What happens when a woman artist changes her name? Does a name change affect a woman’s art career, her ability to get gallery representation, or her income as an artist?
Early in my career the owner of a gallery to which I applied said she did not like to represent women artists because their production was frequently uneven and they changed their names with marriage(s). She added that these conditions made women artists difficult to promote.
Recently, a Dutch study linked name change with significantly lower lifetime income and fewer job offers. The study went further, dealing with societal perceptions toward women who change names. Basically, if you want to be liked, change your surname to your partner’s, but if you want a better career, never change your name. This is a tough choice, and I’m not being sarcastic.
As an artist, your name is your brand. Change it at your peril (hyphenating your name constitutes change, according to the Dutch study.) Search engines will lose you unless you do cross-referencing for the rest of you career, people will not remember your new name, old promotional material that is out there among your collectors, or potential collectors, becomes useless. When you change your name you will lose some of your collector base. And there is one more niggling issue: Name change indicates a change in your marital status, and that is nobody’s business. It is not something that should enter your patron’s mind.
You can maintain two names, your professional name and your married name, but that can be financially and socially confusing. When you (re)marry, you can use your maiden name as your middle name (example: Yvonne MaidenName MarriedName,) possibly a comfortable option. Or, if you established your reputation under a married name, make it Yvonne #1MarriedName CurrentMarriedName. FirstName keeps you findable by search engines, reduces confusion for other people and agencies, and allows you to go through your professional life with no visible name change.
There are no easy answers, especially if your surname is from a marriage with which you would rather disassociate. Ask yourself, “What would Thomas Kincaid do?” Can you imagine that Master of Light and Self-Promotion changing his name to Thomas Wilson and maintaining his high profile? How would you recognize an invitation to a Judy Chicago exhibition if it was marketed under any other name?
What are your thoughts on the cost of marital name change and the woman artist? If you have gone through name changes, how has it affected your career?
(Reference: University of Tilburg, Holland. Sorry, the link is broken that I had to the report.)