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What’s in a Name? Marriage, Surnames, and Grad School

Navigating the process of changing one's name after marriage or divorce.

October 26, 2014

Katy Meyers Emery is a PhD candidate at Michigan State University in the Department of Anthropology. You can follow her @bonesdonotlie and read her blog Bones Don’t Lie.


Before writing this article, I talked with other academics on Twitter, through email, and in person, about the topic of “changing one’s name.” In the end, each individual chose a specific path for themselves based on their own experiences, perceptions of marriage and partnership, professional stage and trajectory, and personal reasons. This article isn’t about the arguments or debates surrounding your choice of name—because it is YOUR choice! Instead, this article reviews some of the potential ways that you can change your name, and offers some advice on how to go about the process.

First, there are a quite a few name options to consider. Yes, I’m going to use famous fictional archaeologists as examples.

1. Stick with your current name: For example, Henry Walton Jones would have the option of keeping his name after marriage if he wanted.

2. Take your partner’s name: Now if Henry Walton Jones marries Lara Croft, he could take the option of being Henry Walton Croft.

3. Take your partner’s name as the surname and maiden name as new middle name: If he wanted to maintain his birth name, he could become Henry Jones Croft.

4. Take your partner’s name legally or socially, and keep your maiden name for professional purposes: If Henry Walton Jones is known for being “Jones,” he could just go by Croft in social situations but not legally change his name, or vice versa.

5. Take both names with or without the hyphen: This is called a double barrel last name, so our hypothetical person could be Henry Jones-Croft/Croft-Jones, without or without the hyphen.

6. Create a whole new name: After the Croft/Jones wedding, they could go by a new name like Crones or Joft.

What happens if you choose an option that changes your name? As I’ve discussed previously in my post on branding, your name is an important part of your identity, both digital and analog. Regardless of what you are changing your name to, make sure that people can find a way to associate your old name with your new name. This may mean including your birth name on your website. LinkedIn will display your name changes on your profile page to ease the transition. You can also note in your CV the name change and which articles were published under a previous name. Like updates in job status, when you change your name online make sure that you change it everywhere so that there is a cohesive transition and people don’t get confused. Consistency is paramount!

Tara Kuther at the About Grad School page suggests that you look at what other academics have done after a name change. How did they make note of earlier publications with a different name? What does their names in publications look like? A discussion at Stack Exchange’s Academia Forum suggests that for your CV, asterisk all birth name publications and make a note of when your name officially changed.

Of course, this issue may work itself out. If we begin using Document Object Identifiers (unique numbers that can be assigned to objects online) for people, we wouldn’t need to be as worried about the name change process. An article from Nature discusses the use of DOIs attached to your identity to ensure that your work is connected to you regardless of any name changes!

If you’ve changed your name, what strategies did you use to make the process easier? What advice would you give to people, like me, who are going through the name change online and in person?

[Photo by Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski and used under Creative Commons License]


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