Last week I got married. That means deciding: will I keep name, change it or use both and choose a double-barrelled name? Changing your name as a millennial woman feels like it comes with more baggage than it did twenty years ago.
As well as the admin, we also have to worry about what impact this has on our digital lives and the contacts we’ve made throughout our years. Is it a second chance to curate a new digital footprint? Or is it an outdated practise that makes you broke, not woke?
Reasons not to change your surname name after marriage
The social stigma of bowing down to patriarchy
Most people react to the idea of changing my second name to my husband’s with horror. It’s anti-woman. It’s patriarchal. And I agree. The idea of becoming part of the family you marry wreaks of centuries of misogyny and control, an erasure of your identity. It is not fitting for the 21st Century.
But then why am I not so sure? Why does my stomach feel queasy with anxiety with the idea of not changing it?
I think there are many reasons — some of them rational, others stranger. For example, if I chose to have children in the future (which is more likely than not), shouldn’t I have the same surname as them?
But it’s undeniable that the biggest reason not to change your name is that it’s relenting to a patriarchal and sexist history that my self in my early twenties would have cringed at even considering.
But on a more personal level, I would feel uneasy telling people that I’ve changed my name. I would feel mortified.
The admin of changing your name is intense
Given the effort it will take to change your name, it’s a no-brainer to keep it. When you take into account the number of bank accounts, emails, websites, social media accounts, bills, travel documents, services that you’ve got to change, then it’s at least a week of full-time admin. By my early thirties, I feel as if I’ve signed up to every mailing list and service on the planet.
You have to give up your current profile
If you get married in your thirties, chances are you have a much higher profile than if you were married in your early twenties. My current name yields a multitude of exciting Google results: award-winning filmmaker, actor, digital marketeer, Founder, writer. I have so many achievements under my name. The older you are, the more difficult it is to change your name.
Reasons to change your name after marriage
Rebooting your digital footprint
OK, so this is actually one of the biggest reasons why I’d like to change my name. It’s a great way of curating your digital footprint. Since the Internet began, my name has accumulated a huge digital footprint: mailing lists, job sites, articles I wrote that I wouldn’t stand by today, social media posts. This is a way of beginning again, of cherry-picking my achievements, leaving old inboxes to collect spam, making different tech choices. There’s something liberating and creative about that.
It’s good to take stock
Yes, the admin pile is huge. But the advantage of this is that you can consolidate and take stock of all the services you’ve signed up to. It’s an admin spring clean. You can focus on what matters and consolidate what doesn’t. I also recently moved apartments: so it’s a good time to update all my old addresses as well changing my name.
It’s more complicated as a woman of colour
Admittedly, it’s more complicated as a woman of colour. If racism didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have to worry about being stopped at an airport for having a different name to my hypothetical unborn child. It’s well-documented that people from muslim backgrounds are significantly more likely to get discriminated against while job-hunting in the UK.
Being interrogated at a border for having a child with a different name, or potentially being dismissed for professional opportunities, are not intellectual abstracts. Unless you’re a journalist with a strong byline or a have a strong public profile, name-based discrimination from people who do not know you is a form of violence and exclusion that shouldn’t be considered lightly.
That said, I personally haven’t experienced or know much standing in my way as a person of colour. But that’s most probably because I’m ignorant of the times it’s worked against me. I’ve achieved a lot and I don’t see that changing with or without a name change. Admittedly, the biggest thing here isn’t the name-based discrimination (like CVs), it’s about whether I want to have the same surname as my potential children and to travel with less hassle. That said, racism is racism and no matter what your name is, there will most likely be trouble at borders.
Planning for the future
The problem of deciding what to change your name to is not where you want to be now, but where you want to be in 15 years.
In 15 years, when I’m 48, I’ll need to think about where I’ll be. Will I want to be someone who has a surname that is relevant to my family unit?
The family I have now is likely to disintegrate. My father is dead. My mother is unlikely to survive for another 10 years. My sister may end up changing her name after marriage. If she doesn’t, her children are unlikely to take her surname. My brother’s children have taken on their mother’s surname.
If I have a child, they would most likely take my husband’s name. I am choosing a name that will be extinct in 50 years. Unlike other families that have a strong connection and history, mine has been fleeting. My surname is an island.
The reason my husband does not want to change his name (we discussed the possibility of this) is because of the ties he has to his name and the long history before it. I do not have that history. My history extends to the misspelling of a border official, which, in-itself, angers, as well amuses, me.
Surnames are about family. In 15 years, who and what will my family be? If not children and my husband, then whose?
Does it sound better?
One of the benefits of changing my name would be because it’s shorter. It’s a one-syllable surname that’s easy to spell. I’ve always had a love of one-syllable names. As I’m on the cusp of launching myself as an expert, people could search for me more easily.
I’m not established enough for my name to lose my reputation, except for my filmmaker side (which I would keep as it is). But I’m about to embark on a much more public journey that could benefit from a cleaner and simpler name. My first name is unique. So mixing it with an easier to remember name would be the perfect balance.
That said, my husband’s surname isn’t a huge improvement from what I have now. It sounds neither prettier nor uglier. The only thing that is going for it is that it’s short.
Curating digital identities
You can tell that the digital features highly on my list of reasons, right? But this is why changing your surname as a Millennial woman is unique. Having another name on your bow means that you can curate and control your identity in more specific ways. Having the Internet at such a young age means that I probably used it in different ways as an adult. I can use my current surname for creative projects, and my husband’s surname for professional ones. It means opening up different opportunities. Having the chance to start again is a unique gift.
Admittedly, this only applies to people with unique names. If you’re called Jane Smith, you’re going to need corporate levels of SEO-skills to control your digital identity in these ways.
Doing something completely different
Another option that I have is to do something unconventional. The name I want is to take my mother’s surname that she was born with a hyphenate it with my husband’s name.
I’ve always had a strong affinity for the name my mother was born with. It’s beautiful, lyrical and it roots me to my heritage in a fuller way than if I just had my current name. It would be like slipping into a new identity that feels more like myself than any other.
I would continue my mother’s heritage while also having the surname of my partner. It feels like a mix of old and new. Feminine and masculine. I would continue the history of my mother, while also forging a new path in the future.
But this would require even more explanation than changing my name to my husband’s or just keeping my own. As pretty as it is, people would question its origins. As they don’t know the name my mother was born with, they’d assume I’d made it up or was married to someone else. It would make little sense.
But it’s the name I want. I’d also have no idea if it would make travelling easier. That said, I could just use it publicly and professionally without making it my legal name.
I don’t feel as if there are any easy answers to this question. The default is to keep my name and if I prevaricate for too long that’s how it will stay. But in the end, this is a personal choice. I will keep you updated on which decision I make.
If you’re reading this and you’ve just got married or are thinking about whether to change your name or not, what made you decide?