Having it both ways: on changing – and keeping – my name

If I can find a way to get exactly what I want without compromising, why shouldn’t I go for it? That’s what I thought when I made the decision about my name, a personal choice that people make for many reasons, as has been written about by others. When I got married, I was a postdoc with several publications from graduate school that were important for my future career, and knew I wanted to keep my name for consistency in my CV, publication record, and network. But I also appreciate tradition and wanted to have the same last name as my partner and future children.

So I did both! I changed my name legally to my partner’s last name, and I continued to use my original name professionally. It was never even a difficult decision for me. I asked around and heard from a number of people that this was possible, though I never met someone in science who had actually done it. A friend had a mother who had done this and said that it was often difficult because she would use the names interchangeably and so others never knew which name to ask for, but I thought that since I am very good at keeping distinctions this would be no problem for me.

The institution at which I worked when I got married was so easy to make the change with – when I submitted the forms to change my legal name, I simply submitted an additional form to use one name legally and another name professionally. This allowed me to change everything with my insurance, taxes, etc., but maintain everything business related with my professional name. It was a system that was already in place which worked beautifully and I never had any issues there.

At my next (current) job, I found right away that there were going to be difficulties. I thought that since this was a bigger institution there would surely be the same kind of practical solutions in place as my previous employer had – surely many people had come before me who had used this system. But no, there was nothing for it! I had to choose one. I tried to work around the system – I ended up registering everything in the beginning with my professional name so that I could get an email address and ID badge according to what I wanted for business. Then I submitted all the documents to change my legal name as I would if I had just gotten married – what a pain! It generally worked the way I wanted, but with a couple of complications. First, there is supposedly no way to change my name in the directory – it has to be my legal name; so if any of my colleagues try to look me up with my business name they can’t find me at all. The other issue that comes up more often is that even though the distinction is clear to me where I should use each name, it is not clear where my institution uses each, so I have to be prepared for either. It can be a waste of time trying to work with someone to find the right name in the system, and it can be embarrassing when a colleague is with me and I have to explain the whole thing.

So far, besides the hassles described above, I’d say there’s only been a real problem once. I traveled to a professional conference, which I registered for under my business name. I traveled using my legal name, of course, and brought appropriate identification. When I tried to register in-person for the conference, they had a strict policy of only giving the packet, which included a Visa gift card used for food at the conference, to registrants with ID. But I don’t have any legal identification with my original name (besides my original birth certificate and marriage certificate, which I am not in the habit of carrying with me), and I hadn’t even brought my institutional ID with my business name. They eventually let me register when I showed them my confirmation email, but it was a major hassle.

I anticipate a handful of experiences like this in the rest of my career. If I was going to be at my present institution longer, I would try to see if I could make improvements to the current system for myself and for others to follow who may need similar situations, but I don’t have that fight in me today and am just trying to make due the best I can for now.

Would I recommend this choice to others? Yes. Would I do it again if I was to do it over? I don’t know… I’ve since thought more and more that I might prefer to keep my own name – and deal with whatever hassles come from that decision to have two last names in the same family. But as it is, I am definitely proud to have each name, and I encourage people to not feel stuck choosing between options when you can have it all!

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3 Responses to Having it both ways: on changing – and keeping – my name

  1. Weekademia says:

    I have done exactly the same and use ‘known professionally by…’. It has caused a few problems with childcare etc calling my work asking for the married me who no one has heard of. My previous employer would also only give name badge/e-mail accounts with the name on payroll but thankfully my current employer has a ‘known by’ option so I have had no problems at all. I love still being able to use my maiden name particularly as I worked so hard to publish and make a name for myself in my chosen field.

    I very much recommend it – as well as travelling with your marriage certificate.

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  2. peírama says:

    I’m sorry to hear your institution isn’t more enlightened. I chose to keep my name. My husband was not interested in changing his but he did not mind the children having my last name. I’ve never had any comments or confusion about us having different names and I don’t think he’s gotten trouble about having a different name than the kids. Though he does get called by my last name sometimes by accident.

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  3. notarealteachers says:

    I did what you did with my legal and professional names, but when I left academia and the “publication” world, I committed to my married name. I’m sad to leave behind my maiden name (it was much easier to pronounce and spell!), but things are a whole lot simpler now!

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