Saturday, March 2, 2019

Changing your name after divorce in academia

I've tried to write this so many times, and I keep putting it off. I have a grant to finish. I have grading. I have emails to respond to. And then... how do you announce to everyone that you're divorced? Well, the easy thing is that you don't have to, if you don't change your name. And what's in a name?

Maybe it's just easier to keep your name?

I've already built a reputation with the name I changed to while married. It was after I published two papers, but now have published several under the married name. People don't explicitly know that the last name I had is shared with my ex. At least not new people that meet me. I could just keep it, for the rest of my career, and I wouldn't have to have this awkward conversation.

And then all the paperwork. Changing my name legally. Changing it locally. My accounts. My child's school.

And now I won't share a name with my child. That hurts more than I thought it would. It probably shouldn't, for all the reasons. But it does.

And making this change in the year I go up for tenure? Several people have asked or commented on different variants of "If you change your last name, how will anyone know who you are?"


I mean, I know we build up our reputations with our names. But, maybe people in the field will still know me. We have, Orcid, so that helps. And GoogleScholar. My CV will list all my papers and accomplishments, with my name in bold. There are a lot of ways to keep my identity together.

More importantly, I hope to be doing this for a lot longer. I love this job. Being a professor is my dream job. It is the best job that I could ever have. I love science. I love teaching. I love interacting with students. I love mentoring. I love research. I love getting to come in every day and just questions to my heart's content (though it will never be enough). I love the struggle of figuring out the answers (when we can). And I want to be genuine to myself.

For me, that means changing my name. Again.

I don't *have* to make an announcement. I could, as I've been doing, quietly change all my media, my signature, work on slowly making these changes, so people will see the brand transition. But after talking to a lot of people, I decided to write about it, because there is so little out there on thoughts about changing names after divorce.

Maybe you're wondering: what would I suggest to people deciding whether to change their names?

Well, crap.

I thought I'd thought about it:

And, oh, gosh. Reading those is so hard, because I was so hopeful. I thought it was all a good idea. Not just the name. I thought that was going to be the rest of my life. And I hope that's what everyone thinks when they make the decision to change their life in such a big way. The name is a small, but very public, piece of it.

But, it wasn't the rest of my life.

Would I change what I did? Mostly, no. For me, the only change I would have made is to have kept publishing under "Wilson". It would have been consistent, and easy. It was an option that I didn't take at the time.

The changing your name, or not... it's all so loaded. For me, so frustrating and stressful. Why did I feel so much weight to it?

I think about several examples of people who publish under a name they don't go by. Or people who changed their names (after marriage, or transition, or other circumstances). And we all still respect them, or at least know them, and their work.

My advice, if I can call it advice is this:

You are the one who is most important in deciding what name you should have. So, it's worth making an informed decision. Know that there will be some hassle if you change your name (once, or twice, or more) that you will have to deal with - no getting around that, but people are smart, and they'll figure it out.

Those who give you advice about your name are, I truly believe, looking out for your best interest. They know the hassles of going with the norm, or stepping outside of it. But in the end, it is your name. It is what people know you as. And sometimes we change.

Scratch that. We are always changing. But sometimes that change is more public than we'd like.