Fewer and fewer women from younger generations are changing their names with marriage (at least according to a Facebook study released in 2013). Does this mean you shouldn't, either? It all comes down to your unique circumstances (and, of course, your personal feelings about retaining or letting go of your maiden name).
Reasons to Change Your Last Name for Marriage
You may want to consider changing your name with marriage (or in anticipation of marriage) if:
- You would benefit from a fresh start with your digital identity (by switching names, you can reduce the number of people finding content by or about your past self, which might not reflect well upon your desired reputation)
- The digital footprint you have built thus far is not very robust
- Your present name is rather common, and it would be difficult for you to stand out from the crowd in search results
- You share names with a famous person, who you would not be likely to ever beat in search engine results
- Your original name is plagued with unfortunate connotations or negative associations (e.g. a well-known criminal has it)
- You know you want to change your name, and do not, as of yet, have many public online accounts
- You would be willing to hold on to your new name even if your marriage does not work out (you would not want to lose much of what you invested in your digital identity in addition to losing a relationship)
Should you decide that you are committed to changing your name (for marriage or for any reason), do so as soon as possible. Every day you delay is another day you may produce valuable content online that is not associated with the name you intend to keep.
Reasons to Not Change Your Last Name for Marriage
You may not be well-suited to change your name online if:
- You have already created a robust digital identity using your original name
- You have a large number of crucial accounts in your original name and stand to lose too much by messing with them or switching to new ones
- Your present name is very unique (e.g. you are one of the only people who has it), which gives you significant advantages on the SEO front
- You have invested significant resources in ensuring that you dominate top search results for your name, and do not want to have to re-optimize from square one
- You are not confident that your engagement or marriage will last, and if it does not, you know you would want to change your name again
Alternatives to Changing Everything
Just because it may be advantageous (or not) to change your online name, this does not mean you also have to change (or not change) your offline or legal name. Some people legally change their names, but keep their original names for publishing and digital identity purposes in an effort to maintain the reputations they have cultivated over the years. Others only change their names online, but keep their original names in the real world (as they are fond of them or want to keep certain traditionally-minded family members happy).
Hyphenated names have also become a popular option that enable one to retain some of the benefits of one's old name (e.g. Jane Doe-Smith may still show up in some searches for her original name, Jane Doe) while still allowing one to adopt a new name.
A third option is to cultivate an entirely unique name- a nom de plume as it were- that you use as your designated online handle. Should you use a pen name instead of your real name in your online dealings, you will not have to worry so much about the online implications of any private name change you should end up making.
How to Change Your Last Name Online
There are three stages to changing your last name online:
- Creating new email/storage/administrative accounts and transferring data
- Switching names and URLs of accounts that permit changes
- Creating new accounts on sites that do not allow for name changes
Creating New Administrative Accounts
If your email, storage, and administrative accounts (e.g. Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Calendar) utilize your original name, and if you use them regularly to interface with colleagues, friends, and family, you may want to create new accounts that reflect your official public name. Creating these new accounts, then transferring over information, is one of the most labor-intensive parts of the online name change progress.
Google makes it fairly easy to make the transfer. It's not difficult to create a new Google Account, transfer Google+ connections from one account to the next, set up email forwarding with Gmail, import contacts, share calendars (or export, then import your original calendar into your new account), and share all the contents of your Google Drive account with a new Google Account. That said, ease of transfer will vary significantly from one service provider to the next. Just be sure to be systematic, organized, and disciplined when making the transfer; you will not want to miss important files, contacts, or details.
Switching Names and URLs
Though Facebook only lets one change one's official username/URL once, Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn make it easy to switch names and URLs multiple times. Whenever possible, update your public online profiles to reflect your new name and hold on to old URLs so that you can redirect them to updated accounts.
Creating New Accounts
As some sites will not allow you to change your name (or the URL associated with your account), you may want to create an entirely new account. Whether this is an appropriate effort to make depends on how important it is that your name is consistent (both in display and URL form) and how much you stand to lose from closing or abandoning an existing account. For example, it will probably not make sense to create a new Facebook account (even if your URL reflects an old name), as you have simply invested so much time in contributing content and connecting with friends through the site over the years.
Should you decide to create a new account, be mindful of what you do with its old counterpart. Though it may be advantageous to leave some content up related to your old name, outdated (and infrequently audited) accounts might end up being more of a liability than an asset. If you decide to leave something live, regularly go back and check on it- and also make a point of redirecting those who find lingering-but-abandoned old accounts to your new, active ones.