The convention of changing your maiden name to your husband’s last name after marriage is still overwhelmingly popular. Several surveys estimate that 65% of US women still opt to change it, and it is something that is actually more popular now than in the late 1990s. There are also persistent perceptions about women who do take their husbands last name being less competent, and they end up making lower salaries. This debate takes on an extra dimension, though, when your last name will be tied to intellectual property, like works of art, music, publications, or businesses.
There are lots of reasons to change your name, and just as many to keep it. In 2008, I changed from my maiden name, Pellegrini, to my husband’s last name, Ishaq. At the time, I had graduated with a baccalaureate under Pellegrini, and while I was intending to go to graduate school I had not yet published anything. Ishaq was shorter and easier to spell than Pellegrini, which I’d had to spell all the time growing up, so at the very least I thought it would save time when talking to customer service personnel. Seriously, on one phone call I made, the customer service employee thought I was spelling Pelllegrini (is there any last name with a triple L??). I considered that I might have to keep my married name once I’d published even if I divorced, but at the time I was not attached to any last name, and did not think I would have any strong emotions tied one or the other, while taking his name meant a lot to my husband.
In 2014, when I divorced, I reconsidered my position. For one thing, I was just about to graduate with a doctorate, I had several publications under Ishaq, and colleagues knew me that way. For another, and this was a big one, it would make it harder to associate all of my materials, even online. I would essentially be reinventing my professional self, at least for several years until the name change had permeated. While some sites are dedicated to getting around this, however, you can still expect your h-index to be incorrectly low as your publications don’t compile.
At first, I made the decision to keep my married name, and over the course of a year realized that I did have strong emotions tied to my last name and my identity, such that I changed it. Staying with my maiden name from the beginning would have certainly made things simpler. All of my degrees, publications, professional self, and personal self would have been tied to a single name that predated my married life. It would have saved me A LOT of paperwork, as well. It’s fairly easy to change your name when you get married. When you divorce; however, you may have to prove that you are allowed to return to your maiden name, as many states include that as a stipulation of the proceedings. My ex-husband had to sign off giving me permission to return to my maiden name. I had to include my divorce papers with every request to change my name at the social security office, and on credit cards, bank accounts, passports, insurance accounts, loan, etc.
I didn’t return to my maiden name, instead I legally became Suzanne Ishaq Pellegrini, and continued to publish as Suzanne Lynn Ishaq. This makes things awkward, because MSU, grant funding agencies, and many scientific societies require and use my legal name, and list me in directories that way. Thus, I still have the problem of having two professional identities. And now I have the additional burden of having to explain my situation to clarify my different monikers to new colleagues that have never known me to be married. To be clear, this isn’t a rant, a pitch, or a warning. Just something to consider. I don’t have any advice for this one, except to think it through.