"My name is my reputation and I built that reputation."
"I've seen that women who change their names are seen as less serious and less dedicated to the field."
"I feel like my name is part of who I am so I don't really want to change that."
"I cannot wait to change my last name!"
If you missed the news, I am engaged to be married! One of the first things people asked me was whether or not I was considering to change from my birth last name to my future husband’s name.
This isn't the first time I've had this conversation - for myself or for others - and I've heard everything under the sun. Friends have been told they "should have kept [their] maiden name because of feminism," "changing [your] name looks like [you] aren't dedicated to [your] career and will prevent [you] from getting a job," "the chances are [your] husband and [you] will be getting divorced some day and that would be so much work."
As scholars, these comments plant a seed of deep-seated fear in many, wondering how a "simple choice" can lead to potential long-lasting repercussions to careers we were all intent on building. While an increasing number of women are changing their names when they wed (about 23% of brides in the 1990s kept their maiden names, and that number is now around 30% according to one of the largest data analyses), a 2010 Dutch study revealed that "women who kept their names were viewed as 'less caring, more independent, more ambitious, more intelligent, and more competent'" which is apparently a variant of the 'likeability conundrum' discussed Harvard Business School professors.
This same 2010 Dutch study stated “A woman who took her partner’s name … was judged as more caring” than one who did not. Huh. Talk about a heck of a bias. But it isn't just that; there are financial considerations at stake. According to the study: “A job applicant who took her partner’s name, in comparison with one with her own name, was less likely to be hired for a job” and received nearly $500 less per month in salary.
Wanting to change your name? Some tips.
Announce the change. When scholars change jobs, often times they send out an email blast or announce the change via social media platforms. If you’re planning to change your name, you should announce it just as explictly otherwise only your close contacts will know of this life change. A simple, “I hope this message finds you doing well. I wanted to update you on a recent change...” will do just fine.
Expect some misunderstandings. People might temporarily identify you as your old name, and others might even be confused. Just correct the person.
Change your online identity. Many professionals have a digital fingerprint on various social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, different email accounts, etc. Try to update them all at the same time - some people even include their old name in parantheses such as “Jane (Maher) Crotty.”
Set up forwarding where necessary. Changing names sometimes means you get a whole new e-mail! Make sure you set an "out of office" for at least six months (maybe even a year) or autoforward so that not only you get all your correspondence, but everyone can update their address books.
Use your new name! There are many things online that you can't backdate with your new name. But in some cases, you can update it or build work under your new name.
What I'm doing
Not only is my name is my "brand," but all of my Australian paperwork (including visas) is in my maiden name. Right now, I don't want to go through all the paperwork of legally changing my name. (That might change in the future.) But if people wish to call me by C's last name socially, I won't correct them.
What can academia do to make this easier?
Academia can, and should, make changes to not only ease the concern of those who want to change their name during pivotal points throughout their career and make the process easier. Afterall, it's not just people who are wanting to get married who are changing their names!
What kind of changes am I talking about? I've seen people suggest training to alleviate any biases when evaluating job applicants and awards ("women who change their names are seen as less serious and less dedicated to the field"), an easier way to link publications with differing names (such as identification numbers, like ORCID), autopopulate former names, etc. These are all suggestions I agree with! Of course, that means many then have to bear the weight of coordinating two identities. It's a complicated issue, that's for sure.
Hi! I'm Melissa, an Australian-based Latina science educator, podcaster, and freelance writer. I spend a lot more time on Instagram and Twitter, but blogging is my first love. Thanks for stopping by — I hope you stay a while.
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