Miss/Ms/Mrs/Dr

Recently, I have become a fan of Dr. Isis (this reminds me, I really need to update my blogroll; half of the blogs I read aren’t even on it, but I digress).   The other day, she wrote a post in response to a comment over at Female Science Professor‘s place.  In it, she discussed correcting people who failed to use the title “Dr.”  Last I looked, there were 95 comments to this post so it seems that a whole lot of people have a whole lot to say on this subject.

As do I.

[Note: For the purposes of this discussion, my name shall be Abigail Italiana and my husband’s name shall be Eric Longfrenchname.  Neither of those names are our real first or last names (obviously).]

Let’s start with the title “Mrs.”  Despite my nom de blog, I do not go by “Mrs.” in real life.  This is because I did not change my last name upon marriage (more on this in a minute).  To me, and to society in general I think, the title Mrs. is followed by Husband’s Last Name.  Calling me Mrs. Italiana would imply that I married someone with the last name Italiana which I did not.  Therefore, the only Mrs. Italiana I know of is married to my brother (my mother is divorced and remarried and is now Mrs. Stepfatherslastname).  Taking that into account, I prefer to be called Ms. Italiana.

I am not Mrs. Longfrenchname and I am MOST DEFINITELY NOT Mrs. Eric Longfrenchname and anyone who calls me that should be shot even if they are my husband’s relatives.  (Christmas cards are notoriously addressed this way and put me in a foul mood when I receive them which sort of defeats the purpose of sending the card.)

However, I am rarely called Ms. Italiana because people, upon seeing my last name and the wedding ring on my finger, will inevitably call me Mrs. Italiana.  This is not a bad assumption on their part, I suppose.  For many people, it happens to not be a problem.  However, it irks the hell out of me.  So, when people address me as Mrs. Italiana, I have two choices.  I can either say, “I prefer Ms. Italiana,” or I can just ignore it.  And, what I do depends upon my mood at that particular moment.  If I am going to be interacting with this person quite a bit, I will likely correct them.  If not, I’ll probably just let it go, even though I’m annoyed.

Part of the reason I let it go, I’m ashamed to admit, is because often when I tell people to call me Ms. they give me a look that says, “Oh, so you’re one of those women.”  I really hate that look.  Or, they look at me all confused, or maybe even ask why I prefer Ms. and then I feel the need to launch into an explanation of my reasoning (although, theoretically, I could just say, “Because I do.”).   If I’m not prepared to deal with it, I just cave.  I’m working on this issue.

Given all of that, I’m rather looking forward to earning a new title.  In theory it would mean that I would receive Christmas cards and wedding invitations addressed to Dr. Italiana.  Or, at the very least, addressed to Dr. and Dr. Eric Longfrenchname which, while still oppressive at least gives a nod to the fact that I did something with my life and am not just my husband’s possession (or, you know, that I’m a well-educated possession).  I’m not going to hold my breath, though.

Still, I feel better about the idea of insisting on Dr. vs Mrs. rather than Ms. vs Mrs.  Nobody asks you why you prefer Dr. instead of Mrs.  They may think it’s pretentious or elitist, but nobody looks at you like, “Why the hell do you want to be called Dr.?”  They just call you Dr. and leave it at that (though they may ask for medical advice, but since the majority of people I interact with who call me Mrs. Italiana are medical doctors, I doubt they will ask me for medical advice.  They may look disparagingly at me if, when questioned, I tell them that I have a PhD, not an MD but they can shove it up their ass).

Now, going back to why I did not change my name when I got married.  I never really thought about this much when I was growing up, though I was never really one to pair my first name with boy du jour‘s last name in my diary or anything like that.  When I went to college, I noted that women scientists often did not change their last names upon marriage and that idea appealed to me a lot.  I even informed my husband very early in our relationship that I was not planning on changing my last name if we ever got married as I could see no advantage since his last name was longer and more unpronounceable than the last name I was born with.

Then, Mr. Longfrenchname and I got engaged and I really started thinking about this seriously.  One thing I had not factored in was having children.  It seemed convenient to have the same last name as my children if only to show that yes, I was their mother.  Also, I had these visions of getting into some sort of accident in a foreign hospital while my husband and I were traveling and nobody believing we were married because we didn’t have the same last name and not being able to have next of kin priveleges (this is extremely far-fetched, I know, but I had some problems with anxiety and paranoia at this time).  And then I thought about maybe having problems traveling with my children because we wouldn’t have the same last name (this happened to my mother while traveling with my sister after my mother got remarried).

So, I considered compromising and having a “professional” name (Dr. Italiana; which is what I would publish under) and a “personal” name (Mrs. Longfrenchname which is what the PTA would call me).  But, when I ran this past a woman scientist of my acquaintance she became livid and insisted having two last names was unethical and that when you publish under a name you are in effect telling people that you stand by your work and if they have a problem with it they can contact you and how can they do that if you are listed in the phone book under a different name than the one you publish under.  I thought that this was perhaps an extreme view since anyone who would be looking me up to communicate about a publication would be looking me up in a university directory and I would therefore be listed under my “professional” name.  But, I didn’t want to piss anyone off and felt that if other people thought the same was as she did then maybe I would be shooting myself in the foot.  So, I considered hyphenation.

