Thursday, September 13, 2007

Name change?

In the four weeks we've been engaged, the three questions I've been asked most frequently are:
1. Have you picked a date?
2. Where are you going to get married?
3. Are you going to change your name?

The answers to 1 and 2 are May 2009, hopefully Memorial Weekend, somewhere in Louisville.

The answer to #3 is a bit more complicated, and I'm surprised by how often people ask me about it.

Growing up, I had mixed feelings about changing my name when I got married. I don't have a problem becoming Mrs. So-and-so, because I think it's ingrained enough in our society (and so many other societies) that it's a natural thing to do. I don't have a problem with women who keep their names either, but it's low down on my own feminist issues list. However, whenever I've imagined my name as a physician, I've always imagined becoming Dr. MaidenName, because when I was 12, I didn't have any other last name to put behind the title Doctor. So now I'm stuck. Do I become Dr. So-and-so or stick with Dr. MaidenName?

Right off the bat, I have to tell you that I don't like the idea of hyphenating. Especially not with our last names, which are both two syllables and eight letters long. What a pain for bubbling into Scantrons! I knew someone in high school whose parents combined their names to make a new family surname, and it worked pretty well, I guess mostly because I didn't know either of her parents before they were married so I didn't think it sounded weird. There are a couple iterations of combining our names that don't sound horrendous, but I'm still not a big fan of the idea. My paternal grandfather is really involved with our family genealogy (traceable back to 1635, when Isaac MaidenName came to Ipswich, MA), and I'm glad no one in the family changed their surname between then and now to make tracing our roots more difficult (although, yes, records of those things always exist). FH's (geez, am I really using these wedding abbreviations already?) family name is also easily recognizable as having come from a particular country/region, and I respect that as well, so I wouldn't want to combine our names into a new one and lose those heritages. Bottom line, it's just weird.

It used to be that it was very difficult to get your name changed on your medical license, so that women kept whichever last name they had when they graduated, to avoid licensing hassles. I don't think this is as much of a problem now, but I'm not sure. I've also heard the argument that it is very difficult for female physicians to re-establish themselves if they change their names. Thus, if they begin their careers as Dr. MaidenName and then get married and become Dr. So-and-so, they tend to lose a lot of peripheral referrals and professional contacts. Similarly, women who start out as Dr. So-and-so and then get divorced often keep their former husband's last name for the sake of their practices. So I used to say that if my career had gotten off the ground by the time I got married, that would be reason enough to keep my maiden name professionally. Needless to say, I never did publish my master's thesis, and even if I had, I'm sure no one would be looking it up on PubMed and trying to correlate it with my future publications, so that argument is out.

In all likelihood, I will graduate from medical school before we get married, so that might be argument enough to keep my maiden name professionally, but in reality, I probably will not have applied for my medical license by the time I get married, so there would still be time to make a change if I wanted to. And if I did change my name, right after graduation would be a perfect time to do it, because I would be known as Dr. So-and-so beginning with my first hospital. (And obviously, I'm not planning on getting divorced.)

In the setting of the field of medicine I think there are other factors to consider. My friend, an internal medicine intern getting married to another medicine intern in April, says she is going to change her name so that people always know that her hot husband is married to her, another physician working in the same hospital, who hears the same gossip everyone else does. This will decrease any chance that a nurse might try to make a move on him, thinking that his wife would never know. OK, that's a little silly, but it is nice to instantaneously tie yourself personally and professionally to a colleague by way of the same name. "I just met Dr. Tim Williams. Is he by any chance married to Dr. Jennifer Williams in medicine? That's what I thought!"

On the other hand, two Dr. Williams can create confusion. "Do you mean Dr. Williams the internist or Dr. Williams the gastroenterologist?" (This often happens with father/son physicians. "Dr. Johnson-the-ENT senior or junior?") At my school, we refer to "Dr. Mr. Lastname" vs. "Dr. Mrs. Lastname." In any case, I don't need to worry about this, because FH is not going to be a physician.

But what if FH becomes a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter or White House correspondent, and I actually do run for public office? Is there any sense in keeping our names different just to make it that much harder for nosy people to link us together? Probably not. It will still be pretty obvious that we're married, so what does it matter which names we have? And any potential conflict of interest posed by the fact that I'm a politician and he's in journalism would have to be addressed regardless of our names, so it's a moot point. (This paragraph is a little facetious. I talk a lot about running for public office someday, but I really don't know if that's a serious threat or not.)

A lot of women move their maiden name to their middle name when they take their husband's last name, but I don't really like the idea of that, either. It works well when your given middle name is just another "regular" name without any family meaning, but my maiden name is my mother's maiden name, and I am one of the few people who can pass it on (I have one male cousin who will be passing on the name to his children, but that's it). It also ties me to that side of my heritage, so I don't want to give it up (it's essentially the only proof I have of being half-Chinese, because I don't look it at all!). So making my maiden name my middle name is out of the question. And so is having two middle names; let's not be ridiculous, people.

