of marital status.

    2. Your Mileage May Vary*

      I know quite a few men who either hyphenated, took their wife’s last name, or made up a version of both names together. I also have a few friends in those states where gay marriage is recognized that have changed their names after they were married. So, even though the letter-writer is a woman, I wish the title of this post was “Should Professionals Change Their Name” without the focus on the female being the only married person who would ever think of doing such a thing.

    3. Dana*

      I’ve been (jokingly) trying to get my fiance to do this, but sadly it hasn’t stuck yet. Less than 5 months till the wedding, so maybe it’ll happen!

      I’ve always planned to keep my maiden name – not for any particular reason other than it’s my name and I like it :)

    4. Verde*

      I know folks who have flipped a coin for the last name at the alter, and others who based which name the whole family would use on the gender of their first child. I love that we live in an age where folks can just do what they want.

    5. Rana*

      I know a couple that did this, and his motivation (in part) was that he disliked his own family and really liked hers.

  18. Louis*

    Here in Quebec it’s actually not allowed to change your name for mariage.

    Officially the reason is that it was a sexist custom. My guess is they just wanted to get reduce the logistic for the governement.

    For the children, they can got with the last name of one or both parents so you end up with tons of people with two last name.

    That started a generation ago and since you now have people with 2 last name having children togetter, they recently had to make another law so that you can only have 2 last name max, picking from the one your parent have.

    So if Joe Romney Bush has children with Jane Obama Clinton they can pick any one or two from Romney, Bush, Obama, Clinton.

    Even funnier is that not all children mush have the same last name :)

    1. fposte*

      The Icelandic custom just does last names as a patronymic, so the kids have different last names from the parents and daughters have different names than sons; not uncommon for a family of four to have four different last names.

    2. Chinook*

      And leads to an interesting conversation when your quebecois neighbour hits on you and you, a non-Qubecer, has to explain to that the man with the same last name who is living with you is NOT your brother.

      But it was so worth it when the obnoxious lawyer who assumed my middle name was my maiden name had to redraw up paperwork for a house sale at his expense!

  19. yasmara*

    OT: I did not take my husband’s name when we got married and the place where that has caused the most hassle is…the gym. We live in an urban area, so it hasn’t been a problem at the kids’ schools, doctors, etc. but at the gym I had to bring in a copy of our marriage certificate to get us a family membership! Apparently, too many unmarried couples try to game the system by getting a joint/couple/family membership when they aren’t really married. It does make me wonder what would have happened if we were a same-sex couple – would they recognize a marriage (our state does not, but at least one neighboring state does)?

    1. Natalie*

      They could always use the solution my gym does – the household membership is based on address.

      1. Anonymous*

        Do you mean they check ID to make sure that everyone has the same address? Obviously that would make roommates part of the same ‘household’, but I suppose it’s easier than trying to match marriage certificates!

        1. AnotherAlison*

          That’s what they do at my gym. For my husband and our two kids, the address was not checked. If my sister or mom lived with us, they would check.

    2. Rana*

      At some of the places we’ve worked (colleges) they require some other proof of committed relationship (I think one place called it something cumbersome like “Committed Domestic Arrangement”!), such as a joint bank account, being co-signers on the same lease, being listed as beneficiaries on an insurance account, etc.

  20. Katrina Prock*

    They say that when a man gets a toupee, he should grow out his beard then shave it when he starts wearing the hair piece. Then people realize there’s something different… Oh, you shaved! ;) just kidding.

    Really, though. My last boss did the hyphen-then-drop routine. I worked for her several years after her marriage and never knew it until she handed me a personal check one day that said White-Green. One day, you just come to be known by the new name.

  21. KayDay*

    1st: Do want you are most comfortable with. One of the nice things about getting married now is that you have tons of options available to you, and all are pretty socially acceptable (sure, there are still some haters, but not like it was back in the day).

    2: A slim majority of people I know who have married recently have gone the add the husband’s name to your own without a hyphen route, as Alison suggested. One ended up going back to just her maiden name because it was simpler (she also has an awesome maiden name), but the rest have been fine with it. As this becomes more common, hopefully the systems will improve to accommodate two last names.

    If you do intend to change your name, I like the Catherine’s example of using parenthesis initially, e.g. Sally (Smith) Brown, just so people know it’s you!

  22. Dr. Speakeasy*

    Alison’s suggestion happens all the time in academia (because of the need to trace pubs as one of the earlier commentators pointed out). So, someone who started publishing under one married name (say Anne Parker) might then become Anne Parker Smith and later Anne P. Smith and later just Anne Smith.

