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with Mir Kamin

I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.

To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at http://www.wouldashoulda.com/

The professional name game: Ladies, take note

Categories: My boss is an idiot, Now I'm free(lancing)

12 comments


I got married—the first time—when I was a tender young whelp in grad school. I was very young. (And also very stupid, but that’s a topic for another post entirely.)

My advisor sat me down one day and asked me if I was planning to change my name. I was; I had no real attachment to my birth surname, and I knew I wanted to have children, and I wanted to have the same last name as my kids (it just seemed easier). To my surprise, my advisor counseled me (quite strongly) to reconsider. I’d already been published! I should keep my current name to avoid confusion! Not only that, he said, but if I changed my name I would regret it if I later got divorced, and that would make a real mess of my professional “paper trail” if I then decided to change back.

Like most of college professors, he was… smart, but a little odd. I remember laughing at him, because, Silly, I’m not going to get divorced! (Ah, youth!) I got married. I changed my name. Years passed. I had one child, then another. Everyone in our family had the same last name. Everything was fine.

And then we got divorced.

I didn’t change my name back; I felt like I’d lived my entire adult life with my (now)ex-husband’s last name, and I had a lot more on my mind than what name I was going by. It just didn’t seem important, right away.

My freelancing career began when I was a divorced, single mom to two young kids, living in a somewhat remote area. Had I put my legal name on the writing I was doing, I wouldn’t have been hard for any weirdo to locate. The idea creeped me out. So I made a decision to write under a family name which was not my legal name, although later I did incorporate my business under this name, so it’s perfectly legitimate in the legal sense. It is not, however, technically my name.

When the time came for my new husband and me to marry, he broached the name issue with some trepidation. He’s a liberated guy; he made it clear that while he would be very honored if I wanted to share his last name, he had no expectation that I would do so. It was just… you know… he would kind of rather I didn’t still have my ex-husband’s last name. Maybe I’d like to legally change my name to my writing name? Or back to my maiden name?

I thought about this one for a long time. Changing my name legally to my writing name presented the same issue I’d been concerned about years ago: namely, that anyone could look me up, which I’ll grant you is maybe a paranoid concern, but there you have it. Going back to my maiden name meant three different last names in one household, which just seemed complicated. Taking my new husband’s last name seemed like the simplest path, particularly because it didn’t change anything for me professionally; I continue to work under the same name, it’s just that I have a different name on my driver’s license.

Recently we went to a dinner party where there were a number of young women just embarking on their careers, and the conversation turned to buying Internet domains with your name. A few of the men present remarked that their names are so common, they’ve been unable to get the domain they wanted because someone else already owns it. A young woman with a very unusual name said something about how she could probably snag her name, but she’s probably going to get married soon and her boyfriend’s last name is a lot more common and she’ll probably change her name.

I surprised myself by piping up. “Don’t change your name,” I told her. She looked at me in surprise, and I thought about my long-ago advisor telling me not to change my name because I might get divorced. I remembered thinking he didn’t know anything. “Having a really unique name like you do is great for brand recognition,” I continued. “I mean, change your name if you want, for your personal stuff, but I would keep your name for your professional life. It’s really recognizable. Plus once you get married you have the advantage of being a little bit harder to stalk because your legal name is different.” We all had a laugh and she allowed as to how that had given her something to think about, and then the conversation moved on.

The patriarchal naming conventions in our society are an issue all their own, of course, but it pays to give some serious thought to 1) whether you’re comfortable being published under the same name that, say, appears on your mortgage, and 2) what’s important to you when it comes to sharing a surname with your family (and that means family of origin, a partner, and/or your kids). In my case, it was somewhat accidental and backwards, the way I ended up with a “writing name,” but it really suits the level of privacy I crave.

We’re always talking about personal branding, but I don’t see a lot of conversation about personal naming, particularly for women (who are often “expected” to change their names). How did or will you handle this? If you’re just starting out, is this something you’ve thought about?



