Another Good Reason Not To Change Your Name

Mar 29 2011 Published by under Technology Gone Bad

In the past, I have opined about the miseries visited upon those women who blithely take their husband's name at marriage, trusting in the "till death do us part" bit of the vows.

What's your name?

Well, originally my name was Suzanne Franks. Then I married someone, and just because I said I wanted to, my name became Suzanne HISLASTNAME. Ten years later, it took a lawyer and a court order and a "petition to retake former name" to go back to Suzanne Franks. And there's still a utility company and a credit bureau that thinks my social security number belongs to Suzanne HISLASTNAME. Let that be a lesson to you young women who think it's a good idea to change your name at marriage. Anyway - Suzanne Franks.

Imagine my dismay - nay, my complete and total state of not-happiness - when I logged into my online banking account this morning, only to be greeted thusly:

WELCOME, SUZANNE HISLASTNAME!

Teeth gnashing, I called Giant National Bank to demand an explanation.  How was it that between yesterday and today I had gone from the blissful state of my real name to being identified as the property of my ex once again?

In this modern world of ours, it seems you can never leave your past behind.  I once had an account with GNB during the time I was divorcing Mr. HisLastname.  Eventually I closed that account and moved out to Kansas with Mr. Z, where I opened a new bank account with Smaller Bank, using my real, original name. Alas!  GNB came along and swallowed up Smaller Bank.  And now, some twelve years later, somewhere in the bowels of GNB's computer system, a microchip was feeling irritable. Still trying to digest my Smaller Bank account after all these years, it mixed in some stuff from the old GNB account and vomited up a blend of the two.  The old married name for the overall account, replace the email address with one that's been defunct for a decade or more, use a mailing address from 1994 (but apply the address only to part of the account - use the current, actual address for the rest of the account), leave the name on the individual accounts and credit card as the real name - and call it a day.

Nice work, GNB.  I totally trust your computers not to mess up my money.  Although, if you'd like to find some of that cash from ten or fifteen years ago and dump it into my account now, I won't complain.

32 responses so far

  • Aaron says:

    So why not identify the bank?

    (I've got $5 on BofA, myself.)

  • Pascale says:

    I'm still having fun with the Social Security folks, in part because my name change meant dropping my first name. Even though I am blissfully married to the other doctor Lane still, the fact that I eliminated my legal given name (which I never used) confuses authorities.

  • Thegoodman says:

    Zuska, do you think that no woman should ever change her name?

    I ask because I did ask my wife to take me name. I felt honored that she chose to do so and am thrilled that there is a Dr. MYLASTNAME out there (my brilliant wife is a Medical Doctor). If she had chosen to keep her maiden name (I hate this term btw), I don't think I would have cared all that much.

    One motivating factor was my wife's relationship with her father. He has been/is emotionally abusive to her and she hates him as much as a child can hate their parent, not just for the emotional abuse, but for other things as well. That being said, our marriage was a good opportunity for her to rid herself of his family's surname and pick up the surname of her new other family.

    • Zuska says:

      Every woman's gotta decide for herself. But in general, I don't recommend it. It's too damn much paperwork and confusion. And like I say - you always start out assuming till death do us part, but realistically, there's a 50% chance it's not gonna stick. Then you are going to have to do all the paperwork to undo it. And if you are in science, and publishing stuff, you are going to have a trail of pubs in two different names (and diplomas, too, maybe). Big freaking pain in the ass.

  • Tracey S. says:

    I like sharing a name with my husband, but I might have thought twice if I'd known what a royal pain in the ass the changing process was going to be!

    In my case, Wachovia had no problem with my name change but did, inexplicably, begin sending my credit card statements to my landlord, two towns over, where I have never loved. I totally love my landlord getting to see my spending habits. They explained that since he owned our house and also had a Wachovia account, the system "got confused". Oh that's fine... I feel totally safe that my financial information can get "confused" with someone who has only a tenuous link to me. Needless to say, we have a new bank.

    • Zuska says:

      That is really frightening. At least they just merged two accounts of mine. But your landlord? WTF???

  • SB says:

    Already with the mansplanation, sheesh. I have the same last name as a brand of Fancy Science Instruments, maybe I should start putting that on my CV.

  • chall says:

    oh, don't get me started. I have hd so many issue of "just dropping" my married name and only have my maiden name. It's so silly imho, since I have had both names, and now chosen to remove one (the one I didn't have the first 25 years of my life). Funny enough (?) the hardest part was to get it changed on the electrical bill..... very odd to me.