    My step-mother actually ran into a similar issue and she went from being Anne MarriedName1 to Anne MaidenName-MarriedName2. However, she was also in the position of just having made a major geographic move and was probably not yet very well known by MarriedName1

  23. BL*

    I got married while I was still a student and working a part time internship. The internship had no issues getting my name changed, other than my boss occasionally putting my maiden name a presentation. I didn’t sweat it and figured at least he was giving me credit for my help on his project. The school on the other hand, acted like I was the first person in history to ever change their name. At one point I was enrolled in a single class under both my maiden and married names. I didn’t know about it until the professor and I had an uncomfortable conversation where I was very upset over my incomplete in a class I was acing and his adamant stance that he was entering all my grades. It took a while but it did eventually get resolved.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I got married in June during a summer session at school. One instructor gave me an “F” for the course because he didn’t know Alison Name2 was the same as Alison Name1 (like the roster to turn in final grades was different than the roster on day 1…this was the 90s). It got corrected to the proper grade, but I was pretty wound up that day.

  24. Anonymous*

    On your LinkedIn page you can have the “other” name in parentheses, if there would be any question that someone has found the right profile when looking for yours.

  25. Lisa*

    My first thought was of John Cougar Mellencamp. At first he was known as John Cougar, then he eventually changed to John Cougar Mellancamp and finally is now just John Mellencamp. Took a while (but he had to answer to record labels) but it worked to “re-name” him.

  26. AnonA*

    How about using his last name as a middle name? Then you can keep your first and last name and sign FN MN LN when you want. Looks like two last names without the crazy LN character count limit.

    1. Anonymous*

      Then you’d have people assuming his last name (your middle name) was your maiden name! (see the story about the obnoxious quebecois lawyer upthread)

  27. Chocolate Teapot*

    I know quite a few professional women who are double-barrels (so to speak!) Female doctors are often Dr Smith in the phone book, but Dr Smith-Jones on their invoices.

  28. HDL*

    Regarding the double name option mentioned by Allison: I wouldn’t recommend it. I did this when I got married almost 5 years ago. That is, I added his name after mine so that my last name is now 2 words, with a space and no hyphen in between. And it is a huge PITA. People can never get it right, especially over the phone. Online forms can never accommodate it, I always have to add a hyphen or shorten to one name or the other. Save yourself the trouble and pick one name of the other to be your legal name.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I don’t know a ton of people using former + new names, but the ones I know avoid your problem by moving their former name to the middle name, i.e. Jane Sue Smith becomes Jane Smith Jones. Should help with the forms & paperwork issues.

      1. Anonymous*

        Then you’d have to accept being called Jane S. Jones, which, for some people, might not be worth it.

    2. Laura L*

      As someone who does data entry as part of my job, I agree. :-) I work on an academic database and we always have to figure out which name(s) is(are) the last name(s) and which aren’t. If we don’t get it right, the authors will write to use to have their name changed.

      I completely understand why they get annoyed (others need to be able to find their articles when they’re going for tenure), so I try to get their names accurate if at all possible. But non-hyphenated names do make it hard.

      HOWEVER, this actually isn’t that big of a deal and people should do whatever they want with their names. And other people should take the effort to determine other people’s names.

  29. Piper*

    In the OP’s case, having built a professional reputation around her name, I would keep it.

    I got married just before I started building a solid professional reputation and I also hated my maiden name, so I made the change to my husband’s name. Mostly because I hated my maiden name so much and the way it sounded with my first name grated on my ears, and I knew I wouldn’t have many professional consequences. That said, if I had an awesome maiden name, I wouldn’t have changed it.

  30. Jess*

    Do what makes sense for you personally. If you’ve made a name for yourself in your field, people will eventually be able to match up your new name to your old reputation. I say this as a woman who did not change my name when I got married (for if-he-isn’t-changing-his-name-neither-am-I reasons, not so much for professional reasons).

    Re: having one name professionally and another personally: again, do what works for you, but I feel like it would be exhausting for me to have one name professionally and one personally. My husband goes by “Bobby” personally and “Robert” professionally, and I never know what to call him when we hang out outside of work with coworkers with his who have become friends!