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12 comments so far...

  • I did change my name (for the “same as my future kids” reason you noted) and I really regret using it as my byline–also for that “same as my kids” reason. I wish I had thought that through back in the stone age when I first got hitched.

    Catherine  |  July 5th, 2011 at 12:55 pm

  • This is a valid concern for many women, and something they should think about and reason out BEFORE engagement even comes into play. Once you are in that situation, emotions come into play much more than before.

    A friend of mine and I both have had this discussion in regard to work and personal life. I have had poetry published under my maiden name, and she is an artist with many works signed under her maiden name. I consider myself a rational woman, and I had long ago decided to not change my name. I saw no reason for it (logically), as I didn’t want children (so last names of kids would never be a factor). When I became engaged, my now-husband assumed I’d take his name (although he knew better, since we’d discussed it before we even started dating. We were friends for quite a while before romance happened.) My response was to ask for a logical reason to do so, giving him a week to come up with a logical reason to change my name. Of course there really wasn’t a logical reason for it. His main reason was, “Well, I just always thought it’d be that way.”

    In the end, our compromise was that we BOTH would take both last names. He has had work published under his, ah, “maiden” name (with this happening more and more, we need a new name for that) as well, so it was valid for both of us to consider this. Now that we both have both last names, it isn’t as big of a deal, because when I say “First MyLast HisLast, formerly published under First MyLast,” it doesn’t raise as many eyebrows — and the same for him. (And we hated hyphenated names, so we don’t have. We both just have two last names.)

    It was more difficult for my friend, because she was going to have kids and wanted to have the same name as they would have. In the end, her decision was to change her professional name to First HerLast-HisLast and to change her personal name to First HisLast. She signs her works as her professional name and lives her personal life as her “real” name.

    I’m glad you wrote about this, because it’s something both men and women should consider these days. Since I got married, I have met a lot of men who have changed their names, which has surprised me. In my last place of employment (a small school), there were three men who had changed their names along with their wives in the same way my husband and I had. I had never heard of anyone doing it and thought it was our sneaky compromise, but it’s out there and apparently getting more common. There are many, many options in this area these days. (If anyone wants a list of the options, believe me, I have it. Seriously. That’s how organized and rational I was about the whole thing: I made a list of our options and we went over them. :D )

    Jessica  |  July 5th, 2011 at 2:59 pm

  • These are great points, Jessica! Thank you!

    Now here’s a question that has nothing to do with Professional Self or working: I certainly understand the allure of everyone taking two last names (hyphenated or not), and I see that happening more and more these days. It seems very egalitarian and all. But what happens when those kids grow up and get married? (Not a consideration in your case, I know.) I’ve always wondered… are we about to be hit with a generation of 4-last-names folks??

    Mir  |  July 5th, 2011 at 3:08 pm

  • That’s hilarious, because I mentioned it to my husband when I met those other couples who had done the same thing. I told him it was a good thing we didn’t want to have kids, because I wasn’t sure what they would do when they got older. Would a guy not want to force a girl to take his TWO last names? Would his wife just decide to have THREE last names? And what if our (hypthothetical and just-like-me-of-course) daughter met one of these other couples’ sons, and they wanted to do the same thing? Would they have FOUR last names? My husband was having none of it (probably because our kids are all hypothetical ones and always will be hypothetical, so why worry about it?), but I was on a roll. Why, our grandkids would meet their grandkids and have EIGHT names!

    He rolled his eyes at me.

    I think it would probably work out more like Spanish and some Latin/South American surnames, I would hope. For example, I would be Jessica FatherLast MotherMaiden (no hypen! Yay!) and my husband would be Husband FatherLast MotherMaiden. Our children would be Child JessFatherLast HusbFatherLast. (A good example is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who is actually Senor Garcia Marquez, as he also has two last names. Sorry for my lack of accent marks.) So there is still the paternalistic part in there. I knew quite a few people from Puerto Rico in college, and one was named something like Juan de Leon Santiago. He had to choose one last name for some reason when he signed up for college, so he was Juan de Leon for classes, although his legal last name was really de Leon Santiago. In the end, the father’s or grandfather’s name is the one that continues onward.

