SUMMARY: should I change my surname?

Deborah Merriam dmerriam at
Tue Mar 21 01:01:14 EST 1995

Hi, everybody...

Gosh, you folks are wonderful! I'm the original poster in this thread, and
I'm delighted (and a little overwhelmed) by the number of responses my
question got, both here and by e-mail. Thank you all for sharing your

Here's a summary of the points you've (collectively) made which I compiled
for my own reference - thought it might be useful to the ongoing
discussion. Where I've quoted people, I've used their real-life names (I
seem to have misplaced all the e-mail addresses). Thanks again! 

Deborah Merriam, dmerriam at


The best advice, which practically *everybody* has given, is to do what
seems right for you. Your name is so closely tied to your sense of
identity that the two are nearly inseparable for some people, making this
a very personal decision. So, don't try to satisfy other people (you never
will anyway), and be true to yourself. 

"In the long run, it will make no difference to your career. What is
important is your comfort with your sense of identity." - Marc Goldstein
"...Decide what combination is "YOU" and then go for it. All the so-called
hurdles will be manageable once you are comfortable." - Janet L. Bryant


Switching between surnames can make references to your work "a little awkward."

"My impression from talking to women who have changed their names early in
a career is that any difficulties decrease with time as you build up a
publication record under your "new" name. Until then, include the
publication(s) on your CV with a notation that author X is you (assuming
that you do not mind advertising your marital status)." - Beth Schuster

"If you've published only 1 paper, keeping your maiden name may not be a
big issue." - junekk

"By the way, my supervisor knew about a female scientist with a lot of
publications who changed her surname after getting married and lost a lot
of credits because of it! People just can't make the connection to her
past work if she appears on reference lists in papers..." - Denni

"If you are a career scientist, once you star publishing you can lose
significant ground if you ever change your publication name. Name
recognition is very important, and you can do yourself a real disservice
by changing your name after yuo start getting papers out. So once you
start publishing under a particular name, it is wise to continue in the
same vein." - Ellen Wijsman

"When I got married 17 years ago, I took my husband's surname. I then
proceeded to go to college, work and go to grad school, publishing under
that name. But as much as someone about to be married may not want to hear
this, some things don't last. After 15 years, the owner of the surname
left. I'm getting married again this year, and now I have a double dilemma
- I've never published under my maiden name, I don't want to go on
publishing under my ex-husband's surname, and I'm gunshy of publishing
under my husband-to-be's surname. Suggestions?" - Julia Keith
"Just from the point of view of continuity of your career, I would say
stick to publishing under the name you have always published under, even
if you never use it for anything else." - Hadass Eviatar


advantages: no identity crisis, and no explaining that "I used to be...";
your publication record and professional licences are in this name;
changing is a hassle and/or costly in some places; honors your father;
makes a good litmus test for new aquaintan ces ("'s all very telling"
- Mona Oommen); your birth-name is unique; if your marriage doesn't last,
it won't affect your publication record

disadvantages: in some places, people will assume that you are "living in
sin" and judge you accordingly; some people have experienced problems in
dealing with schools, lawyers, banks, etc.; your families may well be last
to accept this decision

"...Most of the professional people I know (maybe as high as 95%) have
kept their own names." - Ellen Paul

"Your last name is a code which ties everything you have ever done to
you." - Lauri Lintott

"I felt that my name was too tied to my identity.... The only annoying
part is that many places refuse to recognise this trend." - Michelle

"...we felt that the name-changing tradition was too rooted in
females-as-property to go that way." - John Alsobrook

"I did not change my name when I got married, and it has never been much
of a problem, either in legal situations, or in dealing with schools,
friends, etc. There are lots and lots of families with multiple names,
either because of initial choice or because of divorce and remarriage.
... In legal situations, if a misunderstanding arises one just
reemphasises the 2 names." - Ellen Wijsman

"I can happily report that our bank has zero trouble with the idea. It's
also easy to set up two credit records this way. ... However, it's also
true that not everyone understands that a couple can be legally married
and go by two last names." - Patricia White

"We have lived in the UK, USA, Australia and Japan and never had problems
with two names. The whole of China has no problem." - Robert Ridge

"By the way, my husband always tells people that he decided to keep HIS
name." - Liz Johnson


You can explain a name change on your CV with a line like "Some
publications appeared under my maiden name of X." 

suggestion: keep your maiden name as a new middle name
"This makes it easy to trace out your publications." - Marc Goldstein
"It's the old-fashioned way that I, my mother, and preceeding generations
did it!" - Beverly Steele Allan

"It is important to us to have the same name as a statement of our unity."
- Donna Munoz O'Regan

"It made my marriage more of a reality by having a new last name." -
Joanne M. Arrandale

disadvantages: possible identity crisis; (as noted earlier) what do you do
when the surname's owner has left? 


