Today, I want to discuss something that I think half the population (at least) will never have considered. The other half will probably think about it at some point in their lives. For some, it is an easy decision, while for others (and that includes myself), it is problematic. I am alluding to whether you should change your name or not. I have recently become engaged and while fielding questions about wedding location, date, and dress choice, someone at work surprised me with the question “will you change your name?” I will admit I have occasionally wondered what I would do should the need ever arise, but I have procrastinated and have no answer. What also surprised me was the vehemence some people showed when giving their opinion about this. It is clearly a hot topic.
If you are a publishing scientist, I think it is clear that you run the risk of losing any reputation you have currently built should you change your name. The obvious alternatives are not changing at all; hyphenating your name (i.e. mine would become Sleeth-Patterson); or attempting to get Pubmed to recognize your old and new names when it performs searches. But while these are all valid alternatives your beloved may expect you to change and not understand the potential results of this traditional exercise.
I have been told it is romantic and necessary to change my name so that it shows I am now part of a new “team.” Others have told me that, as a strong independent female (and a scientist to boot), I certainly shouldn’t change and how could I even consider it when feminists went through hell for the right to keep their maiden names. No pressure there then. What is the correct decision?
I feel I should also point out that it isn’t only females that go through this. Now that same-sex marriages are legal, many individuals are also facing this new question. One of my male friends has changed his name to that of his husband, and it has (sadly) confused people. His reputation with his unmarried name is in no way linked to his new surname, and it is only once people explain what he has chosen that the connection is made. This has clearly been an issue for females for years, but it is a new and interesting challenge for everyone when they get married. What do you do?!
I have even read some etiquette guides that say you can legally keep your maiden name and use your married name at social events and on social media. Or you can legally change your name, but continue to use your maiden name at work. There are apparently so many choices, and we will each have to decide on our own individual basis which one feels right to us. I have certainly been pressured for both ways, and I am still not sure what I should do. Clearly, everyone I know (professionally or socially) has always known me as a Sleeth, but if I just popped Patterson on the end it should be fairly obvious that I am the same person. Although that would be a very long name for passports, driving licenses, credit cards and everything else. Or I could remain as a Sleeth and run the risk of offending my new husband, family and those traditionalists who believe I should automatically change.
Whatever I decide I will do everything possible to ensure everyone knows who I am, and that it doesn’t unduly affect my network. But had you thought about your name being part of your brand? I am Kate M. Sleeth, Ph.D., blogger at Bio Careers, National Postdoctoral Association Board of Director Member, Member of AWIS and all that that entails. Who is this mysterious Sleeth-Patterson, or only Kate M. Patterson?! Yikes, I literally trembled when I wrote that last bit. I guess it isn’t looking good for a complete name change!
I am interested to know what your thoughts are about this. Am I over thinking this or is changing your name a huge step thatcould have implications on your career? I will keep you posted as I continue to consider this. After all I have until September to decide!