  31. justmelissa*

    I legally changed my name when I got married, but continued to use my maiden name professionally. This mattered because I’m in academia and all my publications were in my maiden name and I wanted to keep my CV consistent throughout my career. This was all well and good until I changed jobs. All of the sudden the campus directory could only publish my name as it appeared in the payroll records. Which of course was my married name. Which no one knew to search by. It was a disaster. Ultimately, I ended up legally changing my name back to my maiden name. It was expensive, time consuming (don’t get me started on how ridiculous it is that I had to take out an ad in the newspaper to do this), and a pain to explain over and over again when people got curious and asked me about it.

  32. Anonymous*

    In my birth country we don’t do change names when we get married so this has never been an issue, although people outside my country do get confused when they see two last names (we are all born with two last names, mom and dad’s). So I solved it by adding a hyphen for work-related stuff.

  33. Anonymous*

    Aside: Why on earth do banks still use the mother’s maiden name as a security verification step? In this day and age, that’s not much of a secret. (Obscure, maybe, but you could easily be friends with your mom on Facebook, and it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out the older lady who’s friends with you and your four siblings is your mom)

    1. JT*

      Do you really have to give the mother’s maiden name? You could say “Alabama” or “Roquefort” or whatever and have a strong security question.

      1. Spiny*

        You can- I do. But then you have to remember what you did.

        And now for something completely different…
        Don’t use your pet as your security question! You, likely, have owned many and will replace as needed. You will not remember how clever you were to use Captain Cuddlewhiskers as the answer instead of Spot. I verify for work and it’s painful, just…painful.

  34. JT*

    The double surname w/o a hyphen seems more confusing to me. Is the second name a middle name, or a surname?

  35. A.*

    I have had to pass up job opportunities with overseas companies because they were not willing to hire a married woman with a different last name than her husband. The position was in Kuwait, and for the sake of getting a company sponsered visa, I would have at least had to hyphenate my name to demonstrate my husband and I were of the same household (I was told a marriage certificate would not suffice). Changing my name meant petitioning the Lt. Governor of Hawaii and publishing the new name in the paper and changing my passport etc. by the time I could have pulled that off the job was no longer open. I asked if I could travel without my husband and I was declined option that also, I was told that in order to reduce turnover, the company insisted that married employees bring their spouse who was then provided an allowance for sacrificing their earning potential while away from home. The kicker, and the part that steams me to this day, is that according to my sources, a woman in Kuwait traditionally keeps her father’s name even after marriage. I never changed my name because I thought it would reduce confusion, now I just get rude comments as in: “So you were too good to take your husband’s name” or people who after they have been politely corrected to my proper nomenclature still refer to me indignantly as “Mrs. James” (I go by Ms. Mitchell) because that is my “REAL” name now and I will just have to get used to being called by it. And before any0ne asks I have encountered this (with shocked disbelief) on a professional level as well as in my personal life. Now for better or for worse I just see it as a reflection on others how they treat me and what they call me.

    1. simple simon*

      Also be aware that if you travel overseas with your child it will be very difficult if you have a different last name than him! There is huge worries about child trafficking and kidnapping around this.

      1. A.*

        Thank you S. Simon! I have just about given up really, but you also make an excellent point, that was another reason I was just going to crack and affix a hyphenation. But because of my original decision to keep my name as it appears on my birth certificate, and the weird unanticipated consequences that followed, I fear the Butterfly effect even more and am reluctant to tamper with it now. In college, an administrator in financial aid mistyped my Social Security number by one digit the semester I was abroad. Besides plunging me into dire financial straits my last semester in school in a foreign country,my jubilant graduation high was eclipsed by the exclusive priveledge of returning to States under threat of fraud charges. (Which by the way took months to unravel, and have been assured could pop up again anytime.) Almost wish we would adopt a simpler system like in Japan where everyone is just Sumisu-san or Mikurusu- san (Smith and Micheals?) with an affixed standard honorific regardless of male or female, marital status, or what not. Of course that brings up its own issues…

  36. Cassie*

    Two last names confuse me – I can’t figure out if it’s a middle name or what. Hyphenated names get too long, but at least I figure it’s one long last name. A friend of mine had a hyphenated last name – she kept her ex-husband’s name and hyphenated it with her 2nd husband’s name because she had a young son from her first marriage and didn’t want the boy to feel like an outsider.

    In my parents’ home country (in east Asia), it’s not common for women to change their surnames when they get married. Oh, sure, they become “Mrs. So-and-So” socially, but professionally, they keep their maiden names. When we immigrated to the US, my mom dropped her maiden name and just used my dad’s name.

