This summer, my husband and I were married in a low-key and intimate celebration with just our immediate families. The wedding was simple—we had the ceremony at the courthouse and a cookout in our own backyard. What wasn’t so simple? Changing my last name.
I make my living as a writer, meaning that this one tiny word is quite literally directly attached to all of my work. So, needless to say, when I decided to completely drop my maiden name, I was nervous about it having a negative impact on my professional reputation.
In hindsight, there are a few things I would’ve done differently throughout the entire process. But, that knowledge isn’t really worth much if I don’t share it. So, I’ve pulled together a few quick tips to help you do this professionally—with as few headaches as possible!
1. Evaluate Your Options
We live in modern times, and there’s no law stating that you have to take your spouse’s last name as your own. In fact, I was shocked at how many different choices were available. You can keep your existing name. You can use both last names—with a hyphen or without. You can take your spouse’s name, but use your former name strictly in a professional setting. Some states even allow you to move your old name to your middle name, and then tack on your new last one.
See? Your options aren’t so cut and dried. So, do some research and determine which route you’d like to go. Remember to consider your career history and the reputation you’ve built for yourself. If you think that could be greatly compromised by making the switch, it’s something you’ll want to consider.
2. Make a List
Honestly, I didn’t realize how many different places my name was listed until I had to change it. So, while you might think that jotting down a list is an unnecessary step, it’s helpful for ensuring that you cover all of your bases. After all, consistency is key with a change like this.
First things first, you’ll need to make your HR department aware so that the people in charge there can take care of those employer-related things that might not even cross your mind.
There are a few other professional places you’ll need to update your information, such as your email address and signature, voicemail greeting, business cards, and your company directory. HR may take care of some (or even all!) of those. But, scribble them on your list anyway—just so they don’t fall off your radar.
3. Don’t Procrastinate
In retrospect, I waited too long to do this following our wedding. We were married, then we took our honeymoon, and then I put the whole process off for a few more weeks because I was simply too intimidated by it.
However, in the end, this only made things more complicated. So, I’d advise anybody to tackle this annoying project right away. Yes, you can take your honeymoon to relax. But, as soon as you’re back to reality, start working through your list. It’ll save you from all of those pesky (yet justified) questions about why you waited so long.
4. Transition to Your New Name
Now comes the hard part—actually using it. First, I’d recommend making an announcement to your network with a quick email. It’s something I wish I’d done in order to clear up any confusion right off the bat. Plus, it would’ve been a great excuse to reconnect with contacts I hadn’t talked with in a while.
Even with that step in place, not everyone will remember or recognize your new look right from the get-go. So, there are a few transitional precautions you can take in the meantime. For example, you can use your new last name in your email signature but include a simple (formerly old last name) note along with it.
Additionally, one of the biggest concerns I had about making the change was my LinkedIn profile. As a freelancer, I get quite a bit of work through that platform. If I simply swapped out my last name, I was concerned that people would no longer be able to find me. I mean, my new moniker isn’t exactly the easiest to spell—just look at all of those vowels.
Luckily, in your LinkedIn settings, you have the option to set a former name that displays in parentheses at the top of your profile. This not only reinforces my change with my existing network, but also makes it possible for new people to find me—even if they only know pre-married me.
5. Be Realistic With Your Expectations
Slipups and mistakes are going to happen—even you are going to sign your former name for months on end. So, it’s unrealistic to expect all of your professional contacts to process and remember your change overnight.
Be practical with your expectations of yourself and others, and don’t get bent out of shape over little mishaps or oversights. You’ve had one name for your entire life, and it takes some time for that sudden switch to sink in.
I won’t sugarcoat it—this can be a bit of a hassle. But, it’s not the end of the world. And, it’s definitely possible to do it without any major detriments to your professional identity. Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll make the process as painless as possible.
Now, if you need a magic formula for dealing with the Social Security Administration or DMV? Well, unfortunately, I can’t help you there.
Photo of signature courtesy of Shutterstock.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author