Girl Talk: Relinquishing your professional name

Guest Girl Talk: A rose by any other name by Sarah Ayoub of

Over the weekend, I found myself sharing with friends the warm and fuzzy feeling I get when my husband calls me by my maiden name: a cheeky, throw-away "Hey, Holburn" conjures up feelings of nostalgia, pride and comfort all at once.

While I felt changing my name was a mark of respect for my new husband, and a symbol of a new beginning, there was definitely a BIG part of me that grappled with identity issues as I came to grips with my new relationship (and name) status. It's partly why I started this blog shortly after our engagement – the longing to grip onto a sense of self (digging my feminist heels in online, so to speak).

I needn't have worried – it takes more than a name change to separate a girl from her heritage, says she who retains the 'nee' in her blog byline – but the issue is particularly pertinent to women whose professional careers have been built on a single, distinguishable and (hopefully) reputable name, particularly now in the era of search engines.

Here, bride-to-be Sarah Ayoub of discusses her thoughts on the practicalities of the convention – in terms of commerce, career prosperity and identity – for a professional journalist...

Most people jump straight into frenzied, exciting wedding planning when they get proposed to. I jumped straight into salvaging my identity.

Before I became a journalist, I was adamant that I’d change my name after marriage. There was no question about it. I didn’t want to be a woman who was threatened by her identity being usurped by that of her husband’s.

Furthermore, I had spent the formative years of my university education simply giddy with the excitement at the prospect that I’d lose the ethnic name that no one knew how to pronounce or spell when and if I married my Anglo-Saxon boyfriend.

But now the day that prospect has arrived, I couldn’t be more torn. As a freelance journalist, my name is my business and my brand – it’s my trademark in each article I write, the keyword in my website domain and the aspect of copyright that makes every idea that I develop into a story permanently mine.

I can't help thinking that I’ll be losing three years of media profiling – dozens of articles in big-name publications, presentations at industry events and interviews on TV and radio – simply by removing the surname that I’ve known all my life and adding on someone else’s.

In March 2008, The Daily Telegraph revealed that, according to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, the practice of changing your name to that of your husband’s had tripled in a decade, up to 12,923 in 2006 from 4020 in 1996. It seems that women are pursuing the more conventional route for the sake of sharing the same name as their children, a decision which I find noble and cute, but which I consider to be made in a situation different to my own.

My pop-cultural heroine Lois Lane spent years wistfully waiting for her superman while simultaneously kicking corruption’s butt as the Daily Planet’s most renowned investigative reporter, earning herself an infamous reputation in the process. Her joy at finding out he was masquerading as her geeky partner-in-journalism Clark Kent was diminished somewhat when she realised, upon their happy-ever-after engagement, that she’d have to leave some of that infamous achievement behind if she took his last name as her own.

Far be it from me to consider myself a journalist in the league of my heroine, but her predicament certainly echoes my own. My name is synonymous with my job and the area I have fashioned as my specialty. It is the manifestation of my area of expertise in my profession because I write about race and identity and assimilation with regards to the Arab-Australian community. And I have an Arab-Australian name to validate what I'm saying more than text or interviews ever could. My name translates to me living my profession, and my career and work is more credible because of it.

I know I'm being dramatic, but I can’t bear the thought of losing that spark of recognition if someone were to read an article with my by-line and not register to associate it with the work I have written in the past. But what am I going to do? Stick a ‘nee’ in every by-line of a story when sub-editors have enough work to do with word counts and layouts? Or hyphenate it, creating a potentially more cumbersome name to accommodate, complete with all the email, business card, website and social networking profile changes?

When it comes down to it, I realise I have burdened myself with this decision because I feel that it is more than career history that I am potentially throwing away. The ethnic name that I was so anxious to be rid of has also became my mark. It symbolises a piece of cultural heritage, a mark of my ancestry, not just in terms of family, but in faith and race too. I find it hard to see myself making kibbeh and vine leaves and tabouli without retaining an aspect of the Lebanese typecast that could help justify it all.

In the end, I have spent one of the most exciting times of my life pondering whether the portfolio I’ve spent years nurturing and cultivating would smell just as sweet if I said goodbye to the old me, and ushered in a girl who was basically making a name for herself from scratch.