Now, in case you're wondering, I definitely want our kids to have their father's last name. I don't have a good argument for or against it, but it just seems right to me. So then do I want to be the only one in the family without the same last name and be left out? Probably not.

So I think I've come up with a solution. I'm going to be Dr. MaidenName, which has been my goal and dream for 26 (by then, 28) years. But socially, I'll be Mrs. So-and-so, and introduce myself that way. Letters can come addressed to Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so (or Mr. So-and-so and Dr. MaidenName if the addressers feel so inclined). Our kids' friends can call me Mrs. So-and-so when they come over to our house. But most importantly, if people mix things up and call me Dr. So-and-so or Mrs. MaidenName at cocktail parties, I won't throw a fit about it, because that's the most annoying thing about women who keep their names.

The only weird thing about this is that essentially, for all intents and purposes, I am simply keeping my maiden name from a legal standpoint, so mortgages and bank statements will have to be in my maiden name, right? I'm making only a very tiny concession to FH and taking his name in the weakest way possible -- that is, socially but not legally. I know there are women who keep their maiden name professionally but legally assume their husband's last name for all other aspects of life, but due to the nature of my profession I don't think I can do this.

I've posed this solution to FH a few times over the last few years, and again in the last four weeks, and I think he's OK with it. He's not adamantly against it, anyway. I'm not sure if I should accept his OK-ness and not bring it up again, or if I should keep pestering him for his real feelings.

I'm going to be brave and open this topic up for your comments, but there are no guarantees that I will listen to any of them. :) So, what do you think?


Alissa said...

I think that if you have even the slightest inclination to keep your maiden name, you should. You could always assume his name later if it for some reason became really important to do so, but it would be a serious hassle to revert back to your maiden name. And people might think you'd be getting a divorce if you did that! So I saw stay Mrs/Dr MaidenName and kind of go with the flow socially.

I changed my name to Jon's because I wanted to be linked to him in that way. And while it makes me sad that I no longer get the whole, "Woah, you must be Italian!" thing when I tell people my full name, I do not miss people butchering the spelling/pronunciation of my maiden name.

And I work at the same company as my father, who didn't discourage me from working there but also didn't want people to think I only got my job because of my relation to him. (I started there six months after we got married). So it seemed like the right thing to do on all fronts. You seem to have a lot of reasons for sticking with your maiden name, so I say go for it. Do what's logical given your situation.

Lauren said...

Congratulations on your engagement! I've been meaning to introduce myself for some time now since I've been reading, but just never got around to it. I know Paige from HS and found my way to your blog through Leslie. I really enjoy reading about yoru journey through medical school/residency, etc. Anyway, my boyfriend's sister had this same dilemma. She got married just after graduation, and already had her medical license in her maiden name. She discovered it was difficult process to change it on her license so legally changed her name to her married name, but kept her maiden name on her medical license and therefore is Dr. MaidenName and Mrs. Miller. Good luck! Its a tough decision!

BookBabe said...

I left my comment under the wrong post - the crazy bride one. I won't retype it - you'll see it, I guess.

hwong14 said...

So I was kind of an idiot and thought that when I made this blog, Blogger would keep all my same settings from my other blog, but that turns out not to be true. So I rely on email alerts to tell me when people have commented, and those weren't activated on this site until today, so... I just saw all of this stuff.

Lauren, your boyfriend's sister actually legally changed her name without changing her name on her medical license? So in various ways, she exists legally as two different people? I'm very intrigued... I thought my only choice was to use Eric's last name un-legally (I guess not illegally!) if I was going to keep my maiden name on my license. I'll have to look into this option. Thanks!

Alissa said...

i think your fiancee should change his last name to yours. just a thought.

hwong14 said...

That's funny, because I read an anecdote somewhere where the woman couldn't decide whether to change her name, so she asked her fiance if he would change his name if she asked him to, and he said yes. So she decided that was satisfactory enough to make her change her name, so she did.

I don't think that would be enough to make me change my name, and having him change his name is another weird concept to me, but I asked anyway. And he said no, he would not change his name if I asked, and he realized that meant he had no grounds to stand on for asking me to change mine. So we're right where we left off.

I don't think it's a big problem, I don't think he minds horribly, since I am going to use his name for some stuff, and I don't think he cares so much about me keeping my name as a doctor. I just still have a nagging feeling that I'm *supposed* to change my name, and that's stupid.

Lauren said...

Yes, I suppose Susan did sort of exist as two different people. I hadn't thought of it that way. I suppose it only matters if people start to check into it, and she has all the documentation to prove she's both of those people (birth certificate/marriage license, etc). I'll have to ask her about it a bit more next time I see her.