To Be Or Not To Be: Changing Your Name

It has long been tradition that when you marry, the woman changes her last name to her new husband’s last name.  It was also tradition to stay at home and pop out children as fast as your uterus could handle it, so you have a little wiggle room nowadays.

It is still relatively common for a wife to take her husband’s name, but it’s not as clear-cut of an issue as it once was.  There is no reason you have to change it if you don’t want to, and with the onset of women taking on major careers there can actually be reasons to not do it.  Here are your options, and some reasons to potentially choose that option, to help you decide what is best for you!

1) Keep your name as is.  There is no actual reason, legal or otherwise, that you need to change your name.  If you like it the way it is or have some kind of attachment to it, by all means, keep it!  Something else to keep in mind is if you are already well established in a career or are in a discipline where your worth is tied to the number of publications you have (such as in any of the sciences), changing your name means you risk losing that connection as far as databases are concerned.  It can be harder for potential employers/grant foundations to track your progress if you had a name switch sometime after you started making your mark.  It’s not impossible, but be prepared to answer questions about why you seem to drop off the radar at a certain point.

2) Drop your middle name and replace it with your old last name, and take your husband’s as your new last name.  This is a great option for people who don’t want the hassle of hyphenating, but still want to keep that connection to their old family name.  This gives you the freedom to still use your old name in the business/research world, but for all legal purposes have your husband’s name.  Your electronic records will mostly stay in tact, and it’s one of the easiest to prove trails to employers.

3) Hyphenate your old last name with your new last name.  This is the way to go if you want/need to keep your old family name but also want to take your husband’s name, without screwing up your middle name.  You still easily keep your connection to any major accomplishments you’ve previously had, while following the tradition of taking your hubby’s name.  The hardest thing here is making sure that whatever order to your name (yours first his second, or vice versa) you decide on when you sign your marriage license and send in your name change paperwork is consistent, as well as always keeping it the same whenever you sign a legal document.  The order does actually matter, and if you suddenly switch which way you do it you could run into some problems.

4) Straight-up take your husband’s name.  Logistically this is the easiest option.  It’s also a great way to get out of anonymity if you have a really common name (I just came from Thompson…yeah, we’re everywhere).  If your husband is particularly successful in his field, changing your name can give you a bit of an edge too.  It’s not necessarily fair, but if you have a direct association with someone who’s already known to do well, you’re viewed in a portion of that favorable light as well.

5) Your husband takes your name.  Ooooh, scandalous!  It’s true though, there is no reason a man can’t take on his wife’s name.  While it’s not common, it does happen.  The most common reason for taking this option is if the wife has a well established, successful career.  Not only does no change happen to her name as far as her paper trail is concerned, but her husband could take advantage of that association potentially.  It’s also a good option if he comes from an incredibly common last name and wants something a little more unique that might leave a more lasting impression.

6) Each of you takes on a new name.  Again, not really common, but it happens.  You usually see it if there has been some kind of divorce/re-marrying history, like hubby not having the same last name as his parents, your own kids having a different last name from either of you, etc.  It’s easier to change your name when you marry than it is to change your kids’ names, so this is a good option for couples who find themselves in this predicament.

So the moral of the story?  Do whatever you want!  There is no legal reason to change your name one way or another, or even at all.  The name change paperwork process is the same regardless of what you choose (although it gets a tad stickier for men changing their name because there’s not usually a “maiden name” box on the forms, but there are plenty of ways around that).

I am changing my name, though I’m waiting til my exit from Fermi is finalized so I don’t mess up that paperwork.  How about you?  Do you know what your plan is/what did you do?  Why that route?


As a heads up, you’ll probably notice a couple changes around here in the coming weeks.  I’m working on the logistics of turning this from a wedding planning blog to a general life blog without losing all the wedding stuff, so it’s going to be a combination of transitions and experiments.  I’ll keep you in the loop whenever I’m doing something major!


Posted on July 9, 2012, in Life, Misc. Topics (Wedding), Priorities, To-Do, Wedding Planning Isn't For Sissies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. In Colorado at least, the husband actually has to go to court to change his name (the wife doesn’t) so it’s a bit more complicated than the wife changing her name. My friends wanted to combine their last names into one epic last name but then it turned out it’d be really complicated for him to do it. Cobalt LOOOOVES his last name so it wasn’t even an option for us but still… Thanks Colorado for making things more complicated on the name changing front.

    • Oh wow I didn’t know that! Everything I had seen when I was trying to figure out the process made it sound like the requirements were equal. Maybe Colorado is just weird 😛

      Have you figured out what you’re doing yet?

  2. Nope. It’s still a mystery. I have about a year until I have to renew my driver’s license so I think i will figure it out then since I have to go to the DMV anyway (though similarly to you and leaving Fermi, I kind of want to graduate before doing anything weird with my name… so nothing may happen until after I graduate and we move somewhere new). I am pretty sure I will get rid of my middle name and make that my current last name or just hyphenate my last name. I also want to talk to more scientists about keeping my professional name as my maiden name even if I legally change my name…

    Blah it’s so complicated.

  3. I am so excited to change my name! I get one with an ACCENT in it! woohoo! One month to go! 🙂

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