31

I married during my PhD and changed my legal surname however (for many reasons) I will continue to publish under my maiden name. My (UK) university says that a thesis has to be submitted under the name held in registration records. They seem happy for me to revert my registration to my maiden name so I can submit my thesis as "maiden name" and this means my degree certificate will also have "maiden name". I think it would make more sense to have the name on the thesis the same as on the published papers that it contains (i.e. maiden name) but would there be any issues with graduating with an old name? I do have birth & marriage certificates that show my maiden name.

Note: As others mentioned in the comments, technically the concept of a "legal name" does not exist in the UK. However, in practice employers, banks, airports etc. ask for evidence of your name and to change a name on a passport, for example, requires a marriage/divorce certificate or deed poll.

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    In Poland, one can keep her maiden name as a part of her new legal name. Can't you do the same? It is especially popular among female scientists for the very reason you stated - publishing under the same name after getting married. But I don't know if it's legal in UK (and your home country if it is different than UK). – Mołot Mar 25 at 9:58
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    I find the titular question confusing. It doesn't seem like you have an option there. It's a legal thing you either publish PhD under your legal name or get a diploma for a maiden name. Academia per se doesn't care, but a PhD diploma is an administrative thing. Could you publish as "Ali Newsurname nee Maidensurname"? Officially it would be your legal name, but from editorial point of view it would be as close as possible to your academic "pen name". It would also make references to your papers obvious. – luk32 Mar 25 at 11:47
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    Could you clarify what jurisdiction you are in? The notion of a “legal name” is jurisdiction-specific. – owjburnham Mar 25 at 12:34
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    @Ali There is no requirement in English law to use a deed poll to change your name (although many institutions require documentary evidence of a name, which a deed poll would provide). There is also no requirement for a woman to change her name on marriage; a birth certificate would provide evidence of the original name. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Mar 25 at 15:14
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    @Mołot The marriage has already happened and the married name has already been chosen. – David Richerby Mar 25 at 16:31
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Your thesis is a publication, and unless you have strong reasons to do so otherwise, I would recommend that you use the same name in all your publications ─ be they theses or papers.

I would particularly recommend that you do not pay attention to the oft-propagated myth that "nobody reads PhD theses". For one, it's simply not true (at best, it is field-dependent), but more importantly, it is irrelevant. Regardless of whether people read your thesis or not, it will appear in both your CV and other publication lists (Google Scholar, ReseracherId and ORCID, at the very least). I think the core question there is: what name will you use at the head of your CV?

  • If you'll use your maiden name, with only an incidental mention of your legal name when required, then it makes no sense to have any publications under your legal name.
  • If the header will be your legal name, then it still doesn't make sense to have some publications with a different, maiden name (the papers) and some with the legal name. You still have to design around the use of two different names, and using the legal name for the thesis only complicates that design even more.

I was under a roughly similar situation, where my UK university required a legal name for the PhD thesis that differed from the name I use for papers (specifically, I left out the maternal surname), and I can tell you that the legal name did propagate to places where I would rather have one single unified front.

More importantly, though, I think that the key distinction is that the PhD diploma and the PhD thesis will be seen by two drastically different audiences.

  • The PhD diploma will probably only be seen by Human Resources staff, or their equivalents, who are trained to deal with this, and for whom person-changed-their-name-through-marriage is a run-of-the-mill type of feature. Having a legal name that differs from that on your PhD diploma, with a marriage certificate to match, won't even raise an eyebrow.

  • The PhD thesis, and particularly its bibliographic details, will be seen by a lot more people, and they will have a lot less incentive to care about the details - it's more likely to confuse them and they're much less likely to chase it up to figure it out.


After having said all of which, though: It's your name. It's your choice. Consider all the points that everyone has mentioned here, but do what feels right to you.

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    This is not just a normal publication. It is a legal document and the name under that document must follow the local laws! It is not something automatic to use any other than the official legal name and I would certainly not do that without consulting the appropriate office of the university. There is nothing definitive strangers on the internet can say for sure. – Vladimir F Mar 25 at 20:50
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    @Vladimir OP reports having consulted with their university's registry. Are you suggesting that they shouldn't be believed? – E.P. Mar 25 at 22:50
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    @VladimirF This may vary by jurisdiction but in most places a disertation is not a "legal document", at least not in the sense that something like a contract or birth certificate is. And while you should virtually always follow local laws, most places do not have laws regarding the name you publish under. – TimothyAWiseman Mar 26 at 0:01
  • @TimothyAWiseman The situation is different in large parts of Europe. When a thesis is a legal requirement for completing a degree, it's not just any publication. – Jouni Sirén Mar 26 at 2:39
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    @JouniSirén A thesis isn't a legal requirement, it is an institutional or national requirement. (Some exceptions may exist.) – user2768 Mar 26 at 7:00
45

You need to pick a name that you'll use in your professional life. Changing that name has a cost. At this early stage, the cost is low. So, if you want to use your married name professionally, then change to it now. Otherwise, use your maiden name for the duration of your career. (This isn't to say you can't switch later, just that the cost increases over time.)

would there be any issues with graduating with an old name?

