What’s in a name

March 1, 2007
What should a woman do when she ties the knot or unties the knot?

What should a woman do when she ties the knot or unties the knot?

Centuries ago, Shakespeare’s female protagonist Juliet proclaimed, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But do professional women want a loss of identity when we have worked so hard to attain degrees that hail our maiden names? Juliet Capulet wanted Romeo Montague to “Deny thy father and refuse thy name,” a progressive concept for those times. She caves shortly, “Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”

As women, we typically face whether to change our last names when we get married. This becomes particularly stressful when women are dentists, physicians, or attorneys, and our diplomas bear our original family names. Will patients or clients ask questions when they read different last names on our diplomas? Anyone who watches “Grey’s Anatomy” knows that Dr. Meredith Grey would never change her name to Dr. Meredith Shephard should she marry Dr. “McDreamy” Shephard.

Four name-change options

It is no longer just a matter of changing or not changing our last names, but a matter of which form it should take. There are four options:

  • Drop the last name and take the husband’s. We can use our married names every day and our maiden names. Women who do will get questions when applying for bank accounts or when children do, but it might work for those of us who haven’t established many contacts using our birth names.
  • Keep the birth name. This may be the best option for those of us who have been in practice for a long time, have made considerable contacts in practice or organized dentistry, or who have strong feelings about keeping our names. A variation of this option is using our maiden names in professional situations and our husbands’ in social ones. Unfortunately, this may lead to split personality syndrome when our professional and social relationships overlap.
  • Hyphenate the last names. Thus, when Sharon
  • Crane marries Michael Siegel, her name becomes Sharon Crane-Siegel. This has been the solution in past generations, but it’s not the only other solution.
  • Add the husband’s name to the birth surname. This is what I did because I was born without a middle name. My situation is a little different in that my daughter only uses my husband’s name as her surname.

21st century technology

The Internet lets us make name changes with relative ease. The Web site www.kitbiz.com/description.htm can help whether we marry and want to change our names, if we and our husbands want to change both our names to a new surname, or if we are divorcing and want our maiden names back. For $24.95 plus $3 shipping and handling, we can get a six-step, name-change kit and instruction guide for changing:

If divorce is the reason for a name change, www.kitbiz.com/divorcekit/index.htm will be more helpful. According to the site, “The Divorce Name Change Kit is exclusively created for a divorced woman seeking to revert back to her maiden name. Everything is consolidated into an easy-to-use, complete name-change notification kit with all government forms and personal record change forms included. In addition, the kit contains an easy-to-use instruction guide and checklist to assist you in completing the name change process.”

For husbands and wives who want to change names, logon to www.kitbiz.com/newlywedkit/index.htm. The site states, “The Newlywed Name Change Kit is for the bride and groom who want to change both of their names. This kit would assist the bride and the groom in the application of using both the bride’s family surname and the groom’s family surname when joining in matrimony. Everything is consolidated into an easy-to-use, complete name-change notification kit with all government forms and personal record change forms for both bride and groom included. In addition, the kit contains an easy-to-use instruction guide and checklist to assist both bride and groom in completing the name-change process. We have created the perfect kit for couples seeking to combine both names after marriage.” The site uses the example of a couple whose names before marriage were Katharine Smith and Craig Newman. After marriage, their names will be Craig Smith Newman and Katharine Smith Newman. (If you are changing only your name, use the Official New Bride Name Change Kit.)

A personal story of name change

My story of name changing began in 1979, four weeks before I was to marry my fiancé of six months, Michael Siegel. Michael now happens to be my husband of 27 years. We had just taken our oath of office and been commissioned in the U.S. Army Dental Corps. Just as we were signing our final documents for our general practice residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, my husband saw my signature. He looked perplexed and said, “Why are you signing the document Sharon Crane and not Sharon Siegel?”

We had never discussed changing my name. I always had assumed that I would always be Sharon Crane, as my dental diploma states that Sharon Crane was conferred the degree of the Doctor of Dental Surgery and my college diploma states that Sharon Crane was conferred a Bachelor of Arts Cum Laude Degree. But my husband had other ideas and assumed the opposite - that I would follow tradition and change my last name to his. Well, our discussion became heated until the sergeant in charge of the exercise told us that for the moment I was required to complete my name as Sharon Crane, my legal name then. The two of us could then feel free to discuss the situation on our own time and then choose a name after we were officially married. I thought at the time that I had won that battle because the U.S Army had its say. But I discovered countless discussions later, we still disagreed about my name. Needless to say (from my byline), I did change my name since it meant so much to my husband.

What to do when contemplating change

Although Shakespeare made light of what’s in a name, women should consider the professional implications of changing and keeping our birth names. I recommend that couples talk about name changes long before the weddings. Consideration should be given to changing or not changing names in case of children in the future, husband-and-wife dental teams, consequences of interacting with longstanding professional contacts, or pessimism regarding divorce.

I prefer engaged couples not consider divorce - those relationships would be doomed from the start. I would not, however, totally brush aside the thought of a prenup!