I know that with all this passion for my work, I’ll still be worth reading no matter the name under the headline. Moreover, I realise that marriage is a beginning and not an end – and that I still have my words, I still have my personality and, most importantly, I have my true love, who is ultimately the byline that will stick long after the music of the media - and the wedding - fades away.

Is trading in a name the ultimate love sacrifice, needless career suicide or the relinquishing of girlhood identity? Come December 5, I hope to have settled that conundrum. Perhaps you, dear GWAS readers, can help me?

Read Sarah's pre-nuptial columns for Bride To Be magazine here.

Yours truly,
Sarah Ayoub @ Girl With a Satchel


Clare said...

Why not get your husband to take your name?

Sam said...

Sarah - you are your own heroine and I am incredibly envious of your brilliant writing.

I don't see why you can't still write under the name Sarah Ayoub and be Sarah New Name Here for every other aspect of your life, there are plenty of women who do that.

It's only a defining issue if you make it one, we all carry different identities throughout our lives and we manage to cohabit with those different identities very easily.

Having both won't separate you from who you are, you'll still be the amazing talented writer Sarah Ayoub and you'll still be the amazing talented Sarah New Name Here in every other facet of your life.

Sam :-)

Anonymous said...

You could keep Ayoub as your pen name and have your name legally changed to your husband's...

Anonymous said...

Keep it as your byline and change your name?

Anonymous said...

Easy: change your name in 'real life' but continue to use your maiden name for work. Most of my married journo girlfriends have done this, and it was always my plan to do the same. I only changed my mind because I met and married my husband during a five-year stint overseas, so by the time I came back to Australia my maiden name was long forgotten and it was just as easy to start again under my married name.

Unknown said...

I am pro a girl keeping her own name, if she so desires of course. I read where you said it shouldn't be about worrying that your identity will be usurped by your husbands, but why does the husband never even have to consider that. I like my surname, it says where I have come from, and for me, its important especially because I've lost my father recently. So its all the more important to me. Perhaps more husbands should consider sharing their wives names? Why should it be an expectation for wives only? That or like someone said to me once, why can't they combine names (not necessarily hypehnated) and start a new family all together. I think we need to move on from the expectation that the wives name has to change and embrace that both husabnd and wife carry importance with their surnames. Maybe I'll feel different when I become engaged, but right now, I'm not giving my name up, not without a fight.

Anonymous said...

I have thought a lot about this as well and have decided not to change my name, if anything will just ad a hyphen but there is no way I am leaving my last name behind!I know some people fret over hyphenating the kids names as well but that is not that crucial to me.

Speaking as an Oral Health Professional to be.

Jenna @ My Life As A Magazine said...

Sarah I have just experienced this same dilemma! I got married only a few short months ago. I too struggled about name change and what it would do to my identity. Also being a freelance writer that had already built up some profile with contacts in the industry, made we worry about confusing potential employers. Alas I took my husbands name, as seen on the marriage certificate, but I still use my original surname when applying for jobs and doing my writing (it’s my profession name). As a blogger it also acts as some security, incase someone is trying to 'steal your identity’ or find where you are. Most authors or celebrities don’t even go under their real names.

Sally said...

Could you use your maiden name in all professional contexts and your married name in all personal matters? Could be confusing though...

Anonymous said...

I don't really understand the meaning of the phrase about not wanting to be the kind of woman threatened that her husband's identity might usurp her own (paraphrased).

Nevertheless, I think the bit about ethnic identity is an excellent point to raise. That's precisely the number one reason why I haven't changed my name to my husband's Anglo-Celtic name, even though it would likely make my life a lot easier. My first name is decidedly ethnic, and matches how I look. How strange to then tack an Anglo name onto it.

Kate said...

I don't understand. Does your husband have a professional profile attached to his name? If not, why can he not change to yours? Or, why does anyone have to change at all?

Dannielle said...

I personally would keep my surname. I feel that it is a link to my history and to my family. But I come from a family of women who have kept their own name and are proud to have done so. Which I think probably influences my decision.

