We’ve got a really great ongoing discussion here at APW about what it means to change your name (or not) when you get married. We’ve discussed changing it as a feminist choice, choosing not to change it (and not being quiet about it), changing your name and then changing it back, and even men changing their last name to yours. And just when I thought we’d exhausted all possible angles of this conversation (who am I kidding? As if that could happen…) we received a post from Rachel Wilkerson about the implications of changing your name in the digital age. And guys, it hadn’t even occurred to me that page ranking could now be a factor in this discussion. So here’s Rachel, giving the name change discussion a twenty-first century spin, highlighting the fact that this conversation never seems to get any easier, but damn if it doesn’t get more interesting.
Unlike a lot of women, the choice to change my name when I got married was a pretty easy one. Or at least it was until the internet happened.
Back in 2010, I was just your average happy, healthy, slightly promiscuous twenty-four-year-old girl with a blog about health, happiness, and, uh, romantic adventures. After I retired my college sorority girl blog, I started a new one about girls gone healthy (…and maybe gone wild). While I loved it, I was starting to feel a bit stifled by the niche and wanted to break out a bit. It was time for a new site name and URL. After going around and around with a good friend and fellow blogger, I finally decided to just make my full name my URL. “This will be perfect!” I said. “It will be a strong URL no matter what I want to write about! Theoretically, I can use it forever; it would only be a problem if I were to get married!”
Notice I said “if.” Because at this point in my life, despite the fact that I was ready to find a wonderful, amazing, big relationship, it still seemed like it was a ways off. I had felt for most of my life that I’d be the perpetually single friend. And honestly, I didn’t even mind. I loved dating.
Despite the fact that I was totally cool with being single, I still knew—and had known for a long time—that if I ever did get married, the last name had to go. To begin with, my last name was my father’s last name. I didn’t have a good relationship with him (he basically abandoned me when I was young and he died when I was thirteen). I certainly wished that I had a strong tie to him or to his family to make my decision harder, but that’s not how my life worked out, and I had made peace with that. But as a young feminist, I determined that if I was going to be stuck with a man’s name—either my father’s or my future husband’s—I’d go with the man who was making a conscious choice to be in my life. I’d forgiven my father for the way he self-destructed—he had a lot of demons—but I had no qualms about replacing his last name with the last name of a man who was making a conscious and public choice to love me forever.
I was mildly concerned about my name as it was attached to my career as a writer. At the time that I was changing my URL, I had just finished turning my college blog into a book and I had an agent who was shopping a proposal around to publishers. If I sold the book, I figured, okay, I’d keep my name. I also figured that having a new husband and a book deal in the near future was literally the best problem I could ever imagine having, so I didn’t dwell on it.
So I bought the URL and started my new blog. And what happened next is honestly a little ridiculous.
The same friend who encouraged me to make my name my URL also decided to introduce me to her friend Eric, who lived in Houston. As a blogger and frequenter of Match.com, I found nothing weird about meeting people on the internet, so I was fine with it. I emailed him. He emailed me right back. There was flattery. There were the right pop culture references. There was the right amount of exclamation points (not too few, not too many) and he didn’t use “lol” as punctuation like the last guy I had dated. I emailed back. Then I couldn’t stand it and I just IMed him. “What are you doing?” I said. “Oh nothing, just reading an email from my future wife,” he said. Which would have been cheesy or creepy (or both) if it weren’t actually true.
So after that first IM, changing my URL became an issue way sooner than I expected thanks to two little things that were completely out of my control: love and Google.
To those of you who aren’t familiar with SEO (a.k.a. search engine optimization, a.k.a. “being easy to find via Google”), a brief overview: a website or blog is ranked by Google’s algorithms based on a lot of factors (getting other, higher-ranked websites to link to you, for example). I’d put a lot of effort into getting my blog to rank high so if people searched for, say, “How to decide to move across the country for love,” I’d be at the top of the Google search results. Earlier this year, I realized that when I changed my URL to reflect my married name, I’d lose the ranking I’d worked so hard for. And if I didn’t change my URL until I got married—which was another two years away at the time—that was even more time I’d waste making that blog rank high, time I wanted to spend making my new URL climb higher in Google’s ranks. In the meantime, I’d be working to promote a blog and a URL that was ultimately going to change. It seemed pointless to do that. But what would I change it to anyway? Could I change it to my married name before I got married? It was a modern problem no matter how I looked at it, and I just had no idea how to handle it.
I didn’t want to change my name legally but keep my name/URL for professional reasons, as a lot of my friends suggested, because I didn’t want to keep my name at all. My book didn’t sell (sad times, but I was over it) and while I had built a good name for myself professionally at this point, I refused to accept that my best years were behind me at the age of twenty-six. I wanted my new name.
…and yet I still couldn’t let this go.
The decision to change my last name had never fazed me. But my DOMAIN NAME? That was the name I cared about. That was something that represented me, something that I built, with no help from my father. And to give that up made me angry. I considered writing a strongly worded letter to all the major search engines to petition them for a feminist loophole. I mean, Bing seems open-minded enough, right? And Marissa Meyer at Yahoo! would totally understand! Right? Right?!
Sigh. Probably not.
While this might not seem like a big deal to some, my identity is deeply and strongly tied to the internet. I’m fascinated by the way we refer to so many things about blogs and websites in house terms—home page, web address—but it makes total sense to me. My blog had always felt like my home. I owned it. I set the rules. It was a part of who I am. I had built a community where I invited people to come in and stay awhile, and I felt safe and protected there. But the fact remained: sometimes, as much as you love a place, there comes a point when you have to let go and move on.
Eventually I did buy the new URL and gave the blog what felt like an appropriate title: The House Always Wins. The new blog isn’t about my house, exactly, because, to me, a house can represent so much more than that. It’s our physical address, yes, but it’s also our jobs, families, friends, and online communities. It is our place. And, for me, it’s a sign of the adulthood that I am both excited for and afraid of. I feel overwhelmed by it as much as I feel empowered by it. My new home—my real one and my online one—would be the place where I could grow, change, question everything, and come to terms with the fact that a house—and life—is unpredictable as fuck.
Photo by: Lauren McGlynn (APW Sponsor)