Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Name Game

Here's a problem that definitely disproportionately affects women scientists more than men: what to do with your name when you get married?1

My personal advice? Don't hyphenate. It doesn't matter if both your original name and your husband's name are pretty straightforward. Join them with a hyphen, and suddenly no one can pronounce it nor spell it correctly. Your new name is suddenly long and unwieldy, even though neither name was individually. There's also the fact that many computer systems simply cannot deal with a hyphen, particularly most airline reservation systems.2

I actually had it pretty easy in a lot of ways. I got married before I ever published anything, so I had complete freedom to do whatever I wanted with my name. And actually, now that I'm used to it, I like my name just fine the way it is.

Still, choosing what name you go by is one of these issues that is deeply personal, yet at the same time affects your career. You might choose to keep your name because you've already published under that name or simply because it's been your identity for so long. You might choose to change it so that your family will all have the same last name or simply because you've always hated your name.

A friend of mine is getting married soon, and she asked me for advice about her peculiar situation. For the purposes of anonymity, I will call her Ann Baker-Cooper and her fiance Yancy Zhan. She writes:

[...]people have already started asking me what I plan to do with my last name -- change it, keep it, triple hyphenate it, etc. I know you decided to go with the hyphenation route, but I've spent my entire life trying to get away from the hyphenated last name. I am really excited about the idea of taking Yancy's last name, which would make me Ann Zhan. However, there is the major problem that I am fairly advanced in my career at this point, and I've published a lot of papers under my current last name. Also, Baker-Cooper has that uniqueness factor when it comes to publishing, since only 1 other person in the entire world shares my last name. (I did look up "Zhan" on ADS, and there are several, but no other A. Zhans.)

[...]One idea for me is to change my last name to Zhan in my personal life, but use Baker-Cooper in my professional life. I think this sounds a little complicated though, since both spheres tend to overlap... and what do you do when someone at your work books your flights under your professional name b/c they assume it's your legal name. Sounds like a mess to me!

Sounds messy to me, too! I did try briefly to use one name legally and professionally and the other socially, but it ended up getting too confusing and in the end I gave up and embraced my hyphenated but unwieldy name as my own.

I do know that it is possible to link both your pre- and post-marriage names on ADS: it's simply a matter of contacting the right person at ADS. So even if Ann did change her name to Zhan, a search on A. Baker-Cooper would also pull up those by A. Zhan, and vice versa. The trick is getting people to realize that those two people are one and the same.

So now I open the floor to you readers: what do you suggest that Ann do with her name?

1 This is not to say that only women ever change their names when they get married. I know of at least one man who took his wife's name, and a few who both changed their names. But still, this society's expectation is that women will take their husbands' names.

2 (Also, it's possible that your own mother will never remember your correct name, but always refer to you by your husband's last name anyway.)

[Update] More comments on the subject at the CSWA Facebook page here.

[UPDATEx2] A similar discussion is going on over at Sciencewoman's blog here!


Alyssa said...

Oh boy - I struggled with that decision for the whole year before the wedding. My issue was that I kept thinking about what other people wanted/expected me to do - I had a hard time just concentrating on what I wanted. After I did that though, I realized my decision was easy (I took his name).

I guess I kind of had it "easy" though, because I hadn't published anything in my maiden name in the subject I'm studying now (although I do have a paper on another topic in my maiden name).

I think that it's ridiculous that the academic world has such a hard time dealing with a name change --- really? Like it never happens?! A couple things one can do:

1. Publish in your maiden name, but keep the rest of your stuff in your married name (everything at the university, social life, etc.)

2. Publish as "NewName (nee OldName)"

My advice to your friend though is to go with her heart! If she wants to take her husbands name, then do it...everything else will fall back into place eventually :D

zandperl said...

There are at least two other options that you didn't mention: having the husband take the wife's name, or having the couple come up with a new name for their married life together. Though these options may not be good for your friend, it's still worth noting that they may be good for other people.

dawn said...

I made the (huge) mistake of hyphenating my name. I also had the idea that if I did so, people could call me by one or the other and feel comfortable with either. That did not happen -- all that happened was that my last name became unwieldly, and that everybody became confused as to which last name to use! (I use my maiden name for publishing but hyphenated for everything else since you usually have to use your 'official' name).