My husband vetoed that one right away.  My name would have been Abigail Italiana-Longfrenchname with my real life name being just as long as this made up name and since both of our last names are often mispelled the chance of anyone ever spelling my name right (much less pronouncing it right) was low.  As I considered this argument, I realized that would include anyone who was trying to look up my name in pubmed.  All kinds of people would get frustrated trying to look me up as they inevitably spelled my name wrong.  And then, I hit upon an idea.  I looked up each of our last names in pubmed.  There were no hits for my last name.  None at all.  And a ton of hits for husband’s last name (not for him, he’s in astrophysics).  I confess this was one of the deciding factors in choosing to keep my last name.

But the primary reason was I liked being Abigail Italiana.*  It had taken me a very long time to be comfortable with who I was and my name seemed to be integrally tied to that identity.  So, why would I change it?  What would that mean?  Who would that person be?  It also made me feel like I was somehow supposed to change my identity upon marriage which seemed unfair since husband didn’t have to change his identity (btw, we did, briefly, consider him taking my last name but he had already published under his last name whereas I had not yet published).  To me, marriage wasn’t going to make me a different person so why should my name reflect that?

*It occurs to me that this is a somewhat funny statement since I blog under a pseudonym.  However, I do that to maintain my privacy not because I’m changing my identity.

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20 thoughts on “Miss/Ms/Mrs/Dr

  1. I kept my last name when I got married, too. I would have changed it for a short, cool last name, but alas, my husband’s last name has almost as many letters as mine does. We considered making a name up, but nothing brilliant came to mind, and it seemed sort of dishonest anyway.

    It irks me when I’m addressed on holiday letters as Mrs. Husband’sFirst AndLastName, too. I wish they would sometimes address is as Mr. and Ms. MyFirst AndLastname.

  2. I also didn’t change my name. This is the first year that we’ve gotten the Christmas cards while married, and I was a mess about it. “This is not a bad assumption on their part, I suppose.” Your whole thought process here for the next few paragraphs is exactly what I go thru too!! Everytime!!! I think it is a waste of my time, and yet it raises such ire in me… My husband says I should be understanding, as we are bucking the trend, but this just further irritates me. Who cares if we are not the same as everyone else? Take a note! Also, he says since I am so upset, I need to make some sort of reannouncement to our families, like the fact that we pointedly were not announced as Mr. and Mrs. at the wedding + all of our Thank Yous had both our names on them + our own mailings go out with both names on the address labels is not enough. I am tired of being a spectacle. I want to start calling other people by slightly incorrect, but “understandably so” names. So passive aggressive of me, but that’s all I’m up for right now….. And don’t even get me started on how I’m supposed to be understanding of the people whose feelings I am somehow ‘hurting’ by wanting to keep my original name…. Argh…

  3. Interesting post! I ended up changing my last name after a VERY long internal debate that was much like yours. I too looked up how many authors had my maiden name and married name! I’m always interested to see what other women do in this situation and why.

    The reason I ended up changing my name was I figured this was a new part of my life and a new name would be a symbol of that. I was no longer my fathers, but have started a life with my husband. Yes, I still struggle with how archaic it is to take the husband’s name, but for me, there were more reasons to change it than not.

  4. Oh, and I forgot to add that the only real reason for me to keep my name was for work/publishing purposes (and to not be embarrassed in front of my colleagues for wanting to be a Mrs). Since I’m a PhD student and didn’t have any publications at the time (I do for my masters, but that was in a different subject area anyway), people in my field didn’t really know my name anyway. Also, I decided that my personal reasons to change it far outweighed the “career” reason not too. My life is not my career, so I decided not to define myself by it.

    I have a post about this on my blog here:
    http://mrscomethunter.blogspot.com/2008/10/goodbye-single-me.html

    Anyway, very interesting to see why others made their decision. I hope more will add their story!

  5. I also had this long term internal debate about what to do… even after we were married it took me several months to really decide. And in the end I’m still not sure I did the right thing. I always thought I would change my name when I got married because I didn’t want to be one of *those* women (I come from a pretty traditional small town), but when it came time to actually do it, I liked my name and who I was and I wanted to keep it. But I struggled with the “But what do we name the kids?” and the travel questions too, and decided a compromise was to hyphenate. I hate it, most days, to be completely honest. It’s long and awkward and people comment on it. I feel like I’m being judged every time I have to give my name. I’ve thought about going back to just my maiden name, but I don’t really want to do that either. And then I think of Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and figure if it works for a Nobel prize winner, I can make it work too :p

  6. I love this post! I think about some angles very similarly.

    As far as pubmed goes, I have a choice of having my work confused with
    1) a very famous cancer biologist (who is, supposedly, a bit of an interesting character); if I keep my name
    2) my SO himself; if I change my name (we have the same first initial and work in very similar fields)

    I wanted to publish under my middle name-last name to avoid this but ex-advisor did not respect that. *shakes fist*

  7. I was never planning on changing my name, for all the reasons you stated, but my husband was really, truly upset about that. As in, moped and cried. He’s certainly not against me doing my own thing, but I think a lot of it stems from the fact that his father died when he was 9, and so he connects his last name as being the one thing he still has in common with his father, and me not taking his name was a rejection of that. So, I hyphenated legally, and go by just my maiden name in the lab. And when people address things to Dr & Mrs HisLastName, I don’t feel the need to correct them.

