Honestly, I knew almost immediately upon meeting my husband that I was going to end up married to him. When he proposed to me during a game of poker, I immediately said yes. Then I went and registered domains and Twitter handles with different variations of what would soon be my new name.
What? Isn't that what everyone does nowadays? ;-)
I've had the last name “Hoffman” since about two weeks after I turned 19 years old. Every legal aspect of my life has been with that name. And I spent over a decade building a brand in the SEO and affiliate marketing industry with that name. I knew “changing it” when I got married would be hard to do.
My original theory was to go from “Rae Hoffman” to “Rae Hoffman-Dolan” and then finally to “Rae Dolan” once the industry (and Google) wrapped their heads around me changing my name. I expected this transition to take about six months to a year. I was utterly wrong.
So much of our lives and reputation are wrapped up in the web today. It amazes me that we have such standard and official processes (that work) for changing a company brand or a domain name, but nothing laid out for an individual changing their name via marriage (or divorce for that matter). I'd imagine 20 years ago, I'd have changed the name plate on my desk, my name in the company directory, gotten an updated drivers license and ordered a new set of business cards and POOF, I'd have been Rae Dolan. But that's now how it works in an Internet-based professional world.
In doing a search for “Rae Hoffman,” you'd find that I nearly dominate the SERPs returned. There are universal results and tons of articles that show my (long) history in the industry.
But despite updating my name on every official social and business profile I have, despite having speaker bios and contributing bylines updated, despite putting out new content under that name, Google never figured out that “Rae Hoffman” and “Rae Hoffman-Dolan” were one in the same in the SERPs. They showed everything new that came out and everything I was able to update, but the ten years that I existed in this industry before getting remarried essentially didn't exist in a search for my new name. In short, it looked like “Rae Hoffman-Dolan” only came into existence – and into the industry – two years ago. It took over 18 months for universal SERPs to begin appearing for the latter name.
Not helping matters, many people still referred to me solely as Rae Hoffman. People would write up sessions I did at conferences or reference me in an article – only using “Rae Hoffman” – and I understood why, but it meant that those mentions and articles didn't appear in searches for my new name. Searches for “Rae Hoffman” showed everything – Dolan and not. Searches for “Rae Hoffman-Dolan” only showed results with the latter name attached.
Google simply refused to “put a ring on it” so to speak. About six weeks ago, I made the decision to drop the “Dolan” from my name and return to using “Rae Hoffman” as a result.
This got me to thinking – as the web continually becomes the point of reference and history for an individual's life, how do women in this new era handle getting married and changing their names? It seems we're left with a choice if we don't get married before we have a history and reputation we value – keep our former name or lose our history on the web. I'm not sure why this dilemma isn't talked about more. I'm not sure why it isn't (or doesn't appear to be) on Google's radar.
Google authorship markup is definitely a step in a helpful direction. But even though Google is moving in the direction of allowing us to build trust attached to a single Google profile that we could update the name of, it would only help in regards to the content we've personally authored – not the content that has been authored ABOUT us. And even then, we don't know if authorship will help the issue of combining results for both names in the reputation SERPs.
Women could hire an ORM agency to help update their names, but even that can only help the issue so much. I'll go out on a limb here and say that getting a publication like USA Today to update your name in a three-year-old article because you got married (or divorced) simply isn't going to happen. I could have spent time or money building out links to the more important older articles with the new name, but that acts merely as a (time or money consuming) band-aid to a larger issue.
This is not heavily talked about, but a very real problem that will only become larger the more dependence we as the world have on the Internet to showcase our reputation and career history or let us research someone else's. It's uncharted territory in a new age. How do we handle – and find a solution for – the problem?