What’s in a name? More than you think!

I found myself sitting in a group recently and the conversation turned to the challenge of names!  It transpired that all present had some issue with their names and much to my surprise  over 50% of the individuals around the table had changed theirs legally. This is much more common than I ever imagined with 58000 people in the U.K. changing their names in 2011 alone and not limited to celebs such as John Wayne and  model Elle Macpherson wanting to lose their less glamorous monikers!


In my group the reasons given were:

  • Marriage  – assuming new husband’s name. I was quite surprised that the young women in the group had either changed their names to assume their husband’s name or intended to do so.
  • Divorce  – dumping the ex – husband’s name. I was equally surprised by the women who hadn’t changed their names post divorce, even in the most acrimonious circumstances. Others had reverted to their maiden names (which is their father’s name quite often). Declaring your marital/ relationship status is no longer necessary in most countries  but it might be advisable to check your employee handbook to establish what the requirements are for your company  for communicating this transition.
  • Merging names: Many couples are double barrelling names after marriage as a compromise.
  • Never liked assigned name   – the majority of changes were because they simply never liked their names and wanted something completely different,  a name of their own choice which they felt was more in line with their own personalities. Not just their first names, but family name as well!   I actually only connected with my own name relatively recently! Here, there will be legal guidelines to follow and informing any necessary contacts. Make sure that you have a document  (Joe Brown formerly known as Peter Jones for example)  to support this change. It will be especially necessary for academic certificates and references from previous employers, credit checks, bank accounts etc.  Apparently leaving the office on Friday as Melanie Dobson and returning on Monday as Zoë  Maitland was relatively seamless,  producing only minimal difficulties. One woman reported testing a number of different names with friends and colleagues before finally selecting her first choice!
  • Name difficult to pronounce – my son tired of people misspelling and mispronouncing his Welsh surname and anglicised it.
  • Discrimination – sadly, some people in the conversation had changed their names to fit into the culture of the country they had chosen to live in.  They felt particularly in job search this had increased their chances of being called for interview.
  • Name too common:  One group member had tired of being one of the millions of John Smith’s globally and never being able to claim a domain  name or unique email address!  He just wanted to stand out!
  • First and last names : One woman had no problem with her names but commented that her boss introduced all the men on the team by their first and last names, but her only by her first. Should she be put out? Yes possibly! She isn’t Beyoncé. It just seems more professional and perhaps this more familiar, slightly indulgent approach  suggests a more service role  (maids, waitresses  are frequently referred to by their first names only.) Definitely ask why there is a different approach based on gender.

So, how do you feel about your name?

10 thoughts on “What’s in a name? More than you think!

  1. Annabel Kaye (@AnnabelKaye)

    Our given names are mostly a reflection of what our parents think and hope for us. My mother didn’t give her children middle names because she felt her own was embarassing. She wanted to name us names that were not fashionable at the time since her name (Madge) dated her instantly.

    I have never changed my name, despite fluctuating marital status, not because I feel bound by it, but because my own internal narrative about who I am does not seem to require it. I love my name, but wish it were easier to spell. Often I find myself saying Annabel with no LE and Kaye with an E only to find people puzzling over how Le Annabel and EKay could be names in the first place! If I had been called Sharon or Susan as so many women in my peer group are, I might have considered changing my name to stand out (if that is what I had wanted).

    Sometimes people want to shorten my name – I think possibly to create intimacy, but this has lead to confusion. Once someone said to me, yes, but what do people call you (I had introduced myself by name) After some thought I said, some people call me Madam. This has never been lived down in our family history!

    The shortening or renaming of people without their express intent to want to have their name changed, smacks to me of the days of ‘service’ where the maid was always Martha, regardless of her given name, and I never call anyone anything other than what they say their name is. So anyone introducing themselves to me as Stephen will never be Steve unless they ask me to call them that!.

    I imagine this is a bit stuffy but to me calling people by the name THEY offer and prefer is part of respect. Anything less, a shortening or ommission is lazy and can in certain circumstances by insulting….but you can call me Madam if you prefer…

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Thanks Annabel -I never liked my name until about 10 years ago. I sort of grew into it! I was named after an aunt who died at an early age (not the silent movie star) and thought it old fashioned and frumpy. When I was 10 I tried to get my friends to call me Jo which I thought was cool, but that didn’t last long! It’s only recently that I have appreciated the alliteration. I feel most affronted when people I hardly know abbreviate it to pet names as if my privacy has been invaded. I was also astounded when I became involved in personal branding to find there are lots of Dorothy Daltons!

      Names I do understand are very significant – perhaps some psychologists would like to step in?.

  2. Julie Walraven

    From my comment on G+… Very interesting… I took my husband’s last name without really thinking about it but I liked it better than my own and felt like it was a new beginning… and 32 years later a wild ride but it is still my name and he is still my husband.

    However, my name never got in the way of me doing what I wanted to do. As a 25+ year entrepreneur, I struggle more with people who find obstacles because of their name or gender or some other thing…

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Julie – thanks for your comment. I think it was common at one time for women to assume their husband’s name wihtout question. I was surprised that today it seems to be still prevelant. I agree a name is just a name and shouldn’t make any real difference -but it does to quite a large number of people.

  3. Gwyn Teatro

    Hi Dorothy ~ My maternal grandfather gave me my first name, Gwyneth. And, while it is a pretty common name in Wales, in England it was uncommon enough for me not to like it, especially when we immigrated to Canada and no one seemed to be able to pronounce it properly.
    As for surnames, ‘Teatro’ is my third. Each name change seems to reflect a certain stage in my life, like markers along the way and I’m okay with that.
    As you point out, Dorothy, people change their names for a variety of reasons but somehow I think whether we choose it or it chooses us, we eventually get to a place where it seems to represent us enough that any other name would just be silly.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Thanks Gwyn – with my Welsh connections I know your name well. What surprised me about this was the number of people sitting around a table who had changed their names. It came as a complete surprise!

  4. perschel

    Dorothy – Thank you for letting me know I have company on the desire for a name change. I have wanted to change my first name to HannahRose for many years. But I think it’s too hard for people who know you as X for years, to start referring to you as Y. Regarding last name – I kept mine for 10 years post marriage and changed for three reasons. 1. Schools and other child focused institutions seem to have trouble dealing with different last names in the same family. 2. When I became “Dr.” I simply liked the sound of my husband’s last name, over mine, with that designation. 3. I had a day with nothing to do once, so spent it going through the rigamarole of changing my last name.
    Would you be likely to let HannahRose Perschel roll of your tongue?

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Anne/ HanneRose! It would seem that wanting to be called something else is quite prevalent. I was told by a psychologist that how a child feels about his/her name growing up can be significant to the development of self perception and self esteem. My son Sam (Samuel) always liked his name because it was short and quick to write! I wonder therefore how some of the kids of celebs with names such as Apple and Rocket will fare? Or won’t it matter at all?

  5. Carole

    My sister still uses her ex-husband’s name even though she has been divorced for about 35 years and been with a new man for almost as long. Initially it was for her daughter, but that excuse hasn’t been valid for 30 years. To nake matters worse, her ex was always an asshole so it boggles my mind that she hasn’t changed it. It’s an easy name to pronounce and spell, unlike our family name, so that combined with laziness to change her name are her only excuses now–not valid in my mind.

    1. Dorothy Dalton Post author

      Thanks Carole – I have come across cases like that even in acrimonious divorces. One of the advantages of living in Belgium is that use of a maiden name for professional purposes is very common so there is no problem transitioning.


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