A few months ago, academic Twitter had a fit when a woman tweeted that her partner asked her to defend her dissertation with his last name, although they weren’t yet married. The tweet raised questions about a longstanding dilemma that female scholars with partners sometimes face when finishing their doctoral programs – should they defend with their own name or their married name?
As many things, whether to choose to use your maiden or married name on your doctoral degree, professionally, or socially is completely an independent choice. Although some might venture to say that it is a choice between two partners, I think it is truly only the choice of the female scholar. Here’s why I decided to change my last name and use my husband’s name on my doctoral degree instead of my maiden name.
Why I Changed My Last Name Socially
Although I fully support women who choose to keep their maiden names socially, I knew that I wanted to take on my husband’s name socially so that all of us, including the kids, would have the same last name. Having a large extended family and two brothers, I didn’t feel like the Eboh family name would be lost if I didn’t maintain it, and I didn’t like the way a hyphenated Eboh-Kola sounded (tried to spare the kids from a lifetime of ebola jokes in their future).
Why I Changed My Last Name Professionally
There are some women who go by Mrs. Married Name socially and Dr. Maiden Name professionally, which is the next option I considered. However, I spent the early part of my doctoral program living two separate lives as a blogger and doctoral student, and it took some time before I felt like I was able to unify the two identities harmoniously. I worried that if I continued to be two people after finishing my degree, Dr. Eboh and Mrs. Kola, I would continue to struggle with a fractured identity of myself as a scholar on one hand, and wife & mother on the other hand.
Another consideration was the timeline of our wedding compared to when I finished my PhD. We were married in April 2017, and I defended in July 2019, two years later. Unlike the couple in the tweet that went viral, we were married long before I finished my degree. If we were still engaged or even dating while I defended, I absolutely would have put Dr. Eboh on my diploma.
But what about publications and past research? When we got married, I had one publication, as a second author, from a summer research project I completed before I started my PhD. I hadn’t yet published (and sadly still haven’t, but am actively working on it!) on my research, so didn’t have to think about continuity in citations if I switched my name part way through my career. I did present at national conferences in my field on my research, but I felt I had a unique enough name that people would assume an Ijeoma Kola talking about race and asthma was the same Ijeoma Eboh who presented on race and asthma two years prior. If my name was Mary, perhaps I would have felt more of a need to maintain my maiden name to make sure my professional identity wouldn’t be impacted by a name change.
Lastly, and this is the reason that’s more emotional than the others, but I would not have completed my PhD program without the support and constant encouragement from my husband. While he didn’t do the physical work of reading, researching, teaching, and writing for seven years, he was an integral figure in the completion of my degree. He was the Robin to my Batman, and without him, I probably wouldn’t be a Dr. anyway.