    • Zuska says:

      OH YES! THIS! I absolutely cannot get the electric utility to recognize my original name as legit. I would have to go to their main office with my electric bill, my Soc Sec card, my divorce papers, my notarized Intention to Retake Former Name doc, and I can't remember what all else, to get them to change it. I just gave up. They cash my checks, anyway.

      • chall says:

        That sounds about what they wanted me to bring. Add that they didn't trust my "non American divorce papers" since "we demand the originals in English" ....[coming from a country where English is not the official language, this is an impossible thing. I had notarized translations but that wasn't enough...] I walked out and as you said, they still accept my checks and money. I would've never thought it was that hard to drop one name....

  • Peggy says:

    I would have thought that if a bank found conflicting information associated with an account the system would flag it and contact the account holder for clarification. I guess the team that set up the merger of the banks' computer systems never considered that some account holders might have changed their names.

    I haven't seen any down side to not legally changing my name after I got married. I don't mind getting occasional mail addressed to "Mrs. HUSBANDSNAME" from some relatives who just assume my name was changed.

    I always have had a bit of envy for couples who combined their surnames into something new and nice-sounding, like the Villaraigosas. Of course, in case of divorce both parties then have to decide whether to change their name again or permanently carry a reminder of their previous relationship.

    • A. Marina Fournier says:

      Peggy wrote:

      "I would have thought that if a bank found conflicting information associated with an account the system would flag it and contact the account holder for clarification. I guess the team that set up the merger of the banks' computer systems never considered that some account holders might have changed their names."

      There was some confusion at a local branch of a national bank about my late mother's account--while she was in a care home and unable to do any business for herself. My sister, who was in charge of her finances, noticed something odd, and had to fight with the bank to look into things. The account of some other woman of the same name BUT with a different account number and SSN was mixed up with my mother's, and much work was needed to straighten things out.

      The bank would have let the situation go forever--until someone else found the error. Auditing? Banks? Clues?

  • (another) former academic says:

    I did the combined surnames thing and holy hell was the paperwork a nightmare.

    I really like that our family all shares the same name and that it reflects both our (patriarchal) heritage. But if I had it to do over again..... I'm not sure.

    Quick tip for those heading down this route: DMV employees often have an idiosyncratic interpretation of the laws around name changes. If someone tells you, for example, that it is illegal to take your husbands surname and use your last name as a middle name, or that OMG 911! changed everything! court order!
    just thank them politely and come back another day.

    Also, 2 social security cards (old name, new name) will get you a new passport, but aren't sufficient for a new frequent flyer card (notarized copy of your marriage certificate and maybe a retinal scan).

  • Laura says:

    Oddly enough the bank called the husband a few weeks ago asking for Mr. MYLASTNAME. It seems he wrote a check on the account and he doesn't usually write checks, so they called to find out if the check was real.

    Why they called him Mr. MYLASTNAME instead of Mr. HISLASTNAME we can't figure out.

  • FrauTech says:

    I don't think we're much improved between deciding whether to keep our father's name or take our husband's name. I took my husband's purely because I liked the name better than my maiden name. His mom remarried when he was a little kid and we have both (somewhat jokingly) talked about taking his step-father's name as he feels no connection to his father. I know my father was a bit bummed as the family name died out at his generation (no reproducing males anymore) but since I don't plan to procreate I don't see what the difference is. If I had married older, or had been a publishing academic, I might have made my decision differently but I just liked the ethnic heritage that my husband's name reflected. I agree either way it's a pain in the ass, though it was relatively easy to get everything done when I got married I've heard terrible stories about how hard it is for men to get their names changed or like you said women to change their names post-divorce. Our society is really trying to herd us all in one direction only and it's unfortunate.

    • Zuska says:

      Our society is really trying to herd us all in one direction only and it's unfortunate.

      This. If it was equally easy (or equally difficult) for anyone to change their name at any time for any reason, and we didn't still have people clutching their pearls and gasping in horror when a woman says she's keeping her own name, none of it would matter, and you'd see people doing all sorts of things. But then, in a society like that, you'd probably have gay marriage too, and civil unions, and people not getting married at all and no one having a problem with that...the name game is just another brick in the wall.

      Let's at least stop calling it the "maiden" name. How about original name instead?

  • "But then, in a society like that, you'd probably have gay marriage too, and civil unions, and..." I like that kind of society.

    Years ago, a friend of mine divorced; when the judge asked if she wanted to change her name, she said "yes" and took the original name of her beloved maternal grandmother.

    I changed my last name to that of Husband #1- at the insistence of my mother. Go figure. My early scientific publications, from the lab of a young and soon-to-become-world-renowned immunologist, are forever in a name that hasn't been mine for nearly thirty years.

