Women’s names

This article was sent to me last month by a smart friend who is thinking about the ramifications of name changes in academe. I wanted to pull out a few important quotes and ideas.

I love this idea: “For me, I realized that my marriage and the name-changing question gave me an opportunity for empowerment: to reclaim my identity with a name of a family I chose.” I like to see name-changing as an opportunity, a potential gain rather than a loss. After all, changing your name doesn’t mean you have to lose the name you had.

Also, this one: “We should not have to weigh the possibility that taking a new name equates to being taken less seriously as a scholar.”

Finally, this paragraph, which is one place where I don’t totally agree:

“When I asked colleagues to point out academic women who had taken a new name, they could only identify three conditions where scholars changed their names and went on to have a successful career. The first was in the early years of graduate school. For graduate students with only a few publications or presentations, the decision is often less frowned upon and might even go unnoticed by those looking over one’s curriculum vitae. The second acceptable condition is following a divorce posttenure. The idea here is that a woman is reclaiming her identity and thus it’s viewed as empowering, or at least respectable, due to the circumstances. The third acceptable condition is to hyphenate, joining one’s birth and married names.”

I think these conditions may seem more acceptable to some, but as a woman who changed her name before graduate school, I’ve still taken some heat. This usually has to do with my identification as feminist–aren’t feminists supposed to keep their names? Spoiler alert: No. Feminists are supposed to do whatever the heck they please with their names and we don’t owe anybody an explanation.

In the end, the only true downside I see about changing your name is functionality. If you do already have publications and somebody reads one and likes it, having different names on different articles may hinder them from finding your other work. But strategies exist for working around this problem.

Of course, all this presupposes that we only get one name and that name is static. That may be true for one’s legal name, but we can operate with different names beyond what is “official.” I take joy in operating as Erin Frost, Erin A. Frost, Erin Clark Frost, and Erin Clark across different contexts. They are all me, with some names representing identities that have closer associations to certain spaces, times, people, or ideas. I claim all these names as mine, and I never want to lose any of them.


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