Growing up with a surname that would’ve definitely been a high score in Scrabble had its advantages as well as its disadvantages.
Early on in my career, I was always known as the woman with the unpronounceable surname, causing much hilarity and chuckling at office receptions when people introduced me as “Lis With the Name I Can’t Pronounce.”
On the plus side, everyone always seemed to remember me, and I was thankful that I couldn’t be confused for someone with the same name (even withstanding years of having to incessantly spell out my name upon every interaction).
When I was first married, I decided not to change my name — the main reason being I was so well known under my maiden name in my industry that I was convinced my professional identity would be affected. So I decided to stick with my maiden name, despite my husband at the time not being very impressed with my decision. He broached the subject numerous times, in fact, and the more he pushed it, the more I dug my heels in.
Wind the clock forward many years, and upon getting married the second time, I had no hesitation in wanting to change my name. It was perhaps strange, but I felt that at that point I was at in my career, my name made little difference. It no longer defined my career success or identity — a view that was worlds different from what I believed in earlier years.
“My name no longer defines my career success or professional identity.”
Our wedding was a complete secret. We didn’t even tell family or friends and essentially jetted off to New York City one very cold winters day to marry in Central Park. Upon returning back to the UK, I thought nothing of going through the process of changing my name both personally and professionally. My wonderful husband often said to me, “I don’t expect you to change your name; you are well known by it.” But to me, it was something I wanted to do.
The first day back in the office, I notified my Company’s IT Department. In a matter of days, I saw that they had managed to seamlessly change my email address, directory listing, and all of the associated distribution lists I was attached to.
But after a couple of days, something very odd started to happen.
My emails to colleagues and clients continued as normal; however, the prompt responses that once regularly filled my inbox started to become absent. Surely, people hadn’t become so busy that no one had time to reply? I checked with the IT team just to ensure there was no issue with the email platform itself and was reassured that all was normal. So, I decided to call a few people to check if my emails were getting through.
“What email? I haven’t received one from you.”
In most cases, they adamantly replied that they hadn’t received anything. This was really odd to me, so I responded, “Can you just check if you have anything from Lis Brown?” (As opposed to the Lis Djukanovic they were accustomed to receiving emails from.)
Responses ranged from, “Oh, I didn’t know who that was, so I ignored it” to “I assumed it was spam, so deleted it,” and so on.
For me, changing my name was the easy part, as I had assumed it was more of an administrative task. But the part I had missed was the impact it would have on others. I realized that I’d been taking for granted the name I’d been known by for all those years, and how it had allowed me to operate and communicate seamlessly as I established my career.
Ultimately, changing my name hasn’t affected my career, but it did reinforce the idea that the identity by which we’re originally known can change — but not without a few bumps along the way. I’d assumed my new — and newly simplified — name would be shared with tremendous ease, and that I’d never have to utter the words “let me spell that for you” again. But even now, I frequently get, “Is that Brown with an ‘e’?’” Oh, how I chuckle to myself.
If you’re deliberating over changing your name, here are some useful tips to follow:
Have you run into similar career roadblocks after changing your name, or are considering changing it but feel unsure? Head over to Fairygodboss' community discussion on this topic to read about other women's experiences!
Lis Brown is a People Leader with more than 25 years experience in the Management Consulting and Technology Industries. She has spent most of her career working around the globe and has truly embraced operating across different cultures and working styles, often being the only woman leader in the room. Lis is a passionate supporter of all aspects of Diversity and more importantly in ensuring inclusive and supportive environments for all. She is known for her strong moral compass and has no fear in speaking out and doing the right thing.
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