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After divorce, a new name symbolizes a new life

Some American women choose to invent entirely new surnames when their marriages end.

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When Shari Goldstein of Suffolk County, Long Island, N.Y., divorced in 1996, she considered taking her maternal grandmother's maiden name. Her two young sons objected. "They gazed at me with their big brown eyes and said, 'But Mummy, if you change your last name, you won't have the same last name as us.' " So she kept her married name and used it for her public relations business.

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That all changed last month when she remarried and took her new husband's name. "I thought for a little while of going back to my maiden name, but I'm not that person anymore," Ms. Goldstein says. "As there are many other Shari Goldsteins in the world, I'm also happy that I'm taking a much less common last name."

As for her sons, now in high school, she says, "They're not thrilled, but they understand."

Goldstein estimates that it could take a year to complete the name changes, personal and professional, including her websites.

"Gone are the days of simply changing a Social Security card, passport, and driver's license," says Ms. Trott. "There are simply more people to notify. Each agency, government and nongovernment, has its own requirements." Checklists also include memberships, clubs, associations, insurance companies, frequent-flier accounts, and schools attended.

Amy Ammen, a dog trainer in Milwaukee, changed her name following her divorce 18 years ago. "My career relies on name recognition," she says. "At the time, my dogs were among the top-ranked obedience trial winners in the country, my speaking engagements were taking off, and I was writing my first book. I didn't want to return to my maiden name, Zaretzke, and I never liked my married name, Ammentorp, so I shortened it to Ammen."

For more than a year she used Ammen to secure credit cards, rent an apartment, and buy a condo. Finally, she says, "a concerned friend dragged me to City Hall to formalize the change and make it legal."

Her new name pleases her for another reason. "My ex remarried, and there is now another Mrs. Ammentorp, who is also quite active in local dog-training circles."

Men sometimes want to change their name after a divorce, too. Ms. Sooho says, "If a man married Ms. Smith and he was Mr. Jones, he might have hyphenated his name and become Smith-Jones. But when he divorces, he prefers to use Jones."

After Bonnie Russell reverted to her birth name following her divorce, she realized she had outgrown it. She then took a radical step, dropping her last name, à la Madonna and Cher.

That proved problematic. "In the eyes of our bureaucracy, it meant my new last name was NLN – No Last Name," says Ms. Russell, a legal publicist in Del Mar, Calif. "That phase lasted two years." Then she reverted to her maiden name and decided that would be her surname from then on, even if she remarried.

Whatever the decisions and paperwork, all the effort can be worthwhile. "My new name is only one of the symbols that I've restructured and improved my life," says a satisfied Ms. Ammen.

Bertini is also pleased. "My father grumbled, my mother was confused, and many of my friends thought I was a bit odd," she says. "But my name feels right to me, so I'm happy."