I recently changed my public last name from Simone Smith to Simone Collins. The change was not prompted by marriage, but engagement. Though the practice seems unconventional today, it may become a routine aspect of 21st Century etiquette.
Sociological arguments aside, is it still a realistic expectation for a professionally inclined woman to change her name when she gets married? I expect one of two norms to establish. Either the adoption of a new family name will become an increasingly obscure tradition, or we will see the tradition carried out at earlier points in couples' relationships.
This shift will emerge as a consequence of the cumulative nature of online identities -- our aggregate digital footprints. A strong digital footprint lies at the core of many professions. We want potential employers to see a history of conscientious contribution and a visible track record when they Google us and rifle through our social media history.
Younger generations are investing more effort into maintaining an online presence as both a personal and professional necessity. Changing one's name can shatter a robust and cohesive digital identity. While the name change does not delete past content, it can confuse sources, leave derelict accounts frozen in time and push one back to square one with SEO.
A recent study conducted by Facebook found that one-third of women in their twenties do not change their names with marriage, whereas women in older age brackets more frequently make the switch. It may be very possible that women in younger generations are driven less by feminist ideals and more by a desire to not lose the online reputations they have worked so hard to build.
Younger generations may also be turned off by the technical hassle of changing one's online name. Though Pinterest, Twitter and LinkedIn make it fairly easy to change names and URLs, Facebook does not permit more than one URL change. Should one want to create a new Gmail account that reflects one's new full name, one will also need to create an entirely new Google Account (which also means starting fresh with services like Google Drive, Google+, Google Calendar, etc.). The more involved one is online, the more work one is obliged to do.
Should one choose to change one's name, one had best do so as soon as one is committed to the change. This approach will help not only to ease the inevitable transition (we will only have more accounts to switch, more data to transfer and more of a digital footprint to reconstruct several years hence), but to also ensure that years of future, quality work are not doomed to languish in obscurity by being associated with an outdated name.
Though an online name change causes losses, not all will be negative. We have all engaged in some experimental behavior with our first online accounts that might benefit from being buried.
Perhaps a name switch as one settles down and makes major life commitments would be a good thing. The change enables one to start with a somewhat fresh palate -- to mindfully cultivate an online footprint that exudes one's best qualities and professional polish.
Though fewer young people may be changing their names now, perhaps more will in the years and decades that come. We may see a growing trend with engagement in which both members of a couple will adopt a new name. The action may become a celebration of new beginnings and a new, blank page within a tome of highly documented lives.