This seems like a good compromise ("but should we have to!").

disadvantages: people feel wierd about it and aren't sure how to address
you; you may need to take special pains to make sure your university phone
listing, records, and so on are under the correct surname

"I have a number of scientist friends who do this (hers professionally,
his personally) and I never know how to address them on Christmas cards
and things. Since I know them as scientists I know them professionally but
they're friends so I also know them personally. So what do you do?" -
Michelle Mynlieff


"Hyphenated names are a nightmare for people to address you with." - Denni

"...hyphenating was the worst mistake I could have made. NOBODY respected
my decision. All of my mail is addressed as Mary Alpin, Mrs. Alpin etc.
Even my insurance company ... changed my name. They claimed that nobody
would know where to look for our records. ... I have found that most
people have a problem with husbands and wives having different names. Mine
being only 50% similar only compounds the problem. If I could do it again,
I would have kept my own name." - Mary S. Songster-Alpin

"You might as well change your name and be done with it." - Hadass Eviatar

"Just do not, I repeat do not hyphenate. This is a real hassle and not
worth it." - Catherine Wallace

"I married in 1975, both of us in graduate school in chemistry. I
hyphenated my name to his, but encouraged him not to do it if he wasn't
comfortable with the idea. He tried to talk me into just leaving my name
alone (keeping it), but I thought this was t he best choice for me at the
time. Today? I'd just keep my name. It takes twice as long to spell out a
hyphenated name, and some computers don't accept hyphens. And people still
file you under the wrong name no matter what." - Barbara Duhl-Emswiler


"When I was planning to get married, my fiance announced that he felt that
it was vital that a married couple share one name -- to symbolize their
new oneness. I said 'I'm glad to hear you want to take my last name.' He
agreed in less than a minute so I married him." - Lee A. Kinkade


Kate suggested this, noting that "picking a new name together would be a
strong bonding process and also would avoid some of the confusion arising
from different surnames in the same family." 
"Since you are creating a new family - you should have a new name." - Anne
K. Sutherland

Suggestion: keep a record of the name change to help in tracing families.

Note: this option could hurt *both* your careers if the timing is wrong.


"I don't get married yet, but I think 3 <using your maiden name for work
and your spouse's surname at home> is the best way. It's not good for a
family to have two family names. But for business, if your environment
admits it, you use your surname like actresses have their own stage name.
You are lucky, because you can have selection. Your partner must be
sympathetic. Most Japanese men aren't. Also in Japan, a lot of women are
wracking their brains about it, and most of the women I know changed their
surname. Some of them use both their names for work. The Japanese law for
the register is strict, government controls all of the nation's register
papers. Either she or he (in most cases she) must have her or his name
entered in the family register. (For example, illegitimate children
cannot write their name on the register papers.) Fortunately, I heard that
Japanese will become able to keep their own surname after marriage." -
Kukimo Takeda

"For your interest, in Japan it is not uncommon for men to change their
surnames to that of their spouse. This usually happens when there is no
male heir to the female spouse line, so that the surname is maintained." -
Robert Ridge

Hadass Eviatar noted that in Israel, many immigrants have changed their
surnames to Hebrew ones. 

Sylvia reports that in Germany, both partners keeping their respective
surnames upon marriage is an unusual arrangement, and she and her husband
have experienced plenty of mix-ups as a result -- "...We consider them to
be somebody else's problems." 

"In Spain, everybody has two last names. My name is Gloria Mercado Martin.
Mercado comes from my father, and Martin comes from my mother. When I came
to the U.S., I noticed that my name was taken as Gloria M. Martin, as it
was assumed that Mercado was a middle name. I decided to hyphenate my
last name to remove the doubt. However, this method has also brought
confusion for many, as I am asked about my marital status frequently. Even
some college professor allowed himself a little joke at my expense on the
first day of class: "What are you going to do when you get married?" -
Gloria Mercado-Martin


Both of you could use both surnames, unhyphenated except for conferences
and papers where the "middle" surname is likely to be chopped off. (sorry,
I lost my note of who suggested this)

"A friend of mine is engaged and had the same dilemma about names. I think
she and her fiance are compromising: she will take his last name as her
middle name, and he will take her last name as his middle name." - Theresa
My fiance and I also decided on this option (and we thought we were being
so original! ;). It has all the advantages of keeping my maiden name, and
still will be a rite of passage and symbolize our committment to each


People have mentioned the following options: his surname for all children;
her surname for all children; his surname for the boys, and hers for the
girls; her surname as the child's middle name. 


"And remember that nothing is carved in stone -- if something doesn't work
out you can always change it. Yes, it will be a royal pain, and you might
lose important recognition for a time, but if it is that important to you
it will work out." - Harise Stein

"Marriage isn't about names, it's about love." - Mary S. Songster-Alpin

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