Call me old-fashioned, but I always wanted to change my name when I got married. In middle school, I doodled hearts around my first name paired with the various last names of boys I had crushes on. I made my parents drive me to the movie theater in a blizzard the weekend Titanic was released and bawled my eyes out when Rose used Jack’s last name at the end of the film. (Rose may have let you sink to the bottom of the Atlantic, Jack, but I’ll never let go!)
When I was 14, the idea that my husband and I would share a name—and share that name with our future children—was ultra romantic.
When I actually did get married last year, just after my thirtieth birthday, I realized that it was going to be a lot harder for me to change my name than I thought. I’m not talking about the paperwork (although that is reason enough to keep your name if you’re not in the mood for a hassle).
The biggest problem with changing your name is that it can weaken the integrity of your professional network.
Changing my name ended up being a pretty emotional experience for me. I mean, I’ve been known as Katie Raye Phillips for 30 years. I was afraid that if I changed my name, I’d lose that identity. I loved my fiancé very much, but I was nervous about becoming Katie Martin.
I knew Katie Raye Phillips. But Katie Martin? Who was that girl?
The Knot reports that as many as 86 percent of women still change their name after marriage, but the number of women who choose to keep their name is on the rise.
And those women may be onto something.
Here’s why changing your name when you get married can actually be a terrible idea:
What’s in a name?
Quite a bit, especially in the digital age.
Almost everyone these days has an online presence of some kind. If your online identity is tied to your career, a name change can be a major headache.
I’d still have my career in digital marketing to tend to and everyone knows me by my name. To introduce yet another name would only confuse my contacts, and I’d basically have to start from scratch.
WeddingDresses.com editor and community manager Sophie Darling tells HealthyWay, “The biggest problem with changing your name is that it can weaken the integrity of your professional network.”
“I was married last year but I see no benefit to changing my last name. I have built a brand and network using my maiden name, which is VERY memorable: BACON. I have a master’s degree in my own name, and even if I were to have children, unlikely, I still see no benefit to changing my name. I’d still have my career in digital marketing to tend to and everyone knows me by my name. To introduce yet another name would only confuse my contacts, and I’d basically have to start from scratch,” says Cari Bacon, an SEO specialist and founder of Digital Marketing Darlings.
Changing my name professionally meant potentially losing years of personal branding and SEO
Tracy Bagatelle-Black, founder of Bagatelle Black Public Relations, agrees. “My maiden name was Tracy Bagatelle and I married a man with the last name Black. There was no way, especially as an established publicist, that I was going to lose my unique identity so I compromised and went with the name Tracy Bagatelle-Black. …Later, we got divorced but I kept the hyphenated name because that was now my professional brand.”
Jessica Thiele, a marketing manager for tech company Virtual Logistics, also decided not to change her name when she married. “By the time we got married, my husband was 30 and I was 29, and at that point I had already established my professional persona as Jessica Thiele; changing my name now meant more than the symbolic gesture. Aside from the legal hurdles and the fact that the digital economy now means my name is tied to countless accounts, social media properties, and more, it’s now my personal brand. Changing my name professionally meant potentially losing years of personal branding and SEO.”
If you searched online for just my first and last name, several people came up that were not me, including an amateur model and a congressional candidate.
When your name is tied to your personal brand and online presence, it makes sense to forgo a name change, but what if your last name is one of the most common surnames in America?
Brianna Brailey recently married and chose to change her name, which she saw as a professional opportunity, not a setback:
“My maiden name was very common, and my first and last name combination was fairly common as well. If you searched online for just my first and last name, several people came up that were not me, including an amateur model and a congressional candidate. The domain name of my first and last name was already taken, as were several social media handles. As far as I can tell, I’m the only Brianna Brailey on the internet now.”
Some surnames are inherently more catchy than others (usually ones with fewer syllables), and if you’re trying to break out into a market or even rebrand your existing business, a name change can actually be beneficial.
Darling agrees, and tells HealthyWay there could be professional benefits for women who choose to change their names after marriage.
“A name change could be just what you need if you’re trying to market that name and aren’t satisfied with your own. Some surnames are inherently more catchy than others (usually ones with fewer syllables), and if you’re trying to break out into a market or even rebrand your existing business, a name change can actually be beneficial. Since many women today run their own businesses (especially compared to in the past), there is definitely potential value here.”
