Payroll Systems and Maiden Names

I am celebrating my eight-year anniversary with my husband on November 2nd.

I am about to tell you a secret I haven’t told many people.

  • I took his last name because of my company’s payroll system.

At the time, my employer outsourced payroll to ADP. I wanted to hyphenate my last name, but the payroll system only allowed for fifteen characters. With a hyphen, I was coming out at sixteen characters.

I asked my fiancé, “Do you think I should keep my last name?”

He said, “I don’t care.”

He meant it. He didn’t care. We had been together for five years, we owned a home, and the Bears were on TV on the night I tried to discuss it. My impending name change was the last thing on his mind.

Like any good HR professional, I took a survey around the office. The results were mixed and (surprisingly) gender neutral. My maiden name was clumsy. My husband’s last name was long. There were no good options beyond marrying Brad Pitt.

So I asked myself, “Why would I keep my original last name?”

  • Continuity
  • Personal Branding
  • Feminist Ideals

Then I asked myself, “Why would I take my husband’s last name?”

  • Creating a bond to a new family
  • Revitalized personal branding
  • Madonna-esque reinvention

I finally asked myself, “Why would I hyphenate?”

I had no good reasons. The stupid name was too long with a hyphen.

In the end, ADP won. There was no way I wanted an error on my paycheck, my benefits, and my W2 forms.

I took my husband’s last name, and I’m no less of a feminist because of it.

I am just a Human Resources dork.

Photo credit iStock

About the Author

Laurie Ruettimann


Trish McFarlane

I’m one of those people who took my husband’s name and have regretted it. On the positive side, my kids have that last name, so it makes sense. But, I miss being Trisha Steed. The odd thing for me is that not only do all my old friends still call me Trisha Steed, many of my colleagues over the years have called me that even though I’ve been Trisha McFarlane for 15 years now.

I think the reason I wish I hadn’t changed it was that my dad never had a son. So, no one to carry on the name Steed. Sad. So, legally my name is McFarlane but people will continue to call me Steed. And, no matter what, THAT is the name I relate to and that is the name of who I am on the inside.

Nancy Dailey Slotnick

I am always fascinated by this discussion. I followed a family tradition (I’m at least the third generation on my mother’s side who dropped her middle name upon getting married and replaced it with my maiden name; no hyphen involved. I never really bought of it as feminist – it was just what my family did. Of course, looking back on family history – my maternal grandmother, who was born in 1899, got a MA degree in the 1920s. When she met and married my grandfather, she was 30- and he was bein introduced to “an old maid schoolteacher.” I never thought of her as a feminist – just an accomplished woman for her era.


@annie I’m laughing — that’s such a HR response.

@debbie I thought of you as I wrote this. 🙂

@China LOL, China Miner is a cool rap name btw.


So many of my friends were floored when I took my husband’s name. My maiden professional name was China Miner. If you say it fast — especially if you’re in New England — it rhymes: Chinah Mynah. So I was thrilled to have the opportunity not to rhyme. Funny thing is, now that I’m China Miner Gorman (which I absolutely love, BTW), people who never knew me as China Miner call me China Miner. I can’t away from the rhyming thing. Evah.

Debbie Brown

All I can say Ms LaRue is hilarious…just hilarious-
The “name” field did not come into play, although I suppose it could have, I never tested it.
I went with Brown- (my husbands)- it was a big move up in the Alphabet from T and much shorter, and I don’t have to spell it (except the occasional, yes, like the color)- those were the reasons- and now , down the road a bit- the kids in the neighborhood…don’t deal in hyphens 🙂

Annie Hambach

Interesting… and got me to wondering about our own payroll software, so I tested paying an employee named Maria Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious, and it worked! Now my next step is to make sure it will fit on a W-2. 🙂 You raise a good point – you really didn’t have a choice, other than having your name cut off. I suppose you still could have continued your former personal brand and used whatever name you wanted, only your benefit providers, employer, and the IRS would have known otherwise. I know recruiters who have a “professional” name they use (like movie stars), that I’m sure isn’t listed on their 1099/W-2.

laurie ruettimann

I feel for you. Stupid TSA. My friend has trouble because she was born in Puerto Rico and has a US passport and some TSA people don’t know that Puerto Rico is part of America.

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Interesting topic and I can relate. ATS hates me and so do airlines. Since being hyphenated some dumb ass in security at least once a trip instructs me that my name on my ticket must be the exact same as my photo id. Sorry, dude the ticket only allows for so many characters.

You didn’t tell us. . . What was your maiden name?



Shauna Moerke

You could have both changed your last name to something different. 🙂 My sister did that because she wanted something shorter and he didn’t like his last name. I was pushing for them to change it to Surname but that was voted down.


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