    But hey, at least the woman keeps her own last names when she gets married. There’s none of this “no, you be de Leon Santiago, too, even though your last name is already Garcia Morales.” Maria Garcia Morales stays Maria Garcia Morales when she gets married, and Juan stays Juan de Leon Santiago. (These names were made up, as I borrowed bits of names from different people I knew.)

    Jessica  |  July 6th, 2011 at 12:56 am

  • I like how your solution worked out, and hadn’t thought about how pen names are a *great* way around this particular minefield! We have a variety of approaches in my family - my mother is Ms. Firstmarried, despite being married to her second husband, since she’d done a lot of work under that name before remarriage. My stepmother was Ms. Secondmarried for a day, then decided she wanted to go back to her maiden name.

    My solution was that my partner took my name - I wanted to have the same last name as my kids, and would like if he had it as well, but I was NOT taking a guy’s name. I was up for both of us hyphenating or both of us taking a new name, but he surprised me by suggesting that he take on mine.

    I know a lot of women who do the ‘his name socially, my name professionally’ thing, but I often wonder how much of a loss is involved when it comes to casual networking - people may not realize that they know you socially when they come across your proposal professionally.

    Alice  |  July 6th, 2011 at 7:34 pm

  • This is a great point and its something I considered heavily. I come from a conservative background as does my husband. I know I would have ‘rocked the boat’ had I even mentioned not taking my husbands name. But I did consider it, but I got married just before starting my first ‘real’ job after college and now I’ve been published under my married name, my maiden name is completely forgotten.

    I never really liked my maiden name or my ties to that side of the family so there was no emotional hold, and my husbands last name was much easier to pronounce and spell for people. All my life I’ve had to pronounce and spell and re-pronounce for people its something I really considered when naming my kids and taking my husbands name.

    The only downside is I went from a nice four letter first name and four letter last name to a TEN letter last name, something I grumble about when I get the chance, all in good fun.

    Kara  |  July 7th, 2011 at 9:39 am

  • I actually sort of wanted my husband to take MY name when we got married, mainly because….well, I like it better than his, if we’re being honest. I was pretty adamant that I didn’t want to change MY name, but I did like the idea of our kids having the same last name as us. However, I floated it briefly and was shot down immediately — fair enough, as I didn’t want to take his name either. (The ironic thing is that he gets called Mr. MyLastName all the time anyway, especially when we’re on vacation and I’ve done all the booking. Which is actually sort of creepy because it makes me feel like i’m married to my dad.)

    Anyway, it wasn’t a major discussion point: I kept mine, he kept his, everything went on the same way. I have no issue with (mostly older) people addressing mail to us as “Mr and Mrs HisLastName” (actually, I quite like it), but I do wonder what we’re going to do when we have kids. If they take his name, I sort of feel like I’ve…..lost a little. If they take mine, he might feel like some inconsequential babydaddy (plus, will people think we’re not married? Will I care?) If we use both last name, it sounds like some sort of communicable disease.

    So yeah, I don’t know. I’ve been no help! All I know is that professionally — and definitely personally — it was imperative to me that I keep my own name.

    Nothing But Bonfires  |  July 7th, 2011 at 1:19 pm

  • When I worked at a school, I knew quite a few couples who both kept their own last names. Their solution to their children’s last names was that the girls took the mother’s last name and the boys took the father’s last name. We never had any problems (from a school viewpoint) realizing the family dynamic, but when you also have a lot of step-families and other family dynamics going on in society, it’s not really that different once you think about it.

