Just back in the office after getting hitched to an actor in Venice, London-based human-rights attorney Amal Alamuddin is going by a new name: Mrs. Clooney. While the former Ms. Alamuddin, 36, has established a professional reputation under her own moniker, it’s safe to say that being identified as the woman who got the sexiest man alive to settle down won’t damage her career prospects.
But what about accomplished women who aren’t boldface names by marriage or—like Kim Kardashian, who announced earlier this summer that henceforth she would be known as Mrs. West—boldface names in their own right? Suddenly appearing in the workplace as Mrs. So-and-So can cause some confusion among clients and colleagues.
As we noted when Kim made it official, the fact that women are marrying later, often after they’ve spent years establishing a career, can make the change to a new name more complicated—and risky. If you’re considering going by a different handle in the workplace, here are eight steps to ease the transition without hurting your prospects.
1. Hedge your bets. Think about how costly it would be to cut off your connection to the body of work or marketing that’s tied to your maiden name. If that worries you, opt for a more moderate approach. “The easy out is to keep your maiden name at work and in professional contexts, but use your spouse’s last name socially,” says Danielle Tate, founder of MissNowMrs.com, a site that helps women change their legal name.
Another compromise is to use both surnames, either by making your maiden name your middle name, using both last names, or creating a hyphenated last name. Kim took this approach initially. Shortly after exchanging vows with Kayne, she changed the name on her social media accounts to Kim Kardashian West. And just as Kim has done, you can use both surnames for a brief transition period to help people get used to your new identity before dropping your maiden name.
2. Get help from your company. If you plan on making a complete switch, reach out for advice. “You don’t have to figure it out all on your own. You’re not the only who has gotten married or changed your name,” says Michelle Friedman, a career coach who specializes in women’s career advancement.
A good first move is to check in with your HR department, which may have policies in place outlining exactly what changes you need to make to your beneficiary designations, insurance benefits, company email and directory listing, and tax and Social Security forms. Aside from offering help with name-change paperwork, HR may be able to offer advice about managing contacts, as well as insights into how others in your industry have handled the change successfully (ask co-workers too).
3. Don’t make it a surprise. Give co-workers and clients ample notice about your name change to avoid confusion, especially if contact info such as your email address will be updated. Sandra Green, a U.K.-based executive coach, recommends reaching out a week to ten days before the wedding.
One easy way: Put a small note in your email signature in advance, says Julie Cohen, a Philadelphia career and personal coach. It’s an unobtrusive reminder and a good way to get people familiar with the change.
Not everyone in your email contact list needs to know. Run through your list of clients and sort them into groups based on the closeness of your working relationship. Some you’ll just need to include in a quick email blast, while others you should talk to directly.
“Obviously you don’t want to get on the phone with everyone, but in certain important client relationships this may be good to do,” says Friedman.
4. Stay on top of the technology. After you’ve made the switch, set up forwarding on your previous email account, or write an automatic reply that includes your new contact info. This way you don’t miss any important messages, and people have a longer grace period to update their contact info and adjust to your new name.
5. Go back in history. Give former employers and references a heads-up about this change as well. This way if you’re applying for a new job, your background check will go smoothly, and you won’t run the risk of having people mistakenly deny that you worked for their company.
6. Use this as an excuse to network. Send an email to everyone in your work circle. “Whenever someone changes jobs or retires, they send these emails about good news,” says Cohen. “Do the same with this.”
This also gives you a perfect excuse to remind your network what you’re up to. “You always want to remain in contact,” says Friedman. “But sometimes it’s hard to think of a natural reason for reaching out. This gives you a celebratory excuse.”
You could even send this blast twice, says Green. First a few days before the wedding and again after you return from your honeymoon, when the change is in place.
7. Make yourself easy to find. Think about how people locate you and your business. Is it through search, a review website, social media, or all of them? Update all your bios.
When you add your new name on sites like LinkedIn, keep a vestige of your old name. That can help people find you during the transition period. “Include your maiden name on social,” says Cohen. “If people are finding you by search it will serve you best to keep connected to both names.”
If you had a more common name or are making the switch to a more popular surname, adds Tate, having both names online could even help you come up higher in search results.
8. Update your memberships. To further help your new name show up high in search results and build up credibility for your new moniker, Friedman recommends having any professional organizations, alumni associations, company or community boards, or other groups you belong to change your name on their membership roles.
If you hold a leadership position or are listed elsewhere on an association website, perhaps for winning an award, request that the name change appear throughout. Ask to have any older content that can easily be altered, such as a post listing you as a guest speaker at a conference, updated too.