Lucy Dennison on changing her surname

Lucy Dennison I seem to be at an age when every summer weekend involves a wedding. When it came to my own wedding this summer I had to face the dilemma of whether or not to change my surname. This has been a fairly hot topic amongst my friends, many of whom are doctors, and seems to provoke impassioned debate on both sides. I remember thinking it odd the first time I realised that some female surgeons known as “Miss” wore wedding rings.

This apparent contradiction puzzled me but over the last 10 years I’ve spent studying and working in hospital it has become quite normal. In fact, these days if I am introduced to a female surgeon as “Mrs” I register this, involuntarily, with surprise. Interestingly, most of my surgeon friends have kept their maiden name at work while most GP friends have taken their married name.
I decided to take my married name and set about changing it with every organisation I could think of. After about the fiftieth letter I was beginning to sympathise with the argument that it’s simply easier not to change it, but I persevered. When I spoke to my university about changing my name their rather enigmatic advice was to consider my options carefully, as they would need to see legal documentation if I wanted to change it back again. This made me wonder whether they were implying my marriage wouldn’t make it through to June (when I will hopefully qualify) but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming they were trying to counsel me well. I then arrived at the BMJ, to start as a Clegg scholar, where I had forgotten to mention my name change to anyone. For the sake of simplicity I have reverted back to my maiden name for eight weeks, but find myself hesitating for thought whenever I introduce myself, which hardly engenders confidence in my new acquaintances. My most recent name change challenge came when I tried (unsuccessfully) to enrol on the foundation programme application website. Unfortunately, University’s name change hadn’t caught up with the information submitted to the foundation programme, so after a couple of days of emails and phone calls together we managed to unravel it. One of my (more superficial) reasons for wanting to change my name was that I could have a new signature. At work I had often lamented my rather laborious signature and envied those sensible enough to have a little squiggle signature instead, thinking of the seconds it would save when prescribing and signing letters. However, old habits die hard. My new signature is actually a replica of the old one, only my new surname is longer.
The last few months have given me a much better understanding of the arguments for not taking you married name, but despite the teething problems, I’m still glad I did.

Lucy Dennison is a Clegg scholar at the BMJ.

  • Helen Barratt

    Dear Lucy,

    Many thanks for highlighting this issue. When I got married last summer the advice from female medical friends about changing my name was mixed. Keen to have my passport in my married name for my honeymoon, I decided to change that, but kept virtually everything else – including work documents – in my maiden name.

    I now find myself stuck in a no-man’s land, with two identities. At work this isn’t a huge issue, but outside of work I regularly find myself getting funny looks when I temporarily forget which name I’ve given, for example when booking a restaurant.

    Based on my experience, I suspect you’ve made the right decision!

    Helen Barratt (or is it Hewitt?)

  • Really interesting story. In a lot of occasions, I thought to change both my name and surname, although I was a man; perhaps, in spite of age, also now I am…but I’m not sure) ; I don’t remember if married! In fact, after I have introduced my self to colleagues,who saw my face for the first time, e.g., at congresses, they were looking at me in a really strange way. Very strange!

  • In these days of identity fraud, a female doctor with two surnames can seem really dodgy.
    I signed a credit card slip with the wrong name recently. And, as my passport’s in my married name, that’s what I use when flying and checking into hotels when travelling for the BMJ. But that really confuses the people I’m meeting, and one American asked if I was on a witness protection program.
    When the BMA took over most of a plane to fly delegates to a meeting in Jamaica in the 1990s, someone had failed to book adjacent seats for the female doctors and their diferently-named husbands. The few other passengers nearly mutinied, apparently, when the BMA contingent insisted on reshuffling the entire cabin before take off.

  • Helen Gordon / Murray

    Hi Lucy

    I was drawn to your article as I have the same dilemma after also getting married this summer and keep signing my name incorrectly! I have chosen to keep 2 names but continue to get confused!

    Anyway after reading the article I realised I have met you at a consultant party and was a houseofficer for your now husband when he was a registrar so congratulations and pass on my regards!


  • Paddy Dennison

    I for one am glad you changed your name!
    Your loving husband

  • Lynn Chisholm

    I changed my name when I got married (25 years ago) and still am not used to the “new name”. If I hadn’t lived and worked in the same geographic area for so long, I would have changed it back (coinciding with a move to another location). I may still do that.
    The main reason I dislike my married name is that it does not reflect my family origin (Norwegian) with which I identify strongly.
    Lynn Chisholm (Risvold)

  • Ruth Howells

    I have been known to sit in waiting rooms blithely reading on while someone yells Margaret Jenkins, thanks to not only not using my married name as a rule, but also my first name. Other problems; child benefit not being allowed to be paid other than to an account with my married name, necessitating a new account, which was very difficult to open, as neither passport not utility bills are in my married name. Pure inertia plus being known professionally by my maiden name were the reasons for deciding not to use my married name 28 years ago.

  • Isobel McDonnell

    Lucy, what about the other reason as a female surgeon for not changing my name; not wanting to indirectly admit at work that I married an orthopaedic surgeon!

  • lucy, how i empathise with you! name change caused the first big disagreement in our married husband(a surgeon) felt very strongly about it and i gave in.however i kept my maiden name as a middle name as it identifies which part of india i come from. i got it publihsed in the official gazette,got a new passport and sent countless letters.
    22 years later,the same husband now says he’s not fussed about it anymore!!!! grrrrr! if not for all the hassle, i would happily change it back.

  • John Amos

    I am amazed that in this new world,when men and women are supposed to be equals, there is still a need for the woman to take on her husband’s name. And it is also amazing how Paddy Dennison’s response reflects on the outdated “you belong to me” thinking. In any case, statistically, so many marriages are breaking up that most choose not to get married and the inconvenience of changing all the official papers and documents and the possibility of fraud and mischief is not worth it. Come on men, let us be less chauvinistic. After all, she is bringing the bacon home.

  • sara

    why are you glad you did it? I don’t understand just seems like a lot of hassle and you submitting your identity into that of your husbands.

  • Angharad Renault

    I got married two weeks ago and wish to keep my maiden name for work, (am only an F1 but i like it) and use my married name for everything else. Is this legal and what has to be in each name? I.e. passport, driving licence and can i have two bank accounts in different names? Vheers