Formerly Known As

· Academic Life

When I was in the final semester of my doctoral program, my dad asked if my diploma would say Banks or Thomas. I told him Banks since that was my married and legal name. His response was somewhat melancholy with “too bad your name is not hyphenated like your sister.” Now, I was not the first in the family to receive a doctorate. Actually the third behind him and my sister. But I know he was looking forward to seeing and saying “Dr. Thomas”.

As I begin the court process of returning to my maiden name, this question about changing it now and does it really matter has surfaced amongst family and friends. Usually it is a part of a divorce decree. I declined this addition because my child is young and I foresaw changing it one day when I remarried. Yes, I am no rush to remarry. But hey, you never know!

The majority of men never have to worry about this issue. In my doctoral program, we had a professor who changed her hyphenated name at least three times, dropping, rearranging and adding the last name. I write this blog not to explain my reasons for changing, but to share an experience for those who may be in the same predicament. I conduct research on social networks so how fitting to explore the concept of how private decisions can have public implications. When you are moving forward from a divorce, it feels like a reintroduction to your network of colleagues, family and friends even if your name does not change. My network spans from California to Italy and the majority know me as Banks. Andy Stanley discusses this concept in the book “better decisions, fewer regrets.[1]” As part of the five questions he challenges readers to ask, one of those is What Story Do I Want to Tell.

This is my story: My maiden name reminds me of reading the newspaper on Saturday mornings with my dad, drinking black coffee. I correlate my identity with my maiden name to the days of being inquisitive about higher ed law, student retention and seeking to be the person on a college campus that I did not see in my undergraduate years. It was not lost as Banks, but combining the two was challenging. However, the Honors College provided an opportunity to tell my story in a different way, reclaiming that identity, creating networks while embracing a new perspective on being a college professor. It seems fitting to make the change now.

We do not know the origin of Thomas. But what I know is that I am the granddaughter of a Mississippi preacher and a sharecropper, living a life he may have never imagined but wanted for future Thomas generations.


[1] Stanley, Andy (2020). Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets.