Friday, April 02, 2010


An ancient post that still gets comments from time to time, in many cases from non-academics, concerns the topic of whether a woman chooses to change (or hyphenate) her name when she gets married.

The most recent comment was from a smug and delusional person who seems to think that women who don't take their husband's last name are more likely to get divorced. Somehow I think the commenter was expressing their own insecurities rather than making a statement based on fact. Somehow I doubt that, after ~ 20 years in a marriage in which neither one of us at any time wanted me to change my name, the name issue is going to break up my marriage.

In this blog, I try to examine issues from various points of view, recognizing that we all have different experiences and priorities in our lives. But sometimes I make an unequivocal statement. This is one of those times:

Whether or not a woman changes her last name to her husband's has nothing to do with how much they love and respect one another. It has nothing to do with the strength of their bond. It is a personal decision that should be respected, no matter what that decision is.

I am now quite used to seeing the CVs of women who changed their names after first publishing under a different last name. In fact, this week I am spending a lot of time gazing at CVs for yet another committee that does this kind of thing, and have seen good examples of this. The change in name is easily and efficiently explained in a footnote to the CV. I completely don't care whether/why a woman changed her name. And I have no regrets about not changing my name. To each her own.


Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right!

- and now I'm eagerly awaiting what stupid counter-arguments will be written in this comment section...

Anonymous said...

None of the women in my family changed their names upon marrying. Not my mother, not her sisters, and not me. All of them have remained married for over 20, 30 years.

My husband's family (who are also conservative republicans by the way) is the opposite where all the women changed their names and when I married him they all assumed that I would too and they were utterly shocked and deeply troubled when I didn't. I was taken aback by how taken aback they were, if that makes any sense.

Well, my husband and I have been married 15 years now while his sister (who did change her name) just got divorced and he has a brother who also got divorced (the wife had changed her name too). Clearly there's no correlation between women's name changing and likelihood of divorce. though I will say that it must really suck when you are divorced but your name is that of your enemy (i.e. your ex). Every day your name is a reminder of your failed marriage and all the emotional baggage that goes with it. That is something that divorced men don't have to deal with.

Among my female married friends they are evenly split in who kept their names and who changed theirs. But I do have one friend who is in a class of her own. she just got engaged and ALREADY she has changed her name (in venues that allow it without requiring legal proof) and wanting to be addressed as Mrs so-and-so, when her wedding is over a year away...

NJA said...

To each her own, indeed. And yet I feel my heart sink a little every time I see a woman swapping her surname for a man's. It seems a very strange tradition to want to perpetuate in a supposedly equal society.

But it doesn't harm me directly (although it does send a certain message to any children about the relative importance of each parent), so I try to respect her right to be wrong...

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I really don't understand why anyone gives a fuck about this, and what kind of delusional fuckup you have to be to actually care. My parents are total fucked-up assholes about pretty much *everything* in life, and even *they* don't care that PhysioWife didn't change her name. Maybe the people that care about this have run out of other shit to be douchebags about?

Anonymous said...

In my ~3 years of reviewing CVs on search committees I have seen two men who changed their names between publications and made a similar footnote.

I changed my own name prior to any publications so there's no record on my CV. And I second your opinion re: divorce. The fact that I changed my name certainly wouldn't deter me from a divorce if there was a significant reason for one. Fortunately, there is not.

Aiden said...

You might even argue that the marriage bond is stronger if both parties keep their own names. It means that they know in their heart of hearts that they are committed, and that is enough. Taking another's name is really a show for other people.

Truly committed people do not need any crutches.

EmilyH said...

I changed my name when I got married (just as I was finishing up my PhD), but kept my maiden name for publication. If there's anyone out there reading this and contemplating that as a compromise solution, I say DON'T DO IT - I agree with FSP that it really doesn't matter what your name is, but at least pick one! Having two led to so many complications. Most of my colleagues didn't know I had a different "real" name, so there was endless confusion any time paperwork was involved (e.g. travel sponsored by other organizations, legal documents like copyright forms, grants, etc.). After 4 years I got so fed up of it I officially changed back to my maiden name, which took a court order... big pain, but totally worth it. And to your smug commenter, I'd guess that changing your name BACK might be the ultimate sin! My husband and I are still happily married.

mylifeinscience said...

It's lovely to see this post. I'm not changing my name. Partly due to the CV thing, but not really. I'm not Dr. Y, I'm Dr. X.

He thinks its more of the CV. I let him go with that. Doesn't mean I love him less then my cats, but just because I'm married doesn't automatically change me into semi-me.

Anonymous said...

"[...] that women who don't take their husband's last name are more likely to get divorced."

A distinguished professor dropped his (ex)husband's last name, after he left her for a young student.

Anonymous said...

While I liked the idea of changing my name when I got married, the decision for me was based mainly on practical considerations.

I got married in grad school, early enough that I hadn't actually published yet, but late enough that a number of people knew me by my maiden name - so I didn't want to change my name entirely. Although I have known people who have done that with no apparent problems.

Since my name and that of my husband were relatively short, I decided to hyphenate. I haven't had any major difficulties as a result, and as an added bonus, my formerly common last name has now become unique among authors in scientific literature databases.

But ultimately, it is a personal choice, and there is no right answer for everyone...and I agree that it has nothing to do with the strength of the marriage.

Cheryl said...

As a recently married PhD candidate, I chose to change my name from First Middle Maiden to First Maiden Married (much to the disagreement of my male PhD advisor who's wife hypenated, and my female academic committee advisor who didn't change hers, but its what I wanted). I have already published under my maiden name from my undergrad and Masters research. I hadn't thought about the need for a footnote on my CV. Do you have suggestions? Should I just list "Previous Name"? Thank you for covering these types of topics.

Anonymous said...

How about when you do not change your name after getting married, but others change it for you?

A few years ago, I worked with a gentleman (scientist and lawyer) who was the member of a committee with which I work. We had prepared some letters on behalf of a colleague and his wife whom our committee was trying to assist. Her name was Susan Jones, and his was Bob Smith. The gentleman with whom I worked removed all mentions of “Ms. Jones” in the letters and changed these to “Mrs. Smith.” She never went by “Mrs. Smith,” only “Ms. Jones.” When I brought this to his attention, he responded that she IS “Mrs. Jones” and insisted that she be called such. I reminded him that my husband IS “The Husband of Anna White,” but he does not go by that name. His name is Dave Lee.

(All names were changed.)

amy said...

Just to throw a wrench in the works, what about the near-universal practice of using the husband's last name for the kids' last names, even when the wife has kept her own name? If we're really so equal about everything, how come we don't just flip a coin to decide whose name the kids are going to get? I guess the other option is to hyphenate the kids' names, but that could get cumbersome after a few generations!

zb said...

OK. That last story is bizarre. I have personally strong feelings about people changing their names, but I do accept that it is a personal decision.

On the other hand, I do believe that CV's should be codified so that all the work of a particular individual can be easily collated. To me that means a single publication name. Of course, we don't have that, even for people who don't change their name, given that people can publish with identical names. I would give all published authors a formal publication name (kind of like actors) and expect that to remain constant over time.

(the previous anonymous's story is pretty bizarre. I'm hoping that there's some reason why Ms. Jones had to be identified as Mr. Smith's wife, but the guy just has to realize that it can't be done by changing her name).

(And, are there any studies examining the relationship between name change & divorce. It wouldn't change my mind about my choice, but it would be interesting to see)

Unknown said...

When I got married (and didn't change my name) I was amused by how many people cared so deeply about the decision... and how none of the people who cared so deeply actually had any reason to do so.

The only downside of what I did, as far as I can see, is that when I call my daughters' doctor or day care or whatever, I have to introduce my self as Cloud, Pumpkin Daddy's last name's mommy. But I'm over that already.

Among my friends, I have seen pretty much every permutation possible, and I have never noticed it having any bearing on the quality of the marriage.

Anonymous said...

any thoughts on whether the CV indicating the name change is a deterrent in hiring of women faculty because places either preceive the person as not interested or maybe more so that they don't want to or can't address a two body problem?

Linda said...

@ Aiden: Changing my name was not a "show for other people". I did it because it was a personal value. Who the fuck cares what other people think of me for changing my name. People aren't less of a person because they change their name. The females you must be thinking of were that wimpy beforehand...

Anonymous said...

Wow, was that post left by my first husband? That's what he told me when I said I wanted to keep my name. This was a major issue for him. He thought it was disrespectful to not take his name.

In retrospect, him disagreeing with my choice was a sign of him wanting control over everything in my life and not agreeing with (or supporting) me going to grad school. I finally stood-up to him, and am so much happier now.

Current husband said he'd support whatever I did. Again, a sign of our (much healthier) relationship.

I don't think the name matters, but rather the reason. If an academic woman likes the tradition of everyone in her family (wife, spouse, kids) having the same name I don't think there is anything wrong with it, as long as she wasn't bullied into it.

Anonymous said...

I think it's more of a cultural thing. After all, first and last names by themselves don't have anything to do with gender equality: It's just a social convention for identifying people. Whatever value we associate with changing, not changing, adding, destroying, or whatever you want to do with your name is just in the eye of the beholder.

For reference, I come from a Latin American country, and as some people may know women when they get married add the name of their husband as another last name to their complete name. This may be some cultural bias on my part, but I think this allows for the perfect middle ground solution? Other than people having the gigantic names people from Latin countries are known for. :p

Ursula said...

What a timely post! I just read an article about the same thing in a Germany feminist magazine (Emma).

The German minister for women's issues (of the Germany government) recently married and changed her name to her husband's. This is the first name change of a sitting minister.

It was argued, that giving up one's name in this case can be seen as an attempt to placate the husband, because the wife has a more successful career.

Pagan Topologist said...

I have known two male grad students over the years who married and took their wife's surname. I also know one marriage where both people changed their name to something new which was the name of neither of them to begin with. I suppose that the main people who will be bothered by this are future geneaological researchers.

My first wife kept my name after we were divorced, and still kept it after she remarried, so that she would have the same name as our child.

Kevin said...

I know of one academic couple who on marriage *both* changed their names to a new family name (actually the man's mother's maiden name).

My wife and I decided to keep our own names, because we were comfortable with them. A decision has to be made about what name children would have. We decided that male children would get my family name and female would get hers.
It is best to make this decision *before* there is a child that needs a name.

Anonymous said...


I did not change my name when I married, but my husband's family largely refuses to recognize that choice. I don't think it's malicious, they're just pretty old-fashioned. My husband and I chuckle every time we get a Christmas card addressed to Mr. and Mrs. X (or occasionally, Dr. and Mr. X), but it's not a big deal.

My family, on the other hand, since we got married, has been debating at every family gathering about how we should name our children: hyphenate? make a new last name out of the syllables of each of our names (my dad's favorite)? give the first child my last name if it's a girl and his if it's a boy, and the other for the potential second child?

We're not planning on kids for a few more years, but we are certainly planning on having this thing worked out before we start a family. Whatever we decide, I think we're gonna have some 'splainin to do...

Anonymous said...


The only thing I find disturbing is when people refer to themselves as Dr. Y and Dr. X etc. This desire to change the name post phd actually makes me wanna puke.

Beth said...

And yet I feel my heart sink a little every time I see a woman swapping her surname for a man's.

so I try to respect her right to be wrong...

Truly committed people do not need any crutches.

Hey, hey, let's back up here.

A woman changing her name when she marries does not automatically make her an empty-headed-daughter-of-the-patriarchy. As my boyfriend and I get closer on the road to marriage and as I get closer to my first grad school paper (I have one from undergrad), I am still pretty confident that if we married I would take his name. Why?

1) I don't really like my last name. It's constantly misspelled and mispronounced, while his is easy and somewhat common. It probably wouldn't affect me much in terms of publishing as there are no other Beth NewLastNames, and only 7 B NewLastNames (with one, a guy, having the same middle initial).
2)Frankly, if we're talking about patriarchy here, it's my dad's name anyway and my dad is a giant dick. I'd rather make the reasoned choice to take the name of someone I care about than carry around a name that through no choice of my own associates me with someone I can't stand.
3) My mother did hyphenate her name when she married my father, and she found it such a pain in the ass that she wishes she hadn't. Credit card companies, merchants taking said credit cards, government forms, you name it- none of them can seem to get it right, so she has things under Maiden, Maiden-Married, MaidenMarried, and Married- way too complicated for me.
4) Frankly, if and when we had children, I'd like to share their last name.

They may not be the world's best reasons ever, but try to realize that some people do have reasons why they wouldn't mind changing their names. Making the traditional/historical choice is not an indication that one hasn't considered all the options.

Anonymous said...

I find this rather amusing actually, that people actually care what names other people choose to have.

In the country I currently live it has become very common (at least among the academics I normally associate with) for men to take their wives' names. Since my field is still male-dominated I know a lot more men who have changed names than women. I also have friends who disliked both the husbands' and wives' unmarried names, and both changed to a third (unrelated name). As far as I can tell the decision rests mostly with who has the nicest name: man, women, neither (new name) or both (keep separate names).

In my case I did take my husband's name, since it sounds much nicer, is much less common and fits better with my first name. That's it. I do publish under my maiden name, since I had been for a long time and didn't want to "disappear" from the field before people figured out I was the same person. Most people know now, so maybe I will eventually publish under my new name.

As luck would have it the country where I am a citizen (not the one I live in) allows the legal use of spouse's surname without a formal name change, so I can still legally use either name. So no complications there.

Again though, I really can't understand why anyone would care what someone ELSE chooses to use as their name.

Anonymous said...

One thing my husband and I did agree on was that we would choose the same name - whether it was his, mine, hyphenated or a new unrelated name.

The reason was that we wanted children, and wanted to have the same name as them. We have different citizenships and travel a lot, and have heard too many horror stories about custody problems at borders due to having a different name from the child - never mind also having the wrong passport.

I completely respect other people's choice to keep two separate names however - for many people such problems will never be an issue. But for some people it's good to keep in mind.

Anonymous said...

In the country I grew up, there is no such problem as no one is allowed to change their name upon marriage. Only in very special occasions (I don't even know which ones) can someone change name.

That being said, I changed my name when I got married in the US (my husband's name is easier to pronounce in English), but keep publishing under my maiden name. My passport will always be under my maiden name, but my green card and everything else US are under my married name. It can be quite a mess, actually. I have to carry my marriage certificate every time I leave the country if I want to make sure I am allowed back in.

Emily said...

I think I remember the ancient post of which you speak. It was about hyphenated names, right?

I don't think I'll ever understand this tradition of women changing their surnames upon marriage. It's just so... weird and complicated. In my culture (Latin America) this isn't done and everyone has two surnames that they never change in their lifetime. But meh, to each their own, I guess.

I just recently got married and the name changing thing was never even mentioned during our wedding planning. It was pretty much a given that I'd keep my own surnames after the wedding, and I made sure the officiant didn't introduce us as "Mrs and Mrs HisName" because that wouldn't be us. I mean, I have two perfectly fine surnames that have served me well my entire life, I don't need a new one! If we ever have kids, they'll probably get two surnames as well, one from me and one from my husband, following the tradition in my culture.

Female Science Professor said...

When I was a kid, I didn't care that my mother and I had different last names once she re-married. It was unusual at the time but it never caused any major problems.

My daughter has two last names and so far she is very happy with that, as she has told us on numerous occasions. Almost as soon as she was old enough to put together complex sentences, she told us that she loves having both of our names in her name. If she ever finds her name(s) too unwieldy or wants to change for any reason -- drop one name, take a new name, whatever -- that's her decision, but for now we are each very happy with our own names.

Anonymous said...

amy: Just to throw a wrench in the works, what about the near-universal practice of using the husband's last name for the kids' last names, even when the wife has kept her own name? If we're really so equal about everything, how come we don't just flip a coin to decide whose name the kids are going to get?

It really isn't fair. Women do the actual giving birth thing, and men - well, their part may be integral to the whole business, but it really doesn't involve pain, discomfort or blood.

So why should the child have the father's surname? It makes no sense.

Heck, any other project in which I do more than 90% of the work involved, should by rights be in my name. ;)

Anonymous said...

Beth, then why not take a completely new name? Instead of being Beth Husbandsname, you could have been Beth and Husband ACompletelyNewName.

Ms.PhD said...

This is an interesting question, given how many women in science were hired BECAUSE they were wives.

Not changing their names means this fact is often hidden from everyone outside, and from women trainees, who have to do some digging to find out that these women were not hired independently on their own merits.

I would never have thought keeping your own name would work against women making progress in the workplace, but I think this might an example where it actually masks a serious problem.

Anonymous said...

I kept my last name after getting married. But our dogs have my husband's last name. (if you ever take your dogs to doggie daycare or grooming they often write the dog's name down together with the owner's last time to facilitate identifying which dog goes with which customer)

Female Science Professor said...

One of our cats has my last name, one has my husband's, and one has my daughter's. So far the lack of a common last name has not inhibited any cat-cat or cat-human bonding.

Beth said...

@ Anonymous @3:17:

I suppose we could do that, but he likes his name and I like his name. If neither of us liked his name it's probably something we'd consider, but the idea that it's somehow only "right" or "fair" if we both change our names to me seems over-the-top. He would still be joining my family as sure as I would be joining his (probably more so, my family is a lot closer than his), and frankly whatever we choose to call ourselves if and when we make that choice shouldn't be a value judgment on our feminist cred.

I do get the history of it, I get the subtext of women-as-property, I understand why it's not a choice for everyone and I totally support the 90% of women in my PhD class who plan to keep their names. However, my idea of feminism is one of freedom to choose whatever you want as an equal member of society, and whether that's to be a Ms. or a Mrs., a housewife or a biologist as long as it's an informed and free choice what does it matter?

Anonymous said...

FSP, I usually like your blog very much, but this time I have to disagree. Not about whether or not a woman's decision is her own; we agree there. But the view that you and some of your commenters are expressing, which implies that a correlation or lack of corrleation between name changes and divorce: (a) can be established by anecdote ("look, I'm not divorced!") and (b) is necessarily causal, is upsetting to me as a (Female) Social Science Professor. First, one could collect data on such things. "Correlated" doesn't have to mean "100% predictive." Second, I can imagine many reasons for a correlation, and they don't have to be causal. For example, women who don't change their names may be, on average, more educated, more financially independent, and therefore more able/likely to walk away from a bad marriage.


Female Science Professor said...

The comment that precipitated the post posited that I would likely be divorced because I did not change my name. I responded to that particular scenario, and don't believe I extended my own experience to the rest of the world. I did mention that I didn't think the smug, I-hope-you-suffer commenter was basing his/her conclusion on fact, but did not go beyond that musing. The social scientists of the world can therefore relax (perhaps), and should not assume that I think I am conducting a rigorous statistical analysis in a blog post based on an anecdote.

Madscientistgirl said...

Here's a new one - my husband is from a Slavic country. When we got married in the US, I could choose to keep my last name or change my name to HisName. However, in his country, they assumed I would change my last name to HisNameova because women's names have "ova" on the end. To keep my name and have our marriage recognized in his country, I had to sign an affidavit that I was not changing my name and get it notarized by a notary certified by his country. To do this, I had to take a 2 hour train ride. To have my last name recognized as HisNameova by the US, I would have to have my name legally changed and could not do this as part of the marriage. I don't even know how I would have my last name recognized as HisName in his country and have our marriage recognized - moreover, if I did this, my name would be grammatically incorrect in his language.

After all of the international family drama and long discussions my husband and I had, I would never presume it's any of my business what anyone else does. Keeping my name came with a fair amount of family angst and any woman who does this will get scathing personal critiques from total strangers for her whole life. I saw my mother go through this, and I've already been the target of some scorn. So people should make this decision on their own.

RSB said...

Apparently my decision (was it really a decision when it was never an option?) to not change my name was an issue for my mother in law, who prides herself in being traditional. Woof, that woman has issues.

Sarah said...

I'm in a same-sex relationship and as we gradually head toward marriage, the last name thing has given me a lot of thought. I've assumed from quite a young age that I would keep my last name and my partner, raised with a more conservative cultural background, has always planned to change her name. I was a bit taken aback the first time she told me that she would want to take my name. I was surprised at the strength of my initial reaction, opposition to her changing her name to mine. I had never thought that anyone would take my name. We haven't decided what to do yet, but we are both pretty choice is to keep my original last name. If she wants to change hers, and wants to change it to mine, I can be ok with that, because her choice is just as important.

My mother is socially Mrs. Dad's name and professionally Dr. her name, which causes some problems. She gets called for jury duty under both names. But I like her viewpoint...not only had she already published, both of my parents are doctors..."Please let me introduce Dr. and Dr. Dad's name..." and things could have been just as confusing in our home life if she had changed her name professionally. We get a lot of calls asking for Dr. X or Dr. Y and it helps that they have different names.

NJA said...

@ Beth
A woman changing her name when she marries does not automatically make her an empty-headed-daughter-of-the-patriarchy

I never suggested that it did! But many women change their name when they get married because it's the done thing in their culture, it's the norm they grew up with, etc. It's this unquestioning name-changing that makes my heart sink.

1) If you don't like your last name, change it when you turn 18. Pick your mother's maiden name or an entirely new one. Why use marriage as a reason?

2) If your name has bad associations (e.g, your dad is a dick), do as no. 1. Distance yourself by changing your name at the earliest opportunity.

3) If you don't want to hyphenate your name, don't. Stick to your own name.

4) If you want to have the same name as your kids, give them dual surnames (both mother's and father's names, similar to many Spanish-speaking cultures).

NJA said...

@ Amy who wondered about dual surnames becoming cumbersome with future generations... there's no reason it should be. There already exists a system where matrilineal and patrilineal names are passed down the generations in dual surnames.

For example, Jane Anders Smith gets the name Anders from her mother and Smith from her father (for clarity below, the matrilineal names start with a vowel and the patrilineal names with a consonant):

Jane Anders Smith marries Steve Evans Jones. Both keep their own names. All kids have the surname Anders Jones, which keeps Jane's matrilineal name and Steve's patrilineal name. The order of the names doesn't particularly matter.

One of their kids is Rose Anders Jones, who marries John Alvarez Carson. Their kids will have the surname Anders Carson. Anders goes back to mother, grandmother, etc. (matrilineal line intact), while Carson goes back to father, grandfather, etc. (patrilineal line intact).

It works the same for children of same-sex relationships. Rose has a brother called Dave Anders Jones. He marries Brian O'Neill Sutton and they have kids with the surname Jones Sutton (or Sutton Jones, which sounds slightly better). For male-male parents, both patrilineal names are passed on. For female-female parents, both matrilineal names are passed on.

It's a simple system, clear and consistent, with few disadvantages.

Anonymous said...

I just think that by taking your husband's name you are telling the world that you are married, therefore unavailable...I think that's how the practise came about. Probably it started before the use of the wedding band.

Anonymous said...

i think i share beth's viewpoints the most. but i definitely agree with what FSP and most are saying--what other people do with their names is not your business and you shouldn't care!

i'm not in any position to get married soon but as of right now i plan on changing my name to my husband's just because i want us all (me, him, kids) to have the same last name. not like i think it makes for a stronger family or anything, but i just like the idea of it.

hyphenating or giving my kids two names, at least two that they actually used, would probably be a huge pain in the ass because my maiden name is eleven letters and four syllables long, has four consonants in a row, and is constantly misspelled and mispronounced. it's kind of a cool name (and since my dad only had one brother and they both only had daughters, we're the last generation of it in my family) but i'd hate to saddle my kids (or myself) with it PLUS another name! what a hassle!

but yeah, to each her/his own.

barbara said...

I'm from and live in a country where women don't change their name. The children get the father's name, if a father is officially declared, otherwise the mother's. Exception are possible but have to be carefully motivated.
As a result, all children are used to the fact that most of them have a different surname than their mothers. Somehow the country survives just fine, and children are not confused.

Anonymous said...

I've seen too many negative consequences for people changing their name (including a Chinese male professor who westernized his name) after they started publishing that I would advice anyone against it.

Anonymous said...

Beth: However, my idea of feminism is one of freedom to choose whatever you want as an equal member of society, and whether that's to be a Ms. or a Mrs., a housewife or a biologist as long as it's an informed and free choice what does it matter?

I'd say taking your husbands name is a bit like like getting silicone breast implants: Of course it's your decision, and yours only. Your body, your rules.

But to my mind it's not unproblematic, not to you and not to any of us.

Beth said...


I 100% agree that it's unfortunate that many women assume they should or have to take their husband's names- that's not how an equal society should work. However, your earlier comments saying that it's the "wrong" choice plus the fact that you still obviously disagree with my decision even though I've listed several reasons I might want to change my name tells me that you're not against women making that choice unquestioningly, but at all. Which is your prerogative, but I'd like to refer you back to the OP:

Whether or not a woman changes her last name to her husband's has nothing to do with how much they love and respect one another. It has nothing to do with the strength of their bond. It is a personal decision that should be respected, no matter what that decision is.

If indeed I do get married in the near future, and if indeed I choose to take my husband's name, it will be because I choose to, not because I feel I have to.

amy said...

NJA - Thanks for the explanation. I didn't know there was an orderly system in place for this. I was just imagining longer and longer hyphenated names! : )

Anonymous said...

When I got married I had already published and in addition, I have a good relationship with my father and not a great one with my in-laws. All motivated me to stay as my name (also, the hyphenated possibility is horrendous to say/spell). But, I agree - of my female colleagues 2 of us didn't change, 2 of us did. Some consciously avoided hyphenating as it reveals gender.

In relation to the first concern - I wish the search engines would assign each person a unique numerical identifier. Then if I look up a paper by person X, I can be linked to all of X's other papers and not the other X's out there who share the name but are not the same. This becomes important in two main cases:
1) a woman/man does change their name due to marriage/divorce. Right now, PubMed won't even pull up hyphenated names from the original name (Susie Smith won't also lead to Susie Smith-Jones). There is one particular professor I know who has at least 3 names from this process - maiden name, married name, hyphenate name, and now back to maiden. Sure, she can note this on her CV, but for the person trying to follow her work it was a problem during that period. Upon remarrying, she not surprisingly did not change her name again.
2) common names - Smith, Jones, and of course Asian names. I have a friend who is Y Xu. No middle initial.. good luck tracking those papers. This is a problem both in terms of following the research, but also for scientific fraud - this person could claim any one of 8000 papers as their own - i'm sure some would be close enough topics that a reviewer would never catch on.

EliRabett said...

In Comrade Physio Prof speak, it's none of anyone else's fucking business and that IS the right answer if anyone tries to make it their business.

OTOH, you would assume with all the trillions of bucks that ISI extorts from the libraries, they could somehow link names when they are changed given an email request

NJA said...

@ Beth
your earlier comments saying that it's the "wrong" choice...

Please don't put words in my mouth - I never said changing one's name was (always, automatically) the wrong choice. Most of the time, unless it's a personal friend, I have no way of knowing whether a woman's name-swap is an informed decision or an unquestioning adherence to tradition. So I try to respect her right to make that choice, even though there's a strong probability it's for the latter ("wrong") reason.

Perhaps you have thought carefully about your own choice (again, I've no way of knowing), but the reasons you offered were not objectively watertight so I offered counterarguments in case any other readers were pondering the same decision. Quid pro quo.

@Anonymous 02:02
I'd say taking your husbands name is a bit like like getting silicone breast implants: Of course it's your decision, and yours only. Your body, your rules.
But to my mind it's not unproblematic, not to you and not to any of us.

Hear, hear... To each her own, as long as she's aware of the broader implications of making a decision that, for many women, reflects a concession to some rather unsavoury traditions about the place of women in society.

Psycgirl said...

When I got married I chose to take my husband's name like this: First Maiden Lastname. For me it was a personal decision that I wanted to have the same last name as my husband and my future children. I don't regret that desire at all.

That being said, when I found myself divorced 18 months into my marriage, and my very first name is attached to that douchebag, I get upset. I wish I had never changed my name professionally, at the very least. Now when I publish, there is no real way (that I can see) for me to easily link up to that first publication. It looks as though I am citing someone else, unless you took the time to notice that my unusual first name is on both of those papers and guessed at what happened....

Because of the "you never know what can happen" approach to life I now have, I wouldn't advise anyone to take their partner's name for professional purposes without at least thinking about the consequences.

Beth said...


I'm sorry, I was never trying to turn this into a fight, I just was initially shocked by some of the harsher language coming from you and one or two other commenters in response to a post where FSP said "everyone has the right to make their own choice and other people should respect those choices, because in the end it doesn't matter worth a damn".

I understand my reasons are not watertight- they don't have to be to still be valid. Each of your responses to my points is certainly reasonable (although for points 1 and 2, I'm 99% certain that the satisfaction of changing my name would be outweighed by the familial shit-hurricane I would bring down on myself and the people I would hurt with that decision), but the sum of all those considerations means I think I would be happiest taking my husband's name. If circumstances change, I'll revisit the decision.

I'm not too worried about my feminist street cred- I'm working for arguably one of the best female scientists of this generation (who, by the way, followed her husband to the US after grad school without any sort of postdoc lined up just to be with him- she's now far more successful than he is), and I have a boyfriend/hopefully future husband who is currently basing his residency applications on where I am now or where I would likely want to postdoc in the next few years. By taking his name I am not declaring myself his property, no matter if that used to be the custom or not. I don't see how having women consciously making that particular choice reinforces its darker implications- I rather think it would over time help to show that it's just a name and implies no power exchange at all. That's my (probably naive) take, and you are of course welcome to differ in your opinions.

ConstituentOther said...

I think the insecurity note is right on. Psychologically speaking, two people who are both individuated well are more likely to enjoy both their time together and apart. In other words, changing names in order to be "part of" the husband is a sign of lack of individuation, and thus chances for the relationship to last long and healthy is lower.
I support the name changing decision to be made personally, but not politically.

Anonymous said...

NJA said:
"Hear, hear... To each her own, as long as she's aware of the broader implications of making a decision that, for many women, reflects a concession to some rather unsavoury traditions about the place of women in society."

And yet in a previous post you suggest we should all use the system favored by Spanish speaking cultures, many of which are known for being extremely patriarchal. Oh please. There is as much cultural anti-female baggage in those cultures as there is in our own (that is to say, a lot).

Smith-Jones said...

I did the hyphenated-name thing. I was not prepared for how much snottiness I'd encounter because of it! I think it's because the hyphenation practice is associated with women in academia or professional women, I've been on the receiving end of eye-rolls ever since. Every time I go to my doctors or dentists or kids' school and give them my name, I get the belabored sigh and the, "Smith-Jones? Which is it? Do we have you under S or J? Which is it?" And I mean EVERY TIME, even if the clerk already knows me. I just sit there patiently repeating, "My last name is Smith-Jones. Smith-Jones is my last name" until they break down.

NJA said...

@ Beth

I'm not looking for a fight either - I can agree to disagree with someone who has thought things through. But I have changed a lot of opinions (male and female) just by provoking people to think!

And good for you that you're working in such a female-led environment! We're not all so lucky; very few of the top academics in my particular field are women (although the junior ranks are 50:50) and none of them are in my department :)

NJA said...

@ Anonymous 11:50
And yet in a previous post you suggest we should all use the system favored by Spanish speaking cultures, many of which are known for being extremely patriarchal.

Yep, they are indeed pretty patriarchal.... which is why I said "similar tomany Spanish-speaking cultures (and didn't suggest taking any other cultural norms on board). I outlined my preferred dual surname system in the post immediately below the one you cite, and it differs from the Spanish one in preserving both the matriarchal and patriarchal lines.

Unknown said...

It's strange how emotional people get over this. There's a lot of judgement out there, going both ways.

I kept my last name when I married. I could say it was for publications. I could say that if I changed my name then the family name would be gone (which is true). But mostly it's because it's my name and I just didn't want to change it. Imagine waking up married and saying, "ok, everybody call me Shirley now, I'm married!". It's just not who I am. *shrug*

My son has my last name, and his second middle name is my husband's surname. Nobody in our families seems to care either way, so we're lucky. I don't know why everybody assumes the kids have to have the husband's name. They don't.

Anonymous said...

NJA: thanks for the explanation of 'dual surnames'. I like it! Right now, patrilineal surnames follow y-haplogroups so it would be nice to have matrilineal surnames following mitochondrial haplogroups. It would certainly make genealogy a lot easier as we move around the planet as a species.

Anonymous said...

See Beth, it's not "wrong" it's just "not unproblematic." Got it? I didn't change my name, but I get pretty annoyed at the type of feminist presumption that tries to tell women what decisions they should make on behalf of the cause.

Anonymous said...

I'm a woman who has changed her name. I made my choice to get rid of my former last name. I love my parents and have a strong relationship with them. I respect myself as an individual. However, my old last name was "Smith". I now have an extremely unusual last name (for an American) and am MUCH easier to find in web searches and literature searches. It was helpful for me, professionally, to change my name because I am now so much easier to find. Plus I prefer the unique name to my former ubiquitous one.

And another thing, I started using my married name prior to marriage in a scientific context because I didn't want to publish my thesis work under two surnames. It was only a few months discrepancy and was easy to do.

Anonymous said...

Why do people get so snippy at the suggestion that their personal choices have wider social implications? Of course they do. None of us live in a bubble.

If I choose to only go out in public swathed from head to foot in black with no feature visible, it's my personal choice. But for some women, it's not their personal choice because cultural/social pressure pushes them into it. And I'm contributing to that pressure by appearing in the same mode of dress because I'm normalizing it.

If I choose to include my research group head as an author on a paper even though he has had zero intellectual input, then that's my personal choice (because I have tenure). But for junior academics, it's not their personal choice because cultural pressure in my department pushes them into including their group head on every paper. And I'm contributing to that pressure by adding him as an author because I'm normalizing it.

The more often someone is seen to follow a social mandate, even if it's for personal rather than cultural reasons, the more that mandate is reinforced. Those who have a vested interest in imposing the mandate will be happy you appear to be playing along and can point to you as an example of 'good behavior'. Same goes for name-changing on marriage, whether you like it or not.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the Anon@10:37...every time a woman changes her name to her husband's regardless of her own deeply personal reasons ("because I love him so much!".."because it's more convenient"..."because I want to show my loyalty to my husband and family"..."because I don't like my own birth name"..."because I want the approval of society...") it reinforces OTHER people's attitudes that they attach to this act. Seeing as how we live in a patriarchal society, it seems likely that whatever an individual woman's personal reasons are for taking her husband's name, it just doesn't matter to the larger society who doesnt' know or give a hoot about that individual woman as this reinforces what it means to themselves and themselves only. Seeing as how there are other options - keeping one's name, combining names, or both spouses taking a third name - for those other options to be less utilized and a woman to still end up taking her husband's name does seem to be perpetuating a status quo and baggage that goes with it. This perpetuates the existing patriarchal culture rather than changing it.

Anonymous said...

I , like Cheryl, changed my name from "First Middle Maiden" to "First Maiden Married" when I got married right after grad school. I had published under my maiden name, and as a postdoc, I published using my full "First Maiden Married" name. It didn't cause me any problems.

However, at the end of my postdoc, I got divorced and changed my name back to "First Middle Maiden" and got hired as a tenure-track faculty member. I then met the love of my life, got married for a second time, and changed my name to "First Maiden 2ndMarried". I have publications under three last names now (or at least I will when these next three papaers go out!).

I do worry about external reviews when I go up for tenure. Will people know that the "old" me is also the "present" me? I have a CV with a couple of footnotes, but when searching for my publications, I'm worried that some will be missed.

Anonymous said...

I would not want to be in a position where if I did get divorced, I STILL have to answer to my ex-married name because I had important papers published under that name. I assume that almost everyone who divorces wants to make a clean break and start anew. Having your ex-married name follow you to the grave because it's on your publication record, is rather depressing.

Anonymous said...

I hate all of you selfish C@/t$. Women like you are the reason our society is going to hell. I hate my generation and wish I lived back in my grandmother's day when women were strong noble were proud of being mothers and wives and put family first before all else. R.I.P. Nana I love you and every strong woman who was ever like you! :(

Anonymous said...

Hi all! I'm new to this blog, and I'm looking for some advice from women in academia. I'm pursuing my Ph.D. in a field in which author names are ordered alphabetically. I don't have any publications just yet, but I'm already thinking about the implications of my recent marriage on my research. When I legally change my name, I plan to replace my middle name with my maiden name (i.e., my new name will be "Firstname Maidenname Marriedname"). Unfortunately, my married name is much less unique than my maiden name is, and the first letter of it is much later in the alphabet. Consequently, if I publish under my new married name, I will probably never ever be listed as the first author and I'll be one of several researchers with the same last name in my field. In the grand scheme of things, this probably won't have any impact at all upon the success of my career. However, it's still sad to exchange a unique last name that appears early in the alphabet for a very generic last name that appears near the end of the alphabet. I know that many women use their maiden name in a professional setting and their married name in a personal setting, but I feel like this would just complicate matters when filling out paperwork and also lead to awkward situations when in the presence of both personal and professional acquaintances. Honestly, I would rather choose a full name and stick with it in every realm of my life. I also don't really want to hyphenate because I want to have children someday and I like the idea of sharing a family name. The best solution that I can think of is to publish under "Firstname Maidenname Lastname." This would help to preserve my unique identity while avoiding the complication of having different professional and personal names. Has anyone heard of a woman who lists her name like this on her publications? Any other advice?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post.

I have changed my last name (back) to my Maiden name a few years ago.

Two main things, I found to be hard. #1: I am not an American, and have a very difficult to last name. And where I come from, women are obligated to carry their husband's lastname by law. (No "keep the maiden name option) So I adopted my ex husband's last name - which was an easy one, got stuck with me and everybody remembered it.

I hated him so much during the whole divorce process, that I decided to not to go on my life with his last name. So I went back to my maiden last name. And yes, I know feel that I am almost forgotten in the field! I am now the woman with a strange last name..

I also was afraid that "now my secret is out". People will see me as a flaky scientist, or someone unhireable because I may have lost stability in my life.

Still to date, even at presentations I am acknowledged on a first name basis, I always have to correct people from pronouncing my name correctly. I wondered, for a long time, whether I did the right thing by not keeping my married name, Somehow that was my science brand, and it is gone now... I found myself in the middle of a scientist identity crisis.

#2 annoying point was (still is!) the emails I receive about my last name change. Yes, none of my female colleagues asks me these questions, but male scientists seem to be very interested in this and I receive(d) a lot of emails asking "why did you change your last name -- Is your husband OK?" (hint hint!). This question makes me very uncomfortable, why does this matter and isn't it obvious what happened?

I am now getting remarried, and embarrassed to change my last name again because I dont want my colleagues to think I am flaky. So I won't have a last name change. I am keeping my last name as it is. I believe with my good work, people will remember my last name. If you think about it, Einstein is not such an easy name to remember after all! Besides, nobody said being a woman is an easy task.

Melissa said...

Isn't it that having a hyphenated last name, or not changing it at all will be more complicated in majority of areas? I got married and I changed adapted my husband's surname. It's easier in all areas, in my honest opinion.

Female Science Professor said...

Whatever. 2014 update: I am still happy I did not change my name. It is not complicated.