Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Should you change your name upon marriage?

The question of married name versus maiden name in the work-place is a tricky one, especially in the US, where cultural norms have favored the woman taking the husband's last name upon marriage.  There are many opinions for, against and for hyphenating or combining à la Hillary Rodham Clinton.  It becomes even trickier if one factors into account divorce, remarriage, naming of children and step-children, and loss of professional identity if a woman has published in her maiden name or has degrees or licenses in her maiden name. 

Reading this research published in 2010 by researchers from the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research, Tilburg University in Holland suggests that the penalty for a change - resulting from the opinion or prejudice of others - might be $500,000 over the course of a woman's career.  Smart Money has a good summary of the research methods here.  The title of the Smart Money article is "Are Maiden Names Worth $500,000?"  My first thought was - Are you kidding me? I wouldn't willingly pass up $500,000 to share my spouse's last name!

Now, back to the survey: The survey subjects were college students, and they were also in Europe.  But the application of the research to the US is supportable.  Women may be applauded for changing their names in support of family unity, but on the other hand may be seen as less dedicated to their careers.  This penalty may be an unexpected cost born by the woman - and her family. 

My recommendation on this subject is that any woman who has established herself in her career, made contacts and obtained professional licenses should keep that name.  An alternative would be to retain one's maiden name as a middle name and - like Hillary - use all three in daily use.  A third alternative would be to use one name professionally while changing the legal name to the husband's name: One big drawback to this last alternative would be that professional licenses may need to be in one's legal name.  A final alternative would be to keep one's legal name the same but use the husband's name socially: Thus, a woman would introduce herself as Susie Marriedname while keeping Susie Maidenname as her legal name. 

I have met many women with different last names than their spouse and/or kids and I must say that I rarely get confused.  I hope you have the same experience.  And I hope that over time, society becomes more accepting of whatever name one chooses to use.

1 comment:

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