What’s in a name?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

[Note 12/30/2010: I forgot I had scheduled this blog post. It is of course only after the post went up that I realized it might be helpful to include an explanation of why I wrote this. I got married in late 2009 and changed my name in early 2010. I’ve received a surprising number of comments from people regarding my name change, which I think is really interesting. This is my slightly humorous attempt to address some of the questions that have come up. Happy to answer more in a second post if questions remain!]

Who’s “scwai”?

I am scwai. It’s a username I’ve been using since it was assigned to me by my alma mater (UCSD). It is derived from my first (S) and middle (C) initials and maiden name (Wai).

I got married last year and am traversing the slightly awkward transition to my married name. I now almost exclusively use the name “Stephanie Huang”. I intend to continue using “scwai” as a username/handle.

Why didn’t you just stick with your maiden name?

I decided many years ago that I would change my name once I got married. I simply like the ease of it. My husband and I are easily and readily identified as a married couple, as a family, as belonging to each other. I like that, if and when we have kids, everyone in the family would have the same last name.

That said, I am NOT advocating that every married person should change their name. I believe that name changing is a very personal decision, and each individual and their partner should decide what is right for them.

You could’ve stuck with your maiden name for work.

Yes, theoretically. But the thing is that my personal and work lives have always been intermingled. I suppose that comes from being in academia for several years. I would find it painfully annoying to keep track of who knows me by my maiden name and who knows me by my married name.

But didn’t you read that study earlier this year that found that women who changed their name were perceived as less intelligent and more emotional?

Yes, I did, but I’m not putting much stock into it. This was the study from a group at the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research and published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology. The paper is not open access and I am not willing to pay $30 to read the study, so I relied primarily on the writeup of the study that appeared in the New York Times’ Economix blog. Not having read the study in detail, I shouldn’t rant and rave about it, but I would like to point out that the results of the study appear to rely on university students’ perceptions. In other words, the study reports on how Dutch university students judged or perceived hypothetical name-changing or name-keeping women. Hardly a representative cross-section of our society. I’m not letting some Dutch kids change my mind about a decision that I consider to be very personal in nature.


5 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. i love your sign-off line in this post 🙂

    i wanted so badly to use my maiden name as a publishing name and take my husband’s name legally. there’s an additional difficulty when your publishing name is your name within your institution of employment as well, and your paycheck has to go to your legal name. that is the ultimate reason that i shifted my maiden name to a middle name legally, and an initial for publishing.


    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Ragamuffin! (And apologies for my slow reply – just getting back into the swing of things after the holidays.) Ugh, that’s a really annoying situation you faced. Glad you figured out a way to reconcile it, but sorry you had to give up your preferred publishing name!

      I found and read your two blog posts on name changing. Love the insights. Also, I am so happy to see that I am not the only person in the world who gave so much detailed thought to her name change! I’d love to link to your articles in a future second post about name changing if you don’t mind.


  2. That’s interesting that you would change your name, as it’s customary for Chinese women to keep their maiden names. Ditto for women scientists (especially once they’ve published under their maiden names). So you’re actually being quite rebellious! Kind of like turning vintage old-fashioned clothing into edgy high fashion.


    1. I’m such a rebel! Is it really customary for Chinese women to keep their maiden names? I guess we never change our Chinese names, but, in my family at least, women more often than not will change their legal English last name.


  3. I never planned to changed my name (assuming I ever get married) – but after reading the Tilburg study, I’m going to change my name to “Wendy van der Highlyintelligentandunemotional”


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