Dr. Krishnamurthy. That’s how I thought I would practice medicine forever. Never in a million years did I think I would change my last name. So, why did I?
Changing your last name is an intensely personal decision. There is absolutely no right or wrong thing to do. It’s what works for you and your family. I know many professional women who keep their maiden names or hyphenate. They worked hard to become a leader in their field with their maiden name, and I respect that desire to maintain that identity.
I was Dr. Krishnamurthy for over 5 years before I got married. I had always planned on keeping my maiden name. But, my maiden name wasn’t even my family name! Krishnamurthy was actually my father’s first name that got switched into his last name when he immigrated to the U.S. in 1972. So, he and my brother actually changed their names long before I got married, to Murthy.
For my father, Krishnamurthy held no special meaning, no attachment to a larger family. So, he actually encouraged me to change my name. In fact, the only person who still has the original last name of Krishnamurthy, in my family, is my mom, Dr. Krishnamurthy. If you want to see how confusing this was for the New York Times reporter who wrote about my wedding, see below.
Six months after I got married, we moved to Hawaii to practice together. I knew that it would be less confusing for patients for my husband and I to have the same last name and was more in line with how I wanted to brand my clinic as the “family eye clinic.” My husband’s name, though very common in Hawaii, also connected us to his network of great uncles, grandparents, cousins and nephews/nieces. Since I was completing medical license and insurance paperwork anyway, I simply did so with my married name.
My husband put no pressure on me to change my name. He wanted me to do whatever I felt comfortable doing. This was in direct opposition to ex-boyfriends who were insistent that if we got married, I had to change my name. Of course, I had no intention of changing my name for them. But, with Jeff, I felt differently. I didn’t have a middle name, so I used Krishnamurthy as my middle name and added Wong.
To me, it was about becoming a team. A family. I didn’t feel like I was losing my identity to become Wong. But, I appreciate that I was able to make that choice. And, I respect those who make a different one.
Interestingly, I did get a lot of women physicians who would always look at me askance, questioning why I changed my name. “I’m so surprised you changed your name, aren’t you worried about your publications in your maiden name?” or “You got married later, so I never expected you to change your name.”
In actuality, since my husband and I practice together, the staff tends to call us “Dr. Jeff” and “Dr. Rupa”. And, I see a lot of children, so they call me Dr. Rupa too (hence the name of my blog). It’s actually rare for me to be called Dr. Wong, and in fact, when someone does, it takes me a little while to realize they are talking to me!
Now, I’ve been Dr. Wong for almost twice as long as I was Dr. Krishnamurthy. I like the continuity and the ease in terms of family arrangements and the kids. Though, of course, I do get some looks from new patients, “You’re Dr. Wong?” It still makes me laugh to see their surprise! But, in Hawaii, everyone is mixed. Theoretically, I could be 1/8 Chinese!
I think you can still be a strong, independent woman and take your husband’s name. It’s not about losing myself. It’s about having a life long partner. We are Drs. Wong. Or Dr. Wongs. Or Drs. Wongs. Still not sure which.