June 2024

By Dr. Justine Lee, DACVECC, DABT AKA Dr. Justine Lee Kral, DACVECC, DABT
Director of Medicine / CEO, VETgirl

Should I Change My Legal Name After I Get Married? Using a Different Married Name As a Veterinarian

In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, Dr. Justine Lee, DACVECC, DABT discusses if you should change your legal name after you get married? What’s it like using a different married name as a veterinarian if you were already practicing under your maiden or legal name?

Deciding whether or not to change your legal name after marriage can be a daunting decision. This is especially true for veterinarians or veterinary technicians who have already established themselves professionally. In full disclosure, I ended up changing my name to my husband’s name, but keeping my “professional” name (Dr. Justine Lee)… or so I thought. So, in this VETgirl blog, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of changing your maiden name and provide some insights from a seasoned veterinarian.

There are several reasons why a veterinarian or veterinary technician might consider changing their name after getting married. For one, it can be a way to honor your spouse or partner and signify that you are now a family. To be quite honest, this is the main reason why I ended up changing my maiden name. I had asked my now-husband prior to getting married if he wanted me to take his name or not. He said that he would support whatever decision I made, but he would be honored if I took his name. So I did.

The second reason why people consider changing names? Cultural traditional. Changing one’s name can also be a common tradition in many cultures. Well, depending on what culture, it could be a monumental task, especially when it comes to navigating the traditions and customs of different cultures. In Spanish culture, for instance, changing your name differs from traditions in other communities. Spanish communities take great importance in the use of their mother’s maiden surname, as a means of preserving family identity and history. It not only honors the mother’s lineage but also helps to trace family roots back for generations. (I personally love this tradition!) If you’re planning on changing your name in certain cultures, it is essential to understand the significance as well as the process involved.

Image by Tự Thiên from Pixabay

The third benefit of changing your name is the social recognition that comes with it. It can help you establish a family identity and make it easier for others to identify you as a unit… especially if you have kids. I didn’t want the confusion of who I was when I picked up my child from school who had a different last name than me.

So, what are the cons of changing your name? Well, bluntly, changing your name can be a lengthy bureaucratic process. The process of changing names involves legal steps including new identification cards, passports, and bank accounts. It can become quite complicated when the process carries over countries or for individuals who are not citizens. (When in doubt, seek legal counsel to guide you through the process if yours is complicated). Supposedly, there are some helpful apps and programs that make name change easier, but when I tried it 12 years ago, I DID NOT find them helpful at all. I also found the process really slow and laborious… trying to get Delta Airlines to change ALL my pre-booked tickets into a different name was so difficult I finally just traveled with 3 forms of ID: my driver’s license (original name), my passport (different name) and my marriage certificate. A few years later on a light travel schedule I finally got my name changed on Delta… but it took years.

Another factor to consider is the potential impact on your professional identity… especially if your name is known and associated with your reputation. As a veterinarian, the name under which you practice is likely your professional name, which may be different from your legal name. If you change your legal name, you may also need to change your professional name (Have some crazy clients and want to hide? This may be a perfect time to change names!). This can lead to confusion among clients, colleagues, and professional organizations. It can also require you to update your license and other important documents.

Recently, I got this notification from my Board of Veterinary Medicine. Over a decade ago, when I checked with the board, I was told (or it was my understanding) that I could keep my professional name. Turns out a decade later, I can’t. So you’ll want to keep abreast of the most up-to-date legislation too…

Board of MN Legal name change VETgirl blog

Lastly, if you work in academia, changing your name can cause problems with publications. You might need to keep track of both your legal and professional names in order to maintain your publication record. Moreover, if you are active in professional organizations or have won awards, these can be tied to your professional name, and switching to a new name can cause complications.

One alternative to changing your name completely is to hyphenate your last name with your spouse’s name. This way, you can keep both your maiden name and your spouse or partner’s last name intact. This can be a compromise that satisfies both your personal and professional needs.

Changing your name after marriage is an important decision that requires careful consideration. While personal reasons are important, it’s equally important to consider the professional implications. You may want to discuss the decision with your spouse/partner, colleagues, and professional organizations before making the change. Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, and you should make the decision that feels right for you and your career.

For me, if I had to do it all over again, would I have changed my name? Well, keep in mind that I married late in life (40!) and was already very well established in my career at that time. Realistically, when you look at the day to day, it is confusing using my professional name for some things and my legal name for other things. Half the time, I can never remember if the reservation or hotel or appointment is under which name. I compromised by changing my middle name to my maiden name. Regardless, doesn’t change my love for my husband. But know there’s a lot of points to ponder and discuss/weigh before you change your name.

Weigh in – what’d you do and decide?

  1. I legally changed my name to my husbands, dropped my middle name and changed it to my maiden name. Having the same name as my children (and spouse) was very important to me. My husband is also a vet so I go by Dr. LeBlanc professionally; we have also practiced together so two Dr. Gentry’s gets confusing. I sign documents\rabies certificates, etc with my full name: L. LeBlanc Gentry. Only confusion has been with calling in prescriptions or taxes and I just remind my clients/techs to use my full legal name. To me, it’s not much different than ppl who want to be called “Dr. Bob” or “Dr. Julie”. Been practicing for over 10 years that way and it’s never made much difference for me!

  2. I’ve been married for 4 years and practicing for 7. I added an alias with the social security department to have my husband’s name, but I practice under my maiden name. This allows me to use either name, but legally (on my driver’s license) I have both last names with no hyphen. It does make it cumbersome for flights and insurance to use both, but as a general rule I go by my maiden name in vet settings and my married name the rest of the time. To me, this was a lot easier than trying to switch completely.

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