Whether to change your name after marriage is a personal decision
Women should consider professional branding, kids, possibility of divorce
Between 20 and 30% of married women keep their maiden name
Amal Alamuddin was well-known in many important circles long before she snagged the world’s most eligible bachelor. But Amal Alamuddin is now Amal Clooney, according to her law firm’s website.
That the 36-year-old British attorney has decided to take her famous husband’s last name has raised many questions about feminism and traditional marriage roles.
My only question is: If you married George Clooney, why wouldn’t you take his name?
In all seriousness, though, the decision over whether to take a spouse’s name is an extremely personal one. Married in May, I had to make it myself just a short time ago, and there was a lot to consider.
There’s a reason we stand in front of friends and family, read vows, listen to awful best-man speeches and cut the cake: It’s tradition. But as more couples choose to stand in a backyard or on the beach, write their own vows, ditch the speeches and serve cupcakes, maybe changing your name is just another custom we should feel OK about tweaking. As more same-sex couples marry, this is certainly an issue that will come up across a variety of unions.
In traditional marriages, studies show, the majority of newly wedded women still change their names. The percentage of women who kept their maiden names peaked in the 1990s before leveling off in the 2000s at about 18%, according to a 2009 study, though more recent data from Facebook show that around a third of 20-somethings who wed decide against the change.
Here are some factors that every bride (and groom) must weigh:
Your personal brand
That same 2009 study found that well-educated women with higher incomes were much more likely to keep their maiden names, especially if they were in a name-recognizable field like the arts or entertainment. A study published in 2010 found that women who married later in life, say ages 35 to 39, were also more likely to keep their maiden names than women who married before 25.
“As you age, you have more and more associated with your name: various degrees, personal property, a career or business built around your name,” said Danielle Tate, founder and CEO of the name-changing service MissNowMrs.com. “If your income comes from people knowing your name, you’re more likely to keep your name in some way.”
Why? In a word: branding. In the digital age, nothing is as important to your career as your personal brand. Job-seekers strive to keep their Google search results clean, while resume websites must match Twitter handles and Facebook profiles.
In other words, you are your online identity. And if your name changes, your online identity must change. Let’s say my husband’s last name was McGregor; what if @JacqueMcGregor was taken?
Of course, there’s another brand to consider: that of your family. Tate says the intention to have children is one that edges many women toward changing their maiden name.
“Patriarchy is still deeply ingrained – in all of us,” writes Molly Caro May, who decided with her husband to give their daughter his last name. “Surnames are one of the unseen limbs of the old world. Giving a child the father’s last name is still a given.”
Tate has heard many stories from moms who kept their maiden names and gave their children their fathers’, only to be stopped when trying to pick the kids up from school or day care. One woman who was married to a German man spent hours fighting airport security while trying to fly home with her kids. “They thought she had stolen his children.”
And then there’s the big What If – as in, what if we don’t make it?
“I took my husband’s name when I got married. I was happy to do it. Then we got divorced,” one Reddit user posted. “The old name chases me everywhere. … It’s been years, and I still get correspondence and checks in that name. It’s humiliating in so many ways, because my ex cheated, and it will be with me forever.”
In the end I, like Mrs. Amal Clooney, decided to adopt my husband’s last name. Yet there was one more thing I hadn’t considered: what a giant pain in the butt it was going to be to do so.
That’s the reason Tate started her name-changing service in the first place. After a 13-hour attempt to change her state driver’s license, she put the process on hold and launched MissNowMrs.com.
“It’s a very lengthy legal process, and if for some reason you want to reverse it …” Tate trails off.
Most brides don’t consider all the things that have their name on it, she says. Your Social Security card, your driver’s license, your passport and your credit cards are the big ones. But what about your health and car insurance? What about your gym membership and magazine subscriptions? Your Amazon, PayPal or frequent-flier account? Your work email that your colleagues are now going to have to remember has changed?
Some states don’t allow you to use your maiden name as a middle name, Tate says, and others like New York and Pennsylvania require you to do things in a certain order – i.e., change your Social Security card and passport before your driver’s license. Many insist you make the changes before a certain amount of time passes after your wedding, or the process gets infinitely more complicated.
And of course, no company or state has the same rules or process when it comes to making that name change. One credit card company I called simply said OK and made the switch. Another required me to fax (apparently that’s still a thing) them my marriage certificate, my driver’s license and my Social Security card and then asked me to call back two weeks later to officially request the change. (I’m still waiting for them to ask for our first-born child.)
Meanwhile, I continued to try to buy things with my credit cards, which no longer matched the name on my driver’s license.
Hassles (and there were many) aside, I’m happy with my new name. But I’ve warned other brides-to-be not to take the decision lightly.
Ask yourself, Tate says: “Is my name part of my identity, and am I willing to change all that?”