Barely a month ago I got engaged. I’ve spent the last few weeks bathing in congratulations, well-wishes, and excited brainstorming, with hardly a care about all the new challenges a legitimate couple will face. Even though I have been dating my live-in boyfriend for nearly nine years, suddenly having a fiance felt like a change. I couldn’t figure out why our situation felt so different, it was just the next logical step, right?
It wasn’t until after mentally sorting through all the questions that I found the one really sticking with me. The question of names. I feel so instinctively that to give up my last name for his last name is to lose a piece of my identity. It feels both right and wrong. On the one hand I want to connect myself with this person by legitimizing our union on paper under one name. It’s still common for women in marriage to take the name of their husband, but for a woman in science like myself, I think I feel it more keenly. My career is and will be closely associated with my name (in the form of publications, lectures, patents, etc), which for maximum distinction should be distinct and unique from anyone else.
I feel like the professional path I have created for myself up to this point would come to an end and then shift with a name change– not the sort of continuation one hopes for in their career.
I struggle with this idea also because it seems very common in science for women to maintain their maiden names. Married couples who both work in science academia often have dissimilar names, so to avoid attaching their careers to their personal lives. It avoids judgement of nepotism among other things, so a stranger would never know a couple’s personal association even if that couple worked together in the same professional arena. But I am not in the same field as my future spouse, so a name change wouldn’t attach me professionally to him, therefore I am left with the conflicting feelings of wanting to connect myself “legitimately” to his family, while still retaining a connection to mine.
Unfortunately, the alternative most suggested (hyphenating the two names) is not an option in my case. His name is already a hyphenated conversion of his two parent’s names, so adding a third is simple overkill. Another popular option, creating a new hybrid name, is attractive to me for the novelty aspect but the simple sad truth is no interesting jumble of shared letters or shortened bits seems to make any sense when I try putting our two names together. In fact, and anagram computer program comes up with “Bleached Curly Semen” and “Became Cursedly Hen.” Dear god.
I know couples go through this all the time, and I’m already overwhelmed by the prospect of last names for our children! When chatting with a friend about this issue recently, he suggested that carrying on the name itself should be the most important thing. Give your children the name that needs more strength in numbers, regardless of whether you change your name when married. This idea appeals to me. As I am one of two girls with very few extended family, our last name would fade if both of us take a husband’s name. His family is so big and mine so small, even if I do take his name I can still pass mine to my children. What better way to appeal to both families, big and small?
I do wish I could have the option of both last names, using one or the other at my leisure. For this purpose, registering an alias might be useful so I could publish scientifically under my maiden name and use my married name for anything else. However, I have tried to research this idea and found it extremely convoluted and confusing, which is discouraging in the very least. Luckily, I have plenty of time to think this over before my eventual marriage date, which is yet TBD.
With all the engagement and prospective marriage hullabaloo that has ensued, this issue is the of the only parts of marriage that still feels intimate and personal. For that reason if feels special, one thing that is ours alone to decide in this new life we will share together as a couple. I’m excited and nervous and if anyone has ideas about names or name changing, let me know!