    I took my original name back after Husband #1 and I divorced, and have kept it ever since. With Husband #2 I had a child; his name sounded better than my name with the "given" name we chose, so Child #1's original name is that of his father. With Husband #3 I had a child; his name sounded better than my name with the "given" name we chose, so Child #2's original name is that of her father. When addressed as "Mrs. HISLASTNAME" I gritted my teeth and groaned, but I knew which child's friend held the telephone at the other end of the string...

    Inadvertently, I discovered a way to have one's name changed/corrected on government-issued IDs: have your wallet stolen, request replacement cards- and give them your (updated/reverted) name. 'Tis a strange world in which we live.

  • A. Marina Fournier says:

    On 1 January 1984, I began using the name you see now. I no longer felt that my given name resembled who I was, I couldn't keep track, save for relatives, who I'd told to call me what, and I was tired of people mangling and truncating the name given me at birth, which was a double name.

    I did not involve the courts. Somewhere I'd found that you could change via declaration, without needing to spend money on doing it in court, no petition needed. I informed, in writing, everyone with whom I did business, as well as current and former employers within reach, and my college alumni office, as directed, that I was changing my name from X to Y, with no intent to deceive or defraud.

    The first bureaucratic thing was to get a new Social Security Card, then a new ID/DL (with change fee, same as for married-name changes), and from thence all proceeded smoothly. For some reason, I never encountered any problem that year from utilities or financial institutions, nor have I since, regarding my name. However, the State Department, in 1984, when I was seeking to get a passport, insisted I had to be known by the name not on my birth certificate for five years, I think, before I could have the passport issued in the new name. I asked if this were true for name change via marriage, and the clerk said yes. I doubted that--were that so, it would have been on the forms or in the instructions.

    I gave my acquaintances a month to get used to the transition in calling me Marina. I kept the same initials, using the A. as a nod to my birthname. I do not share that name with anyone these days. Not everyone understood why I wanted to change my first, but not my last, name. I figured anyone older than 60 could be excused from having to remember all the time, including most of the relatives of my parents' generation. Occasionally there are forms that require me to give any other names by which I was formerly known.

    When I married at the end of 1988, my husband's mother and mine each had a different married name, from a second marriage, than either of ours. We thought about hyphenating our spell-it-everytime family names for a but two seconds, and laughed at the idea. How about half & half? Family genealogists and others would have fits. We decided we couldn't choose an entirely new name like Throatwarbler-Mangrove or the word "family" in some exotic and obscure language for much the same reasons.

    We kept our own family names, in spite of how we each felt about our mothers' first husbands, and decided that any boys we produced would have HisLastName, and any girls, MyLastName. I found the flurry of offers, after the wedding, to help me change my name for a fee to be highly amusing, especially since you had to do almost as much work to give them the info as it would to have done it yourself, and THAT required no fees whatsoever!

    Little did I know, until (then) CA State Senator Jackie Speier had her husband's posthumous child, that in California, where the birth certificates had at that time NO field for marital status, that a birth certificate with two different family names was triggering some database to assume that the parents were NOT married, and in fact, that the mother must be on welfare, having been abandoned by the father of the child. She was not thrilled, and pushed through an act that changed the birth certificate forms from then on to include marital status. I never have referred to my son as 'you little bastard", either.

    For some reason in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, too many admin/bureaucrats are unable to handle the idea of married adults with different last names. I get called Mrs. HisLastName, and he gets called Mr. MyLastName by unknown people on the phone or in offices. At least one of my aunts refused to send me anything not addressing me as (Mrs.) Birthname HisLastName. One aunt left a small amount to my sister and to me, and while my sister (married much earlier than me, and for less than two years, never used her husband's name) was named as she was called from birth, I had to write a letter to the executors stating that I was not, and never had been known as Birthname HisLastName. I didn't know who *she* was, but I was not her. I gave the string from birthname to current name, including the fact I was married to my husband HisLastName, and asked that my name be corrected in any legal documents or financial instruments involving me.

    I'm not sure of the chronology of my MiL's professional name as a watercolor artist with regard to her marriage dates, but her paintings carry a couple of different signatures. She is GivenName Birthname 1stmarriagename 2ndmarriagename, if you want to get technical, but I don't think she always uses the whole string in the art world.

    Changing email or physical addresses is annoyance enough: I'm glad I didn't take my husband's name--although I might have if it had been either more interesting or easier to spell!