  37. J*

    What’s with all the hypen hate? I’m the proud owner of a double barrelled last name– my mom hyphenated hers when she and my dad got married. So my whole life my dad used his name, and my mom was a hyphen (and oh, the joy of explaining that one to teachers and other kids parents, so they’d get my mom’s name right. But that was the 80s. It’s better now :P). For myself and my siblings, our birth certificates had both last names, but we went just by my Dad’s name. I didn’t start hyphenating till I was a teenager, and to this day I’m the only one of my sibs that does. I’ve never had a problem with it– yes, sure, some of my paperwork for hotels, flights, etc will feature only one half, but it’s never caused a serious problem.

    Plus, I’m the only person on the planet with my combo of names: which mean all my google hits are my own, which helps in my profession. It’s easy for people to find me! And while my first name is exceedingly, annoyingly common, having the double last name helped me stand out a bit from the crowd of same-named. For things like email addresses etc that use your name, I often just use my three initals, and again, never had a problem. Even as a kid, I wasn’t emotionally ruined by having parents who’s last names didn’t match, or who were different than mine: I knew who my parents were.

    So yay for the hypenated last name, the middle of the road when it comes to tradition and individuality :)

  38. Job Seeker*

    I know several people who used their maiden name professionally and it seem to work for them. I am very old-fashioned and it seems kinda nice to take your husband’s last name. Remember, the two shall become one.

  39. Bowman*

    I have a professional colleague who works a lot with external organizations and clients – and based on the culture where she works, when she married and changed her name, her organization changed her email address to reflect her new married name.

    I do not recommend the email change at all in such a case. As many organizations only need to contact her 2-3 times a year, people just don’t always remember/update their address books and years out, people still use the old email address. Ultimately it’s just been a mess.

  40. Anonymous*

    Two things. Make sure, if you are changing anything to do it all at once. My mom’s maiden name was ABC but she went by BC. Then when she got married it was BCD. The problem was some records had her as ABD. Caused lots of issues with driver’s licenses and SSA stuff that she still runs into almost 40 years later.

    Secondly, when naming your children, if you are going to name them Ricky Bobby Smith but call them and list them as Bobby on everything, just name them Bobby Ricky. It can make things very confusing when a person insists their name is Bobby but everything official is Ricky.

    1. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater*

      +1 on your last point. Since the beginning I’ve been called by my middle name. For the life of me I can’t understand why my parents didn’t make it my first name or didn’t just call me by my first name; it’s been a PITA for as long as I can remember >:-[

  41. Anonymous*

    I didn’t change my name for either of my marriages, and I’m very happy I made this decision. If you want to be perceived as an expert in your field, it’s important not to change your name, otherwise people will get confused. If you’ve done any amount of personal branding and have a significant online presence, you’ll have to start from scratch with a new name.

    For you it’s a bit different, since you use your first husband’s last name and not your maiden name. But ultimately, go with what you think is best for you both personally and professionally , not what others want you to do.

    I think the main question for you to consider is: do you WANT to change your last name, or do you feel like you SHOULD? Go with what YOU want, and discuss it with your partner so he knows your decision now and it’s not an issue later.

  42. D*

    I did what AM suggested. I am professionally established and sit on the national board of an association and got married in the middle of my term. I moved my maiden name to be a second middle name and changed my last name.

  43. Mrs PoP*

    I ended up taking my maiden name as a middle name, and slowly transitioned over to my married name – its been 3 years and I’m still in the dmlsny directory under my maiden name, but it’s not a big deal. It worked out pretty well, and I have no problem being First Maiden Married on all of my social networking profiles so people from all different parts of my life can find me easily.

  44. Kimberly*

    I recently married and changed my name with SSA and dropped my middle name for my maiden name and then married name (it was too long to hyenate). I want to keep my maiden name for professional purposes, so do I have to change all legal forms at work? Also what about all the others, i.e., bank accounts, credit cards

  45. Silly Name Combination*

    I’m a writer who has been married a little over a year without changing my last name to my husband’s. I’d like to change it, but because of the confusion outlined in this article and comments, I would prefer to keep my maiden name professionally or use a hyphenated version of some sort.

    Trouble is my maiden name is an adjective and my husband’s last name is a noun. The final product would resemble something awfully silly like “Dutch-Fork.”

    Does anyone have advise on this? Should I just keep my maiden name professionally and change it legally to become my middle name, even if it is rather silly?

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