Maiden Name or Married Name: A Tale of Two Identities

At one time a woman got married, shed her former name, and assumed a new identity.  Now a married woman may choose to part with her maiden name, but she may not wish to shed her online identity which includes her professional accomplishments and public recognition.

Enter internet search and social media.  Changing ones name used to be as simple as alerting the DMV, Social Security Administration and Passport Office.  Later, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn needed to be informed.  Still no problem.

But then there is Google.  We live in a world that is made better by Google in innumerable ways.  The day in 1999 when I discovered Google search was a mini milestone in my life. But +Google  as opposed to +Google+  does not seem to have a mechanism for merging the two identities many women create by changing their last names. See photos below.

Lisa Endlich Heffernan, two identities
In the past this did not matter, not enough of our lives were chronicled online to worry about what happened when people “Googled” us and few of us had our names out in the public domain. But all this has changed and any accomplishment or indeed any information that is searchable by or about a woman who has changed her name, suddenly becomes untraceable. When a woman changes her name she begins again with a new identity, which for search purposes, is disconnected from her past.

For a growing number of women, this creates personal and professional difficulties as her past becomes untraceable.  Women who changed their names and launched their careers before the advent of search are probably set.  And women who marry and change their names very young will have fewer difficulties.  But for young women just starting out, the generation of our daughters who may end up changing their names, perhaps late in their 20s or early 30s, there will be a struggle to merge two identities into one.

+The Atlantic  summed up the breadth of the problem. “In the digital age, it’s not just the journalists and published authors out there who are considering their “bylines.” Social media and the ever-growing, searchable self have opened up public personalities for nearly everyone, particularly young professionals” They highlight a service a woman can hire to maintain her online “findability.”

And +Christine DeGraff  on a humorous note in a great piece by+Eric Enge  points out how integrated our real and online lives have become, “I am getting married in May and have come to the conclusion that I cannot change my name online because it turns out that I am more worried about what Google thinks than anyone else :D”

When Mashable writer Samantha Murphy Kelly told her own tale of two names, she asked Google for a comment.  The response, while practical does not seem to truly address an issue that will only grow in numbers. “Just in the interest of people being able to find you and your work — and if it’s otherwise all the same to you — you should probably preserve your maiden name,” a Google spokesperson said.

A +Forbes  article suggests ways to mitigate the challenge but acknowledged that by changing her name a woman becomes a like British Petroleum when it became BP: in need of a rebranding campaign.

And here on +Mediabistro +Meranda Adams  journalist, gives a very clear and graphic sense from Google’s Webmaster Tool of what happens to a woman with a public career when she takes her husband’s name.  

And +Rae Hoffman chronicled her on journey here

This is hardly an earth-shaking problem, but it does and will effect a very large number of women (and perhaps a few men) and as more of our world moves online, perhaps a new approach is needed.



  1. Melinda says

    I wonder if the tradition of taking the husband’s last name has become archaic anyway? No longer are women property, given by their father to their husband. It is really just giving up the last name of their Father for the last name of the husband. Perhaps women should have their own identity, as men do, and keep it their whole life long?

    • says

      It might be and I certainly can see both side of the issue, but as long a women are changing their names, there should be a way to find them.

  2. says

    I wrote about this a while ago, and my own dilemma in trying to figure this out. While I didn’t have a huge online presence when I got married four years ago (no blog, no Twitter, etc.), I was established enough in my doctoral program and in my little academic circles that I felt it would be too confusing (mainly for me!) to change my name. I don’t regret it all. I like having my own identity under my maiden name, especially now that I’m writing more publicly. Sometimes people use my married name, even though I don’t use it myself and it’s not my legal name, when they address things to me or I go parties.

    • says

      I love that women have a choice, in the end isn’t that what we were fighting for? Thanks for your story, I live with two names too!

  3. Emily says

    Interesting food for thought…I did change my name almost 20 years ago and that was before I started writing, etc. so it hasn’t been a big deal for me. However, as I write about in my memoir, my college boyfriend went to Google (this was pre-Facebook) to track me down, but he didn’t know my married name. The only reason he was able to find me was because my wedding announcement popped up. Once he knew my last name, he googled that and found an article I wrote that said I lived in took a little sleuthing, but not everyone is that persistent.

    • says

      My concern if for women, young women really, who are establishing themselves and then will just disappear in search if they change their names. Some persistence!!

  4. says

    As a former university lecturer in Gender studies, I can say that if I could go back there is no way I would take my husband’s name. Such an ancient, sexist thing to do, denoting ownership! That said, although I use both, Tam Warner Minton, I would rather go Tam Warner. BUT, I don’t think google would like it! I’ve tried to explain to young women why they shouldn’t change their name….but many of them just LOVE the idea of getting married and being Mrs. somebody. Yuck!

    • says

      I am really agnostic on name changes, just think it is time for technology to acknowledge the practice. I actually think it is getting more common for women to change their names now than in the 1990s, not sure why?

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  6. Judy says

    Help – I’m living with surname schizophrenia! I never officially changed my name. But after years of using my maiden name, I added my married name to my passport because I often traveled internationally with my kids and we were hassled if we weren’t with my husband. I eventually started using both names for my writer’s credit because there was a celeb psychologist in our neighborhood with the same name as mine and people constantly mixed us up. When I wrote a book, I went back to my maiden name (even though my husband’s name is arguably cooler). So now my drivers license and passport are different from my credit cards, my doctor’s records, tax forms, etc. And I can never remember which name I’ve used for restaurant reservations.

    • Judy says

      And…I didn’t go into my first name issues: I use my given name for doctors, nickname socially and initials for my book. I’m a hot mess namewise – therapy, please!

      • says

        You have summed up the many many problems. I have had to insist that my kids are mine and once had someone try to introduce me to my husband because they did not realize that we were married and thus knew each other!!

  7. says

    We have a new daughter-in-law from Chile, and I was so interested to learn that in her culture, because she has this beautiful rolling off the tongue name – one’s name (male or female) is a first name, then their father’s surname followed by their mother’s surname.
    When she married my son, she dropped both surnames and just took my son’s, much to her father’s dismay. It sounds so short now. It lost its melody. But, she said, it was the American way to do it and she wanted to respect that.
    It’s the first time I realized that different countries handle this differently.
    I recently remarried and took my new husband’s last name. I’ve regretted it. I was hesitant about it but it was a big deal to him so I acquiesced. I wish I had the same birth name and never changed it to begin with.