I got married in December of 2006, a year and a half before I was scheduled to finish my Ph.D. At the time I had only made two conference presentations under my maiden name, Geurin, and had no publications. I recall my adviser saying something along the lines of, \”You’ve got to decide what to do about your name.\”
Based on our conversation, I knew that I had some options. I could stick with Geurin, switch to my soon-to-be husband’s name of Eagleman, or hyphenate the two. Whatever I chose, though, would be my identity for the remainder of my academic career. I had no hesitations with my decision. After 26 years of frustration with people mispronouncing and misspelling Geurin, I was only too happy to toss it in the wastebasket and pick up a new name that was much easier to pronounce and spell.
Eight years, 28 journal articles, 11 book chapters, 42 national and international presentations, and one international keynote address later, I’m getting divorced.
When my husband and I first made the decision, there was no question in my mind that I would keep his last name — strictly because I thought it would be career suicide to change it. After all, I’ve built my entire career on the name Eagleman, and it’s the only name that people know me by in my field of sport management. If I changed my name back to Geurin, how would anyone know who I was? What would it mean for my citation analytics via services like Google Scholar? What would it mean when I applied for new jobs and search committees didn’t recognize my name?
Those questions and many more ran through my brain. Work and career are extremely important to me and make up a large part of my identity. For the sake of my growing reputation in my field, I thought my only option was to remain Eagleman.
A few months after my husband and I separated, however, I started to question my decision. From a career perspective it made complete sense to keep my married name. But from a personal perspective? Being Eagleman would always mean I was connected to my ex, his family, and the eight years we were together. While he and I have remained on good terms throughout the divorce process, I am also trying to move on with my life and rediscover myself as a single woman in her 30s. Going back to Geurin feels natural, as if maybe I’ll reclaim parts of myself that I lost during my marriage. The majority of my life was spent as a Geurin, so why do I have to keep a name that brings with it some difficult memories just because of my job?
This internal debate raged on for a few months. I knew in my gut that I wanted to change my name back to Geurin, but my brain was not so convinced.
I sought advice from my trusty old friend, Google, and surprisingly came up with very little. There were articles about academics changing their names when they got married, but I couldn’t find any firsthand accounts or advice about what academics should do when going through a divorce.
My next step was to talk with other academics about it. I consulted with close friends, both male and female, as well as mentors and senior scholars whose opinions I value. I also spoke with people outside of academe who didn’t have strong opinions about it from a career perspective.
What I slowly started to learn through all of these conversations was that I needed to choose an identity that I could live comfortably with for the rest of my life. Yes, whatever choice I made about my name could have some short- and medium-term implications on my career — in the sense that it would take time for colleagues to understand that \”Geurin\” is the same person as \”Eagleman.\” So I had a bit of personal branding work ahead of me if I went back to Geurin.
But I found that everyone I spoke with basically said the same thing: Your career is only one part of who you are as a person and you shouldn’t let it dictate what your name will be for the remainder of your life. If I wanted to leave the past behind, I needed to begin the process of moving away from Eagleman and toward Geurin.
My divorce was finalized on March 17. For the time being, I’ve been hyphenating my name in order to build an association between Geurin and Eagleman in the minds of colleagues in my field. I have three journal articles published, or in press, under the last name Geurin-Eagleman, and I’ve given three conference presentations using my hyphenated name. In June I will give another presentation and receive a research award as Geurin-Eagleman at one of my field’s biggest conferences.
Social media makes it a bit easier to build associations between the two names as well. I’ve gone to the hyphenated format on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. While Geurin-Eagleman is quite a mouthful, I’m hopeful that using it for a short time will help make my eventual transition to Geurin, on its own, a smoother one than it would’ve been otherwise. I plan to drop Eagleman entirely in July.
I suspect I’m not alone in this last-name limbo. I don’t claim that my decision to go back to my maiden name is the right thing for everyone, nor do I know the full range of implications it will have on my career yet. But I hope that being honest about this issue and telling my story can helps others in similar predicaments. And for those who have already been in this situation, how did you handle it and what was the fallout? Share your experience in the comments below.
Author Bio: Andrea N. Geurin-Eagleman is a senior lecturer of sport management in the business school at Griffith University, in Nathan, Australia.