First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage, Then Comes a New Gmail Address?

When a woman changes her name today, it's not just a legal matter. She'll need to rebuild her digital identity as well.
A screenshot of The Atlantic's very own Eleanor Britton nee Barkhorn's Facebook profile

Mary Margaret Fletcher had a flutter of worry recently. She’s getting married next spring, and plans to change her last name to her husband’s. But one day it dawned on her: “I was like, ‘wait,’” she said. “My last name is in my email address.’“

Fletcher, an archivist who lives in Vermont, is one of the roughly 80 percent of brides expected to drop her maiden name upon marriage. That decision has always been a mix of the personal and the practical. It requires a lot of legwork, including interaction with multiple federal agencies and a trip to the dreaded DMV. But it also forces women to think about how they’ll be perceived with a new name and, at some level, a new identity.

The proliferation of online profiles and the growing demand for digital presence has managed to complicate both aspects. 

The practicalities
Fletcher's Gmail problem has an easy-enough solution. Gmail lets a user update a profile name, but not the actual email address. To do that, newlyweds have to use a workaround in which they create a new account with their new surnames, and then use a feature actually meant to combine work and personal accounts to merge the two addresses. That can take a lot of time to accomplish, and up to seven days to go into effect. 

And that’s assuming the address is available. Lore has it that the competition for a reasonable married email name has become so cut-throat that some girlfriends are reserving an address with their boyfriends’ last names, just in case he pops the question.

For this story, I emailed a particularly digitally-engaged new bride I know, a social-media professional. First I received an auto-reply telling me to update my online address book. Then, I got a frantic list from her of other sites she’s wrangling with post-wedding: “Custom URLs, man,” she wrote. “Most social platforms were easy. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram let me change my URL and name, no problem. It's Pinterest that's trouble. Also, Etsy. Apparently you can't change your Etsy username... unless I want to start a new profile and lose all my purchase data.”

These things aren’t huge, of course. But they can add to existing hesitation that comes along with changing your name and, in some ways, how people perceive you. “I did think about how much of a pain it would be to change my email address and my Twitter and that kind of stuff,” Ashley Rayner, a librarian from Chicago who kept her own name when she got married last year, told me. “I know it’s small, but, ugh, it’s just another thing.”

Making a name
Studies on the culture of brides’ decisions about their last names have always shown that women with more public careers are more likely to be “keepers.” The 2004 Harvard study Making a Name found that a major jump in women keeping their maiden names in the 1970s coincided the emergence of second-wave feminism and a growing set of women who worked. “Women began to ‘make a name’ for themselves,” the study’s authors write, “and more often insisted upon retaining their name at marriage.”

Today, not only are more and more women obtaining higher degrees and becoming an influential part of the workforce, they’re also getting married later, and have an even larger digital footprint to consider. In the digital age, it’s not just the journalists and published authors out there who are considering their "bylines." Social media and the ever-growing, searchable self have opened up public personalities for nearly everyone, particularly young professionals.

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Annie-Rose Strasser is the deputy managing editor at ThinkProgress, where she covers news, politics, and media.

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