Brailey, who is just starting out professionally, didn’t receive any negative fallout from her name change professionally. “The majority of my clients for my side business—design and brand consultation—know me personally, so the name change was no issue.”
A rose by any other name…
Starting in the 15th century, women began to take their husband’s surname to show that they were joined together as one entity. Prior to that, women typically didn’t have a surname because they were considered property.
I don’t want to judge other women who do change their name, but I know it colors my perception that they may be less independent and less feminist.
Given the history of why women change their names after marriage, it’s easy to see why women today might want to keep their own surnames.
Janet Ferone, a former National Organization for Women (NOW) chapter president, felt that changing her name went against her principles:
“While it certainly is more convenient to keep my name … the main reason I didn’t consider changing it is that it is MY name, and as a feminist it makes no sense to change it. Also, as an only child, I wanted to continue the family name. The only consideration to changing it that I would give is if my husband added my last name and I added his, but that seems a bit unwieldy. I don’t want to judge other women who do change their name, but I know it colors my perception that they may be less independent and less feminist.”
…is still a rose, right?
Okay, so that’s not exactly what Shakespeare wrote. But does changing your name after marriage really change your identity, as Ferone suggests?
Darling says that “traditions resonate strongly with many people, and although society is gradually breaking from the more outdated ones, a lot of women still prefer to change their name after marriage.”
Ultimately, tradition is what led me to change my name from Phillips to Martin. I very much wanted to share a last name with my children. However, I’m pretty attached to my middle name. Instead of dropping my middle name and going by my first, maiden, and new last names, I chose to become Katie Raye Martin instead. This way, I kept my personal identity intact, while also taking my husband’s last name.
Are the children her kids? His kids? Is this a second marriage?
Ferone admits there are some reasons why a woman might want to legally change her name after marriage. “The only benefit I see to changing one’s name is having the same last name as my husband and son as a family unit. …I’m used to answering to my husband’s last name at our son’s school and am comfortable with that, as it’s hard for schools to keep track of all the names a family might use.”
Children are what prompted Attorney Jody Leighty (née Anderson) to change her name, despite keeping her married name for professional reasons at first.
“I changed my name once I had children. I felt that it was important for all of us to have the same name. I believed that if my name was different from my husband’s and my children, there would be confusion and questions. Are the children her kids? His kids? Is this a second marriage? So at that time, I changed my name, using my maiden name as my middle name and always using my first, middle and last name on all correspondence, business cards, marketing materials, etc.”
This is a perfect consensus for our relationship and my career.
Leighty acknowledges that her name change hasn’t been easy. “Fifteen years later, some people still get confused, particularly because I never changed my work email address, so it still references my maiden name. And quite frankly a lot of people just still think of me as Jody Anderson, and not Jody Leighty.”
Thiele, too, found a compromise in changing her name.
“My husband and I pivoted our ‘last name’ conversation; I am no longer changing my name, but our children will bear his name. This is a perfect consensus for our relationship and my career.”
If you do want to change your name, here’s how:
Unfortunately, changing your name is more tedious and time consuming than filing TPS reports.
First, you’ll need an official copy of your marriage license, which can be obtained from the clerk’s office of the county in which you were married. (Sidenote: Make sure your witnesses sign both copies of the license, otherwise you could be waiting weeks before a copy of your marriage license can be mailed. Trust me, I know from experience.)
After you get a copy of your marriage license, visit the Social Security Administration online or in person to fill out the necessary paperwork. You’ll also need proof of your U.S. citizenship, like a birth certificate or passport, and a form of identification such as your driver’s license. Once you receive your new social security card (with the same number, just a new name), you can change your driver’s license, which will also require two forms of identification, proof of address, and a certified copy of your marriage license.
Now that all your official identification has been changed, you can change your name on your banking information, credit cards, bills, and magazine subscriptions. Most require you to actually make a phone call to customer service to change the name on your account, but it’s usually a quick and easy process.
If you’re content with that identity or need to retain it for professional reasons, you should keep it.
Whether you decide to change your name is up to you.
As a wedding expert who’s seen dozens of women contemplate a name change, Darling has this advice: “The bottom line is that a name is a big part of your identity, especially today as that name is pushed into the public eye at an earlier age than ever before. If you’re content with that identity or need to retain it for professional reasons, you should keep it. And if you’d like to change things up, you can consider a hyphenated last name or you can take your spouse’s.”