Changing Your Last Name Based on the Situation

One marital surname choice that's becoming more popular is situational name use, changing which last name you use depending on what context you're within. For example, one woman could go by Jessica Jones (her birth name) at work and while pursuing her own individual hobbies, but then could go by Jessica Simpson (taking her husband's last name) in social situations where they both end up together, like at church or if they're at a PTA meeting or something. One website listed out a few options for when a woman might prefer to use her birth name as opposed to her married name: professional contexts, when you're not quite ready for the name change in social situations (such as when you're meeting old friends), when you're still undergoing the name change paperwork and haven't been fully processed yet, etc.

There doesn't seem to be a ton of information out there on this option, but I did find one study from 2005, conducted by the brilliant Laurie Scheuble (and like, her husband David Johnson, who's an accomplished research in his own right, I just really love Laurie Scheuble!). 

I don't have access to this full study, but I did find a few links with the abstract and one with an excerpt. This is from 2005, so it's hard to know how accurate it is at this time. 

The abstract states, "Overall, 12% of married women reported situational last name use. Women from all last name choices (e.g., changed to husband’s, kept birth surname) reported situational surname use, but the most common occurrence of this practice was among hyphenators. Situational users were most likely to use their husband’s last name in family situations and their birth surname in professional situations. Factors that increase situational last name use included full-time employment, higher levels of educational attainment, and an older age at marriage. Situational last name use by married women can be seen as a manifestation of ambiguity over identity with family and non-family roles."

The study notes: 

"Women may view their birth surname as an indicator of the part of their lives that is separate from their identity as a member of the family into which they married. This would be particularly true of women who change their last name at marriage. Women who change their last name to that of their husband may find situations wherein they feel comfortable using their birth surnames, such as at a high school reunion or around people from their hometown. The same may be true of women who do not change their name at marriage. They may be inclined to use their spouse's last name in situations where family identity has more salience, such as at their children's school or around their husband's family.

No researchers have systematically and empirically investigated the situational surname use of married women, although a number of researchers have focused on the issue of women's surname choices at the time of marriage ... Some of the same social forces that lead to the identity issues and conflicts that have been documented in these studies of marital name choice should also apply to actual surnames women may use in different social contexts. 

Although no empirical data are available to document the extent of such situational use, anecdotal evidence suggests that this practice may be quite common. For example, etiquette books from the 1970s held that, although it was acceptable for women to use their birth names professionally, it was not appropriate for them to use their birth names in family situations "

Married womens' situational use of last names: an empirical study. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research | July 1, 2005 | Scheuble, Laurie K.; Johnson, David R.


This option is actually looking like the best one for me right now. I don't want to legally change my name, but I'd be up for going by Rachael Dickson-Lorenzen at social events and like, on Facebook (if they'll let me!). I could see myself really enjoying this option while maintaining my own name professionally.