Changing your name when you get married is a very personal choice. For many women I know, it isn’t even on the table. I took my husband’s name because I liked the idea of being a team, I loved the idea of an “us,” and I didn’t have any strong feelings about the last name my dad had given me. But, this isn’t a story about my relationship with my ex or my dad. This is a work story about how a personal problem came crashing into my professional life in a most unwanted way. After I separated from my husband, I decided to revert back to my maiden name, and started quietly making that change. First, I deactivated my Facebook, then turned it on in the middle of the night, removed a lot of photos, and changed my name. It felt so freeing, like I was back in control after being in an insane situation for so long. That small change felt good, but I didn’t want to leave it at just social media. The next thing I wanted to do was update my name on my company email. At the time of my divorce, I had a pretty high-pressure corporate job, and I completely threw myself into work because it was the only thing that didn’t have anything to do with getting divorced. It was good to have some kind of normalcy in a crazy time. While I wanted to keep my personal drama completely separate from my work life, it was hard always seeing my ex's name attached to mine in emails. It was like my success was somehow his. I knew it was a super easy technical fix, and I assumed it would be easy to take care of. When I couldn't figure out how to make the change on my own, I walked across the floor to ask someone on our help desk team for advice. He referred me to the company-wide IT helpline. None of this was surprising — there’s always a lot of red tape at big corporations — but I really wanted to keep my divorce as private as possible. Maybe it was because I was in a management role, but also, I was embarrassed and felt like a failure. This wasn’t anyone else’s business and I wanted to keep it that way.
This wasn’t anyone else’s business and I wanted to keep it that way.
I went back to my office, picked up the phone, and this annoying problem suddenly got a whole lot worse. I called the company IT help phone number, and was connected with a random help desk person. Without going into detail, I asked about updating my email address to reflect my name change. She told me, as policy, they “did not just change email addresses” when asked. So, I pushed a little more, revealing my situation, and hoping for some sympathy. Her response was brisk at best: “Email addresses had to match our legal names, per company policy.” Then she hung up. I was pissed, both by her tone, and the fact that I knew it wasn’t true. My boss used her maiden name professionally, but legally she was known by her married name. While reverting back to using my maiden name at work seemed like it should have been easy, it wasn’t so simple to change it legally. In the state of New York, couples are required to first spend a year legally separated before the judge will allow a no-fault divorce. It’s a law that leaves both people in limbo and unable to move on, whether they want to change their name, meet new people, or just do their taxes without having to interact with their ex. If I could have legally changed my name, I would have, in a heartbeat. While I didn’t expect the woman at the help desk to understand the particulars, I was hoping she would at least be sympathetic. The first call left me in angry tears, but also determined. After shaking and crying for a few minutes, I picked up the phone and called again, asking to speak to a manager. I calmly explained that I was getting a divorce, and in the interest of moving forward professionally, I would like to switch my email address to my maiden name. Again, I was told company policy was that our email addresses must match our legal names.
The first call left me in angry tears, but also determined.
“That’s interesting,” I said. “My boss’s name on her email isn’t her legal name, and I think that’s the case with many women who work here who use their maiden names professionally.” “We can’t just change it because you want to,” she replied. “Why not?” I asked. “We just can’t,” she said. I asked her to put me on with her supervisor, and she refused. “Call back when you have a divorce decree,” she said. I hung up on her, put my head down on my desk, and sobbed. I knew this shouldn’t be a huge deal, but it was yet another painful moment in what had been several years of painful moments. I wasn’t sure how much more I could take. But, I was also determined to fix this one small thing. I pulled myself together and went to my boss’s office to tell her what had happened. I closed the door behind me. I hadn’t told anyone at work about my divorce, and didn’t really want to. It was so hard to get those words out over and over again. “Hi, I’m not sure if you know this, but I’m getting a divorce and something really awful has happened.” Luckily, she was an amazing boss, and she was horrified. She wanted the names of the people at the help desk, which I didn’t get because I was so stunned by how callous they were. She said she’d take care of it, and she did. I later found out the request had to be escalated all the way to the chief technology officer. I’m still mortified to think so many people had to learn about my personal and private sadness. We live in a time when there are a number of life events that can lead a person to change their name: marriage, divorce, remarriage, or transitioning genders. There are few things that we hold closer than our names — often they are the root of our identities. When a company requires a legal document to change something as simple as a name on an email address, they’re sending a message to their employees that what they want to be called doesn’t matter.