It may create a slight administrative burden, in that you may have to prove that your degree certificate is yours (given that it won't match your legal name).

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    It may create a slight administrative burden, in that you may have to prove that your degree certificate is yours - I think this is not at all an issue in Western academia, nor if one goes to industry/government/etc. – Kimball Mar 25 at 12:48
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    @Kimball Regardless, it is a slight burden? – user2768 Mar 25 at 13:05
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    @user2768 I'm not in academia, but my employer in Switzerland wanted my O-level certificates from 1974 (as well as my degree certificate). (If you are not familiar with the British education system, O-levels were the muggle equivalent of OWLs.) – Martin Bonner supports Monica Mar 25 at 15:40
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    @Ali If they regularly ask for it, why aren't they used to people (women especially) changing their names? – Azor Ahai Mar 25 at 17:08
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    @AzorAhai : sadly, that's typical for many bureaucrats: even if they've seen something millions of times, they still often act as if it was the first time they encountered it. – vsz Mar 26 at 7:05
7

There is one more point for using your maiden name. Maiden name is yours forever. Your married name may change. If you publish under your married name now, and re-marry later, you will be stuck with your ex's last name.

5

The legal position in the UK is quite different to that in many other jurisdictions. In English common law your name is that by which you are generally known. It follows that, if you wish, you can change your name as often as you change your hat. Now, you might be asked to provide evidence that your name is what you say it is: as the UK government website puts it:" You do not have to follow a legal process to start using a new name. But you might need a ‘deed poll’ to apply for or to change official documents like your passport or driving licence."

So, from a legal point of view in the UK there is no such thing as your "legal" name. In the academic world just use the name by which you wish to be known in that world. It might be very convenient to continue to use the name that is used on your various degree certificates, but if you don't want to do that just drop a line to the awarding institution to say that your name has changed.

  • But if the University has a rule that the name on the PhD thesis has to be the same as the name used in the University's matriculation register, they are perfectly entitled to impose that requirement regardless what the law of the land says. (Unless, I guess, you want to contest it on grounds of natural justice, human rights, etc). – Michael Kay Mar 27 at 8:08
  • Does any UK university have such a requirement? – JeremyC Mar 27 at 10:03
  • The OP seems to be claiming that it does, I have no idea if this is true. – Michael Kay Mar 27 at 12:58
2

It probably doesn't matter much as few people will look into your thesis at all (at least those people interested in your research). They will rather look at your papers.

My feeling is that it is better to have all/most of your legal documents under the same name. That is, if you plan to use your new name as your legal name (not for your publications) then it would make sense to have your PhD. diploma also under this name. But I guess most people will manage with diplomas with two names if you explain it to them.

  • Could the downvoter please explain? – user105967 Mar 25 at 17:03
  • And could also the other downvoter please explain? – user105967 Mar 26 at 8:56
  • I suspect the problem is that most people consider a thesis to be more like a publication than a legal document. When is the last time you needed to tell the government about your thesis, or even that you have a PhD? On the other hand, people who read your papers are much more likely than any government official to want to look at your thesis — so it would probably be easier for them if your name were the same on your papers and thesis. Also, there's a lot of disagreement (especially between fields) about how much a thesis will be read. Look at E.P.'s answer for what more people think. – Mike Mar 26 at 18:58
  • @Guest - downvoters who don't explain themselves are a pain in the backside, if they have nothing useful to say, just get used to ignoring them. – Michael Kay Mar 27 at 8:10
  • @MichaelKay: Now another downvoter.. I give up.. – user105967 Mar 28 at 8:48
0

For your thesis it will not really matter at all as the thesis itself will not be read by many people (sad truth!) (and if you have to proof somewhere that you are the person who holds this degree you can always provide the marriage certificate in addition).

It is however very important that you choose one name for all of you publications that arise from your thesis and further career as a later scientific life will build on many numerical descriptors (e.g. H-index) and this will be very difficult if you publish under 2 different names. If this is your maiden name or your current one is up to you.

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    Let me add that there is something more important than "that you choose one name for all of you publications that arise from your thesis and further career as a later scientific life will build on" namely that you should publish under a name you can identify with. Your wellbeing is far more important than your career!!! For what it's worth, I recently changed my name and do not want to be refereed under my previous name, no matter how good this would be for my "career". – user105967 Mar 25 at 14:10
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    @Guest +1 for "Your wellbeing is far more important than your career" – JeffE Mar 25 at 14:43
  • Yes, right the "well-being" overrules possibly everything said before ;-) – lordy Mar 25 at 14:52

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