Hannah is absolutely spot on that airline reservations are one of *the* biggest difficulties. I travel a lot for work so I come across this problem often -- some airlines just can't fit my whole name in there and I've actually had problems with TSA wanting to see an extra form of ID, so I have taken to always carrying my passport with me because it has my entire name on it. I think this will become especially more difficult in the near future when the government institutes rules about using your 'official' name for booking airline reservations.

Hannah is right -- pick one or the other (or something new). I should have just stuck with my maiden name, but now I feel like it would be even more confusing to switch it back...

dr roadwoman said...

I thought about this problem for about oh, 10 seconds, and did not change my name.

Something to think about is what would you do if you are widowed or divorced? And what if you remarry?

Unknown said...

I felt like an oddball when I changed my name to my husband's name when I got married. I really liked his last name over mine and I knew that we'd try to have kids one day and I wanted them to have the same last name. I didn't agonize over it at all. I had both my names linked in the ADS sites and it seems to work fine. I earned my PhD in my new name so I was relatively young in my career. After ten years, we divorced, and I will not change my name again (even if I remarry one day) at least not professionally because I like my name. It does not give me a bad vibe that it is also my ex-husband's name, because I associate it with me and not him. I have two children with it as well. So my point is, I think it really is a personal preference which may also be related to the stage in your career.
I can certainly understand people not wanting to switch it once they are established in their field, whatever the circumstance.

Katy said...

Interestingly, I didn't struggle with this question when I got married about 2 years ago, assuming my plan was common enough that it would be straight forward: I took my husband's name, but use my maiden name professionally. Not so straight forward.

Now, I don't publish in astronomy anymore, but teach astro sometimes while working for a non-profit in science administration. I still wanted to be linked to my professional accomplishments, and honestly, it drives me crazy to be called Dr. Husband's name, since that's him... not me. But, personally, Mrs. Husband's name feels fine, and my argument has been that I didn't want to have to explain to a hospital ER why it was OK to take home my sick child who has a different last name (only a hypothetical situation I have yet to test).

In practice, though, my day job still switches the names sometimes -- like, checks made out to the maiden name, but professional acknowledgments with the new name. I have had to change professional travel arrangements that were made unknowingly with my maiden name, and had colleagues on these trips not be able to find me for the same reason.

I had started to wish I'd hyphenated, so it's comforting to see so much advice against that! I'm moving towards giving up on the maiden name, tho. My only advice would echo that here... just pick one, and stick with it!

Skibo Brown said...

Hi Everyone,

I am "Ann Baker-Cooper" from Hannah's post. This is all really helpful advice, and it's really good to see a range of opinions on this subject. I think I will probably go with my original plan and take my fiance's last name once we get married -- I've truly been waiting my whole life to get rid of my hyphenated last name, much to my parents' chagrin! I am still somewhat worried about my publication record under my maiden name, since I have already published fairly extensively under that name. However, I think that my sub-field of astronomy is small enough that I will be able to make people aware of the issue. I will also look into linking my two names in ADS.

Keep the comments coming! It is great to see so many different experiences out there on this subject!

Alycia Weinberger said...

Having children with a different (husband's) last name works fine on a practical level. Society is getting used to this situation. It's the case for half of the kids in my son's class at his public school. I realize I live in inside-the-beltway DC, so perhaps not representative of everywhere. But there are so many divorces and re-marriages nation-wide that it's common everywhere.

I never considered changing my name, and I do believe that the personal can be political. I felt that not changing my name made a statement that "I am who I am, and that doesn't change with marriage." I practice not bristling when people at my son's school call me "Mrs" or "Dr" son's-name, though I think they ought to look at the school directory and evaluate their assumptions.

I've heard many more women than men say that they "hate their names." I think we were raised with the expectation that we'd change them someday, so we subconsciously didn't become attached to them. Men, on other hand, were not only raised to keep their names but to pass them on and see them as important. Men of my generation still want sons for this reason. There's still widely an old-fashioned sense that the family continues through sons or that sons bring honor because they carry on the family name. I want people to think the same way of daughters. So, I admit, I want women to keep their names because then I think this perception will change.

Unknown said...

Thanks for all these comments. With only a few weeks to go, I'm struggling as well. I have no middle name, so I'm thinking of taking my maiden name as my middle name. Of course, my fiance has punctuation in his name which is sometimes difficult for computer systems also. I don't think there's a right answer here, and it's almost frustrating that we have to go through this decision-making process. My plan has been to take his name and have ADS link my maiden name to my new name. It's certainly not ideal, but I hope that as more of us go this route, it will become less confusing for people looking for past publications.