The Name Game: The Decision to Change Your Name After Divorce

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December 27, 2016

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As the great bard Shakespeare once queried “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Of course, he was referring to the feud between Romeo and Juliet’s families; but, the same question could be asked by any woman going through a divorce.

Who are you now?

You’ve been known as Mrs. “So-and-so” for the duration of your marriage. You went by a maiden name, or perhaps a former married name before donning your current moniker, so the question is who do you want to be?

As with any aspect of divorce, there are plenty of arguments taking either side of the issue of whether or not a woman should change her name after divorce.

Many women see their married name as a tie to the man they no longer want any connection to, so continuing to use his last name is a constant reminder of him and the past.

Many ex-husbands feel possessive of their name. They once chose to share it with the woman they loved, then because of bad feelings from the divorce they would rather not have her associated with him any longer or have anyone confused about their marital status.

One divorced dad told me that he asked his ex to change her last name back. He didn’t consider her to be part of his family anymore and felt that her actions in their marriage brought shame to his family and their name. She did ask the judge to revert her name back to her maiden name, but still uses both last names interchangeably depending on the circumstances. She still uses the married name at their kid’s school and when making some purchases, signing leases, and so on. With all of her friends and at her job she uses her maiden name. You could say she has a sort of alias!

When I divorced the first time, we didn’t have any children. I was thoroughly disgusted with him because he had cheated on me and basically blindsided me by asking me for a divorce, so it was a no brainer to me to take my maiden name back. I didn’t want anything to do with him, and I didn’t want to think of him every time someone said my last name. Losing that last name was one way for me to have the fresh start I needed so badly. I would have probably looked at the situation differently if we had shared children.

This is a difficult question if you’ve built a professional reputation attached to your married name because, as much as you might wish to ditch his last name and anything else associated with him, doing so could hurt you for business or professional reasons. Imagine you’re a doctor, real estate agent, even a teacher. Everyone knows you as Mrs. “So-and-so”, so to change means to drag everyone you associate with into a state of confusion or to have to start over in some senses.

It was frustrating enough for me to have to inform all of my colleagues and clients of my name change, to order new business cards, and live in name limbo for a few months, so I can only imagine what it would be like if my name was my “brand” or widely recognized in the public!

What if you have children? Their last name is “So-and-so”, just like both of their parents. So, if you become Ms. “Maidenname”, in some ways you lose a connection to them. You’re still their mom, but it’s not as obvious for schools, doctor’s offices, and others to make the connection. Sure, plenty of kids at school have parents and siblings with names that don’t match, it’s just kind of nice when they can have that continuity between family members.

In my second divorce, we did have children, so I opted to keep his name. This allowed me to share this connection with my kids and to be easily identified as “mom” to the school; but, the fact that I shared their last name meant that I was still called “Mrs.” all the time because everyone assumed we were still married.

Years later when I re-married I took my new husband’s name (and finally lost my ex’s name), which made me happy, but I have had to work harder to establish myself as my children’s parent since our names no longer match. Every year before school starts I have needed to send out an e-mail to the school to remind them again of who is who, what our custody arrangement is, and so on because my ex’s last name matching the kids has made him more instantly recognizable as their parent than me.

The bottom line is that the choice to change, or not change, her last name is each woman’s choice, and each woman will have her own good reasons why or why not to. Not changing a name after divorce may contribute to frustration from the ex and even the next Mr. “So-and-so” because a name is a personal thing and contributes to our identity.

The flipside is that changes in one’s name, whether you really want to keep the name or not, could have a detrimental effect on kids, career, and any other ties you have to that name.

You could, perhaps, look at that name as a gift that was given to you. It is a part of him that he shared, but now it’s your choice to either return it, keep it for continuity, or make whatever you have work for you! You know who you are, no matter what name is printed on your mail, driver’s license or the door where you work. Like him or not, that name represents a chapter in your life and your identity during that time. You’ve earned it and now your identity can reflect whoever you decide to be!

 

 

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