Unlike the old commercial for hair color (Does she or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure!), deciding if you should change your name after divorce doesn’t have a simple answer. And whatever you decide, you can’t keep it a secret. The world – or at least those you interact with – will know.
So how to decide?
Some divorcing moms know right away that they want to take their maiden name back, especially if the marriage ended badly and they want no part of their former husbands, including his name. Others like their married names, want to keep the same name as their children, or have been married so long that the married name seems like their own. For these women the choice is also fairly straightforward.
For the rest of us, though, it’s a matter of personal choice.
This choice was something I considered carefully as I ended my 20-year marriage. As the primary breadwinner in the family, I had built my business using my married name, and my clients knew me that way. So did everyone else, including the kids’ schools and all of our friends. And I knew from experience that implementing the name change involved a lot of hassle—Social Security, DMV, credit cards, accounts. Plus, the thought of telling people felt awkward and uncomfortable.
On the other hand, whether or not to change my name when I got married was the source of much disagreement with my then-husband. I didn’t take his last name when we got married because, having married and divorced once before and gone through the hassles of changing from maiden name to married name and back again, I wanted to keep my own identity. Now I recognized the irony in the fact that I was considering keeping his name.
In the short-term it would have been easier to keep my married name. The kids and I would still have the same last name. My divorce wouldn’t be obvious among certain circles such as at school and among acquaintances. I wouldn’t have the hassle of making the change with the government organizations, banks, credit card companies, and other organizations and accounts that cared about such things.
But in the long-run, even after the kids were gone, I would still be known by my married name.
Names have power, I thought. By what name do I want to be known?
In the end I decided to change my name back to my maiden name legally, although I kept my married name for business (at least for now). The factors in my decision were:
- How did I feel about using my married name for the rest of my life?
- Which name better reflected my identity as a divorced mom – and more importantly, as an woman who was aspiring to a whole and fulfilling life?
Taking back my maiden name seemed like a step in reclaiming the power I gave away in my marriage. Putting it into practice was a slow and gradual process of rebuilding and re-establishing my identity, something I wrote about on my blog a few years back. (Read the post here.)
For divorcing moms facing the decision about whether or not to change their own names, here are a few things to consider:
- Which do you like better – your maiden name or your married name?
- Which name better reflects your identity, not just at the present moment, but as you consider your future?
- Does your married name carry negative reminders of your husband or his family?
- How do you feel about having a different last name from your children?
- Do you use your married name in any legal commitments where it might make sense to continue its use after divorce (e.g., a business entity, tax ID, state business registration, client awareness)?
And here are a few things that shouldn’t be factors in your decision:
- The hassle involved in making the change.
- What his family, your family, or anyone else thinks.
- The possibility that you might get back together.
Should you or shouldn’t you (change your name after divorce)?
The bottom line is that this is YOUR decision, and you should ask yourself what YOU want. There are no right or wrong answers here, only the name you want to live with going forward.