    But I HATE being Mrs. HisFirst HisLast. I get it for very formal invitations for a proper wedding… but his grandmother CALLS ME MRS. HISFIRST HISLAST IN PERSON. As in, I am not Julie… I am not Mrs. HisLast… she ONLY addresses me as Mrs. HisFirst HisLast. WTF?!

    It also makes me a little sad that I know even once I graduate, nobody will ever address anything to me as Dr., because my husband is an MD so he’s a real doctor, and in their opinion in comparison, I am a fake doctor, and I don’t deserve the title.

  8. I didn’t change my name either. It was a tough decision, for many of the reasons you talked about. My kids are still young (2yrs and due in May!) so I really don’t know how that will play out.

    In the end, what decided it for me was that it was easiest!! (no changing my driver’s license, ss card, insurance, blah, blah, blah, blah) Yes, I’m lazy.

  9. actually i didn’t really think about changing my name. i had published in my master’s, but not in my ph.d yet (i’m only 2nd year) and i like being me. my husband was really upset for a while, but he got over it. i have a couple of aunts who married and kept their last name so that wasn’t unusual for me. I told my family i was keeping my last name, mostly so they’d stop sending things throuugh the post as signature required using the wrong last name. i’m probably weird in that i don’t care how the mail comes addressed, i care that i’m going to be dr. quiet. also, any kids will have his last name, so that made him happy.

  10. “But the primary reason was I liked being Abigail Italiana.” This was the same reason I kept my last name, my name was who I was.

    I also wanted to say that we received one holiday card this season address to Dr. Me and Dr. Husband (with our different last names). It made me so happy to receive it and reminded me why these people where my favorite aunt and uncle. It truly does seem to be the little things that count.

  11. I haven’t changed my name…yet. We’ve been married for over a year, and I’m still having lots of internal debate about the issue. I think in the end, I will have two names and use my name professionally and his name peronally. Like you said, it would be nice if I had the same last name as my children. And as crazy as it sounds, I like the idea of my family name on my publications since my parents put me through college and it’s nice way of honoring them. Oh, and I suggested that my husband change his name, but he didn’t go for that. I was mostly kidding, though.

  12. Just to offer some comfort for the concerns you expressed about traveling and proving the next of keen:

    I come from Iran and although it is not the best place in the world in terms of women’s rights, it is not and has never been a practice for women to change their names upon marriage. It even feels strange to most Iranians (probably except for those who are more familiar with western culture) for a person to change their name.

    If you think of other traditions and customs around the world, such as Orthodox people (e.g. Serbians) wearing their wedding ring on their right hand, you’ll probably worry less about awkward situations when traveling.

  13. I was very happy to stumble across your post. I, too, decided not to change my name upon marriage a very long time ago. It does make for some difficult card addresses, but I don’t mind. I wanted to be Dr. Mange from the time I was a wee lass, so there was no way I could take my husband’s name. His parents hate it, no one really gets it, so it’s really nice to see that I’m in no way the odd person out on this matter.

    I also asked my husband to change his name too! No luck there. Damn.

  14. I never expected to change my last name, but a couple of years ago I found out that MyNicknameMyLast is a terrible insult in another language. Unfortunately, I hope to practice medicine with the population that speaks that language. Once I’m married at least I won’t have to give chilling looks to teenage boys who giggle at it.

    I’m sad to stop using my last name; even my mom didn’t change her name when she and my dad married. I will keep my last name as a middle name and probably not use it professionally or socially.

    An additional factor in this decision: there’s a neurologist in Virginia with my full name.

  15. I love this post and I 100% agree with it! I had a very long interal debate about this issue. I am the first person in my family to graduate college and I have my EdS. I grew up in a traditional catholic environment where I was repeatedly told that there was no point in me going to school because I was ‘just’ going to be a mom. (Quotation marks bc being a mom is a tough respectable job-but it’s often undervalued). I also have a very common first name. Everyone called me by my last name growing up. Before I met my husband I was certain I wouldn’t change my name. Then I started working in the schools and soon realized how difficult it is to call parents when you aren’t sure if you are calling the mom or step mom and if the parents are married. This made me reconsider changing my name. My husband also suggested that my last name was my fathers and taking his name could represent my choice to start my own family. I ended up moving my maiden name as a second middle name and professionally I go by Ms. MaidenName Marriedname. I still cringe when I hear Mrs. or people don’t say my maiden name. It’s also frustrating bc when you work in the schools EVERYONE says ‘mrs’ Sometimes I think I should have just 100% kept my last name. Oh well.

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