Since the age of 5, I’ve encountered endless taunting, comments, and trickles of laughter about my last name (pronounced Wee-ner). I still clearly remember coming home from school during the pre-adolescent years and crying to my parents that I hated my last name and all of the teasing that went along with it. I used to lash out at my dad and blame him as the sole cause of my taunting and then turn to my mom in disbelief that she married someone with a last name that could cause so much teasing and aggravation.
Teachers hesitated when they pronounced my last name and giggled mildly (as anything more would be contentious bullying) when the reactions of students went from chuckles to a flurry of new jokes. My last name was an absolute nightmare to me. It was truly my own personal horror story.
The misery continued into my 20’s when I entered law school and had a full-blown discussion in the middle of my class about whether my name was pronounced “Wee-ner” or “Why-ner.”
My professor asked, “Is it Wee-ner today?”
I boldly responded, “It’s Wee-ner everyday!”
I laughed with the best of them. Seemingly, I grew to accept my last name in hopes of changing it once I got married, not thinking about the professional reputation I had been building upon year after year. In law, I became well-known, and yet, my desires for marriage were rampant. I prayed for it, almost daily. I didn’t care who I was marrying, I just wanted to abandon my last name. I intended to marry someone whose last name began with a letter closer to the front of the alphabet so that my children wouldn’t have to worry about being selected last for teams in a group project, or standing at the back of the line since the line was ordered alphabetically. I wanted to quickly and effortlessly give back the name that had been the centerpiece of so many adolescent jokes and nicknames that continued through adulthood.
“My last name that I hated so much was now my identity in the professional world, and I just couldn’t part with it.”
Time passed, and I built a reputation over 10+ years as an attorney. My legal career encompassed working for some of the most prestigious firms and Fortune 200 companies. I had a name most people wouldn’t forget, and they always told me that. I then became a successful entrepreneur with a trail of publications and notoriety with quoted expertise in career advice and resume writing. My name was on page after page on Google. I began to embrace my last name as it was part of my image. Wendi Weiner, The Writing Guru. I was known nationally and internationally, and the recognition continued to grow. Then, I got engaged.
At the outset of my engagement, I didn’t think about the impending name change. One day, my then fiancé casually brought it up. Change my name? But, I was published everywhere. Would readers of my articles figure out I was still Wendi Weiner? Would hyphenating it work? What would people think when our children had a different last name than mine? Would my husband see me as just rejecting his name for fear of our marriage not working out?
All of these thoughts raced through my mind and plagued me for days. Here I was, a woman who couldn’t wait to get rid of my last name for so many years, and now I couldn’t imagine taking my soon-to-be-husband’s last name. My last name that I hated so much was now my identity in the professional world, and I just couldn’t part with it. I simply couldn’t rationalize abandoning the last name that everyone associates me with professionally, and that I too associate myself with professionally. Suddenly, it occurred to me that after so many years of rejecting my identity, I was now embracing it wholeheartedly.
Many women cannot wait to take their husband’s last name and abandon their maiden name or even the last name they took from their first marriage that ended in disaster. I’ve seen it happen firsthand, not even 24 hours after the marriage does the name change take place on Facebook. I applaud those women for embracing their marriage and honoring their husbands’ last name.
But what happens when you’re a public figure with international recognition? Establishing a professional image and reputation takes years to build upon. If you’re an attorney or published entrepreneur, your name is often searched hundreds of times a day, if not thousands. Had this happened to me at the onset of my career in my mid-20s, it would have been different. But more than 12 years after I built a professional image, it seemed that a name change would be rejecting everything I worked so hard to create.
As I began to speak to female lawyers, entrepreneurs, and business owners, I learned that they too shared the same feelings. Then it hit me: There’s no requirement to change my name just because I got married.
“To the women who wonder what will they do once they get married, don’t allow tradition to overtake what your professional stature means to you.”
In today’s times, it is perfectly acceptable for women to retain their maiden name where a professional reputation has already been long established. Keeping your name is not dishonoring your husband. It is not rejecting your husband’s family name.
To the women who wonder what will they do once they get married, don’t allow tradition to overtake what your professional stature means to you. It’s not a sign of disrespect to your husband; rather it’s a sign that you worked hard to build your professional reputation. You have every right to hold onto it, and embrace it. The sanctity of marriage will not be compromised, I assure you. People will understand, and they should respect it. If they don’t, it might just be because they don’t have firsthand experience in building a longstanding professional reputation.
One thing is for sure: getting married doesn’t mean you need to change your last name. It’s a personal choice, and one that only you should have to make.