  • anonymous bachelor guy says:

    As a man I've always felt weird about the whole name changing thing on marriage, I guess because I came to thought about it only somewhat later in life, and most of the time people simple had their names more or less in the same way they have their own fingerprints or body parts. It's "them", not something like clothing or a ring you wear. I couldn't imagine changing my name for marriage, even if the woman I married had a way cooler name than mine. It's not that I'm deeply attached to my family and its traditions as if I value it as some sort of important "name carrier" or anything like that, my surnames are quite common "polyphiletic" surnames no one really bother with I guess. It's just weird. The only reason I'd find it acceptable would be for witness protection.

    But I guess for women it's not so much a big deal, perhaps girls dream about their name changing day as soon as they don't have to use diapers anymore, a totally different life experience. Having a crush in some boy and imagining the sound of " " and then love-sighing. Somewhat freaky, in my point of view, nothing I could relate with. It's somewhat as it's socially acceptable for women to indulge in some stalker-like behaviors.

    Whereas I would probably feel "honored" if a woman wanted to have my surname as I married her, I'd still feel a bit weird, I think I have some creeping prejudice that this predisposition implies in some sort of lack of individuality, independence, things that would probably be relatively important ingredients of my attraction to begin with.

    ...

    Perhaps there are also unconscious fears of she starting to have her hair cut too short and wearing my clothes, somewhat like in that Seinfeld episode.

  • anonymous bachelor guy says:

    Erratum:

    1 - polyphyletic surname

    2 - "Having a crush in some boy and imagining the sound of "[my (girl's own) first name] [his last name] " and then love-sighing"

    The "less than" and "more than" signals instead of brackets have made the content disappear being interpreted as nonexistent html tags. My fault, I didn't do a preview.

  • Kaija says:

    anonymous bachelor guy, I'm a female and feel EXACTLY the same way about my given name as you do...it's a part of me that I cannot imagine changing or choosing to give up. The whole "different for women" thing is BS. Things like "dream(ing) about their name changing day" or "Having a crush in some boy and imagining the sound of __ and then love-sighing" does not come standard with a vagina, believe me. Some PEOPLE feel strongly about their names the way you and I do, regardless of gender. Some PEOPLE don't really give a crap about it. However, there is a tendency for learned social behaviors and gender role expectations to herd people into different opinions based on their gender (which may be what you were alluding to in your portrayal of stereotyped "chick feelings about name changes"; you were being ironic, I know)...but it doesn't take in a lot of cases 🙂

    I agree with Zuska that every person must make a decision about a name change for him or herself. There's still more frictional costs either way for female based on a bunch of leftover stuff from historical times.

  • Luna_the_cat says:

    My sympathy for your troubles, Zuska. Frightening that this is the people with your money!

    From the start, I never intended to take my husband's name; I like my name, and it has a history to it -- it's my father's name, but he had it from his mother, not his father, and she chose her own last name. (There's a story behind that, too. And my paternal grandmother was an interesting character.) Besides, as I pointed out to my fiance-at-the-time, taking his last name with my first name makes me sound a bit like a Chinese takeaway dish. Fortunately he wasn't exactly set on me taking his name, we didn't have to fight about it.

    Anyway...I've found that retaining my own last name has had an unplanned benefit. Whenever anyone calls asking for "Mrs. HISLASTNAME" I instantly know it's a sales call from someone doing cold-calling.

  • Cara says:

    Spam, spam, sausage, egg, and spam; beans, toast, egg, bacon, spam...

    I changed my name. I'm not sure I'd do it again. I don't wish I hadn't, but then I don't have a particular fondness for my birth name.

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  • Sean says:

    Filling out paperwork and dealing with beauracies can be difficult. Unfortunately, people often make it harder for themselves than is necessary. And there's quite a few PhDs here, too. Are there just that many over-educated idiots who have trouble filling out guided forms, or for that matter calling their financial institution?

    I only say this because as the thread went along, the targets of complaints went from specific subjects to existential observations about society and general gripes.

  • T says:

    I divorced my awful ex nearly twenty years ago and moved to another state. Been in new state 10 years and a few weeks I suddenly received in the mail an application for a credit card in his last name!

    Absolutely crazy! obviously they sell your info and track you down wherever you go. There ought to be a law to stop this sort of thing. My ex was a miserable bastard who made my life a living hell and receiving that mail brought up a lot of bad memories that I never wanted to entertain again!

    I'm very upset.

  • T says:

    I divorced my awful ex nearly twenty years ago and moved to another state. Been in new state 10 years and a few weeks ago I suddenly received in the mail an application for a credit card in his last name!

    Absolutely crazy! obviously they sell your info and track you down wherever you go. There ought to be a law to stop this sort of thing. My ex was a miserable bastard who made my life a living hell and receiving that mail brought up a lot of bad memories that I never wanted to entertain again!

    I'm very upset.