To change or not to change, that is the question. You’re getting divorced and, quite frankly, you are not sure what you want to do to or with your last name. Do you keep his? Go back to your maiden name? Or pick something completely different?
“Many divorced women don’t want to be left with a last name that they did not grow up with. Many are reverting back to their maiden names, but more and more are choosing new last names,” said Kelly Utt-Grubb, a family naming expert who has been researching the topic of name changes for the past three years. “Some women don’t like their maiden names, so they pick a maternal grandmother’s last name or the name of another relative to whom they were very close. And some are even picking combinations of names. The new name is really a reflection of frame of mind and starting fresh.”d360 member POV: The Name Change
While that may be completely understandable for the spouse who is getting divorced, what do you do about the children and their last names? “It’s not as strange as it sounds. Some women who are divorcing change their children’s last names after divorce, too. I have seen some hyphenate their children’s last name, especially if she takes her maiden name back. And some women actually change their children’s name to their maiden name, if the father is out of the picture and, of course, age isn’t an issue.”
But with older children who might be more resistant to changing their own names, Utt-Grubb says they should still have a say. “With older children, it is often very important to them to leave their names as they are. Their identities are already established, and they often want it to keep it that way, but they should be involved in the decision regardless,” she said.
Convinced that there is a need for a service that helps people walk through the process of making a name change, Utt-Grubb founded Name Counsel Consulting services, a company that just does that, located in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. She says helping her clients navigate the name-changing waters helps relieve problems down the road because some common complications that divorced parents go through when there is a name change can be exasperating.
“When emergencies arise and Mom's or Dad's last name is different than the kids', it can cause unnecessary confusion and critical delays. Medical files alphabetized under the wrong last name or school personnel reluctant to release a child to a parent with a different surname are a few of the potential difficulties,” said Utt-Grubb, 31. Having a clear discussion with school personnel and health care providers is key to making sure that this doesn’t happen.
“Some staff are very opinionated about this topic,” she said. “Don’t be surprised if you hear about that when you sit down to talk to them.” Oddly, while name changing often times is a no-brainer for a lot of women when they decide to marry, it becomes a major decision upon divorce. d360 member question: Divorce Forms?
“I was married very young and changed my name from Bent to Young just because, well, that was what you did. I didn’t give it a second thought. But when I was getting divorced three years later, I changed it back as soon as I could. I didn’t wait till the divorce was over,” said Amanda Bent, 29, a cartographer from Truro, Nova Scotia.
Like most divorcees, Bent was looking to put the relationship behind her and reclaim her identity.“The divorce was not my idea,” she said. “And I felt, ‘you don’t want me, I don’t want your name.’”
“It felt great. And one of the very first things I changed was my name on was my e-mail at work. And [my soon-to-be ex-husband] had been e-mailing me back and forth, you know, to settle things, and the very first e-mail was from him. It was so funny. He wrote back, “You can’t change your name yet.” Well, I could and I did.”
But now Bent has come full circle. Involved in another relationship for over five years now, she lives in a house with not just two different last names, but three. “He has a daughter with a different last name from him. But it’s funny, I feel we are family anyway and it doesn’t seem as important to me anymore. It’s almost like I did a big circle,” she said. “Family is your family. They are supposed to be that soft place to fall. Does it really matter what the last name is?” d360 member question: How Do I Change My Childs Last Name?
But apparently it does, especially to those getting married. “I married later in life, and I had been Dr. Huber for over a decade, so I wasn’t really clear on what I wanted to do,” said Dr. Tammy Huber-Wilkins, a psychiatrist in private practice based in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Professionally, I was being called Dr. Huber or Dr. Huber-Wilkins. I was doing my personal business as Tammy Wilkins, but friends were still calling me Tammy Huber. I found myself not know which name to use and that was impacting my psyche.”