Why I Changed My Last Name

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.

What are your thoughts on changing your last name after marriage, especially for women with professional degrees?

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Comments

  1. I fully support women either way. There is no right or wrong way here; however, I wish women were true to themselves as you are in your article the reason of why the keep their maiden names – lames excuses not allowed! I hyphenated my name, also we are all females in our family and wanted my son to also carry my last name.

    My BA is in my maiden name and my MA is hyphenated. My husband is happy and supportive and he was instrumental in me getting my both my qualifications.

  2. “ 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. ”

    That’s the exact reason why I did. Though professionally in my career it was a change but I go by my first and middle online and professionally I include my last name. I am in the process of getting it masters so I didn’t feel too bad about chasing it and getting my degree in another name though my BA is in my maiden. It’s not a big deal. More so I chose personal other than profession I wanted to become a family unit which means adapting the last name.

  3. Honestly, for me I would like to keep my maiden name. I don’t have any brothers and for a long time I saw my fathers relatives mock my mom for only having daughters.I cane never be a son but I have always known within me that I definitely want to keep my name or at least double barrel

  4. I am already an MD. I have over 10 publications in my name (including one in the New England Journal of Medicine) in my field. But you know what? I STILL want to change my name. My issue is divorcing my previous work from my current work, too. But I’m also in a unique position: even though I have so much research, I am still in the nascent stage of my career—I still have to do residency, since I switched career paths. And let me tell you, since this man came into my life, everything has been working out for me. He has been *so* supportive during my career transition, and if—correction: when—I get into and through residency, he would be the reason. So I would be honored to answer my marital name. He’s also from the same ethnic background—Igbo—which helps because my first name is so white lol. So I think that for papers, I’ll have a hyphenated name (without the hyphen), and outside of that, I’ll answer my marital name.

  5. After the explanation I think I am able to get your reasons. Plus, you two dated for a while even before you got married, you two formed a bond, so It makes sense.

    Also, you had me at the Ebola jokes?? didn’t see that coming!!

  6. Ah makes sense. I think your reasons are incredibly valid. To begin with, you were already married to him and his incredible support should never ever be underestimated. Support systems while getting the Ph.D. is a whole other topic on its own, because honestly I can’t imagine ever getting to this stage without my support system. It would be absolutely impossible. That said, to be honest, even in situations where the husband was not integral, it’s still their decision. But the example from that tweet is so wild; that he ASKED her to defend as Dr. [his last name]. The patriarchy of it all lmao. In most cases, I’m team do whatever you want but sometimes I also wonder about choices that further ingrain patriarchy. For instance, if a woman got a doctoral degree without the support or help of a man and then has to use his name on her degree. In doing so, removing the name and identity (of her family who were there through thick and thin). Like wow. The fact that it’s also just casually the norm. Whew. That makes me a little sad. Otherwise, at the end of the day, it’s still kinda just a name. So no matter what, it’s still and should be one’s personal decision. Although again, like I said on your IG, I feel like women who keep their names definitely face more judgement than those who don’t. And hopefully that starts to change a little.

    1. I don’t think women our generation who keep their names face judgement (or maybe I run in different circles), but I also don’t necessarily think being married before means his name should be on it. Not everyone has a supportive partner (clearly this lady’s fiance was tripping lol), and heck, not everyone’s birth family is supported either, so I think if I didn’t feel well supported – mostly supported – by Jonathan throughout my program, I would have felt that I needed to lay more claim to the degree by putting my name on it.

  7. I got married right before I wrote the bar exam so I decided to use my married name on my bar application.
    I didn’t really think about the name change too much; for me it was a something that needed to be done ??‍♀️

    However, when my baby was born I decided(after talking with my husband) that our baby’s surname would be a hyphenated version of both our surnames. I realized then that I wasn’t quite ready to let go of my surname.

    Some members of my family constantly give me crap for it saying it’s an abomination but it is what it is. My husband doesn’t have a problem with it and that’s all that matters.

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