    Jessica  |  July 7th, 2011 at 2:02 pm

  • Really nice article. I kept my own name when I got married — but that’s something that all the women in my family do. It was never something I had to think about. I just ASSUMED — from a young age — that I would keep my name forever.

    Jen Klein  |  July 7th, 2011 at 7:32 pm

  • When I got married in ‘99, I always told my now-husband that I wanted to keep my name - it’s an unusual name, and there aren’t many out there! Additionally - I was published and had presented under *my* name, so I didn’t want to lose that connection - I considered hyphenating, but didn’t like how our names sounded together. So - I told him that, if it was an “issue” when we had children that my name was different than theirs, then I would legally hyphenate. However, - my entire family, and his - thinks I changed my name - even 12 years later!! I don’t bother correcting them, ’cause it’s not that big of a deal - yes I’m a “Mrs W” socially and a “Ms. S” professionally - and I hadn’t considered Alice’s comment that people may not realize they know you - but, in my current career - it may not be a bad thing! (I work for a municipality - so may not want people hubby works with to know exactly who I am!! LOL!).

    And - my fears about it being confusing for our kidlets - well, our son is 9 and our daughter is 5 and the only “issue” I’ve ever had, was that my son’s grade 2 teacher would send home 2 copies of his report card with a note “please give a copy to the other parent” - I couldn’t figure it out at first - and then eventually, I was like “He thinks one of us is a step parent!!” I was a little offended at first - but then I just laughed!

    Oh - and having two different last names in the house comes in REALLY handy with telemarketers!! If I pick up the phone and they say “Hi, is this Mrs. W?” I just say “I’m sorry you have the wrong number!” or if they ask hubby “Is this Mr. S?” he says the same thing!! So - we like that little perk!!

    I know more and more women who don’t change their name and keep their maiden names…!!!

    Darlene  |  July 8th, 2011 at 1:36 pm

  • I had a boss once who went through a painful name transition in the span of about a year. I’m foggy on the details but she had a good deal of work experience in her maiden name and then got married, I think shortly before she joined the company. My impression was she had changed her name legally and was using both until everyone had adjusted. Unfortunately, things fell apart before she could fully transition into her new last name. So she started at the company as Jane Maiden Husband and was just starting to use Jane Husband and then suddenly switched to Jane Maiden.

    It’s funny, back when I was considering last names it was fairly rare for people to hyphenate or keep their last name but many people must have decided to do so at about that time because it seems pretty common among people I know who have been married as long as I have.

    When I got engaged I was unemployed and trying to change my career so there wasn’t a big professional reason to keep my maiden name. I did considered hyphenating, and the two names combined sounds nice together. But I have a friend who is hyphenated and she ran into more trouble with medical/gov’t records and such that I just didn’t think it was worth it. That was back when hyphenated names were still pretty rare and medical records people tended to choose one name. So even though your name was Jane Maiden-Husband, your Dr’s office would have you as Jane Maiden and the pharmacy would have you as Jane Husband. Fun!

    So I took my husband’s name. And I’ve gone from an elaborate spelling routine to assuring folks that my last name, which is a common girl’s first name, isn’t my first name. We did give our daughter my maiden name as one of her two middle names.

    Jenn  |  July 11th, 2011 at 11:04 am

  • I was thirty when I got married and quite certain that I liked my last name too well to change to my husband’s. Another contributing coincidence: husband’s last name was also my father’s first name. This weirded me out even though I get along fine with my dad. We talked it over between ourselves and then with friends. One friend who is a teacher said that it’s rough for school staff to try to piece together the families who don’t share names. Our solution was to give our kids the hyphenated last name, Myname-Hisname. I figure the kids can change to one or the other when they’re 18 if they want to and I will promise not to complain about which one they choose. And then they’ll have options for their professional/personal names as Mir points out. For my own part I am a low-profile individual and haven’t ever needed to worry about my professional identity branding.

    Jenine  |  July 21st, 2011 at 3:23 pm

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