But if you did decide to change it legally, why not keep your maiden name as your professional name?

Rebecca said...

This is a toughie, and ultimately a decision we all have to make for ourselves - and not let anyone else decide for us!

I chose to change my name when i got married 5 years ago. And it was a little bit sad- I felt a strong identity with who i was, and to my maiden name. But my Mum took my dad's name, and i wanted to carry on that tradition. 5 years later i'm a better version of me - and i feel very proud of my surname, strongly attached to it.

I just want to encourage you that if you do decide to change your name, it actually becomes part of you too!

Talia Cain said...

I'm afraid I have to agree with Deveny

Kaitlyn said...

This is an interested dilemma for women, and one by no means unique to the world of journalism. I am a science student and already considering that, if it is some time before I get married (which it probably will be, give the distinct absence of a man on the horizon!) I will probably retain my maiden name professionaly, as I will have (hopefully!) built up a professional reputation and publication history under that name. There are many fields in which your professional history is chronicled by the publications bearing your name, and although unlike for journalists they are in industry publications rather than the mainstream media, they are hugely important. I hope, Sarah, that you can find a course such as this that works for you and your husband, and one day this dilemma pales into nothing when drowned out By the glow of a happy marriage!

petal said...

hmm, i couldn't disagree more with the Catherine Deveny article (not a huge surprise for me though).

i look forward to taking my fiance's name when we get married. he's never asked or pressured me to, and was pleasantly surprised when i told him i intended to change my name to be the same as his.

i think it's possible, and healthy, to release some ties with your family in order to start a new family with your husband, without compromising your stance as a feminist or a woman with equal rights who is serious about her career.

but for Sarah, as a journo with a portfolio of writing, by all means i think it's sensible to keep your maiden name for work. or don't! it's every person's choice, and really, what's in a name? (ha)

Talia Cain said...

Petal, the question remains of why it is by and large women who have to work out whether they're taking their partner's surname.

Changing your surname to release ties from your family is symbolic and if a new family were to be started with your partner there'd be a need of an entirely new surname, by that logic you're becoming a part of his family.

petal said...

Hi Talia,

The tradition of changing names after marriage is different in every country around the world, which suggests that it's much more a culture-specific tradition passed down through generations, rather than an indication of the status of women in that country.

For example, it's my understanding that in most Arabic-speaking countries where Islam is the state religion, women keep their birth name so as not to signify a transfer of ownership from their father.

I'm thankful that in the society I live in, changing your name/not changing your name is not a question of ownership, but a decision a woman can make.

Why is it the woman that has to decide this, not the man? Because that's Western tradition and history - the custom remains from times when changing from a "Miss" to a "Mrs" offered women far greater status and security.

Talia Cain said...

Petal, I'm aware of the Western tradition and history of changing the surname.

Women do have the choice, but the majority are choosing to still take their partner's surname which indicates that society is still towing the line with this. Because we should no longer be judged on the status of whether we are married or not, surely it should not matter that we take our husbands surname? Yet I think we all feel the pressure to do so.

I'm not judging women for doing it, each to their own. Sincerely. I still haven't decided.

Although I strongly believe traditions, and why they continue to be practiced, should be questioned and women should not have to still be shouldering the responsibility of the "changing of the surname".

Kate said...

Talia, I couldn't agree more. I've had this discussion hundreds of times with women I know. 'Tradition' is the worst reason ever. There are thousands of appalling traditions that we have moved on from. If you are going to do it, then own it, don't call it 'tradition' or say it doesn't really matter to you but it does to your husband, or what about the kids, etc. In my opinion, these are minor concerns in light of the philosophy you are promoting when you change your name.
Personally, I don't see how any woman can call herself a feminist yet change her name. Yes, feminism is about choice, but it is also about recognising the network of sexism, prejudice, bias, expectation and 'tradition' in which you are forced to make that choice. Then seeing it's hardly much of a choice at all, and hopefully rejecting it.

Cecylia said...

I was going to change my last name but changed my mind as the wedding approached. But in the end I decided that I was not going to let my pride get in the way of our relationship. So I changed my last name as a 'present' to my hubby =D