Among her friends, 30-year-old Molly Weissman is known as Molly Weissman. Her colleagues at her office in New York refer to her in conversation as Molly Weissman, and when you ask her how she’d like to be named on second reference in a news story, she opts for “Weissman” there too. But on Facebook, ever since she got married in 2015, Weissman is Molly Lister Weissman—a nod to the fact that before her marriage, she was known among friends, and on all her official ID documents, as Molly Lister.
Weissman, the media director for the nonprofit Global Citizen Year, legally changed her last name to match her husband’s shortly after their wedding. “It was important for both me and my husband that our family just have one name,” she says. But still, she wanted to be “findable.” She didn’t want her new name to pop up on the computer screen of a friend or acquaintance who didn’t know she’d gotten married and be totally unfamiliar. “If I had just been ‘Molly Weissman,’” she says, “they might be like, ‘I don’t know that person.’”
For people in English-speaking countries who’ve aged out of their teen years and into adulthood in the age of Facebook, it’s a familiar phenomenon—the brief moment of bewilderment that ensues when an unfamiliar name pops up on one’s Facebook timeline, intruding like a complete stranger into a space that’s usually full of friends. Often, it’s a somewhat common female first name coupled with an unfamiliar last name; “Who is this?” you might ask yourself, only to click through to her profile page and discover an old classmate you remember fondly but haven’t spoken to in a while, recently married to someone you’ve never heard of.