What’s in a byline?

Journalists are often told how important it is to ‘have a personal brand‘ in order to get your name out there. But what happens if your name changes? Does the journalist then have to start from scratch, with their former byline disappearing and taking their ‘brand’ with it?

Essentially that’s the question female journalists have to face if they get married – do they decide to take on their partner’s surname in their professional dealings, and run the risk that people will think they disappeared off the face of the earth, byline-speaking? 
It’s for this reason that I imagine a number of female journalists opt to stick with their maiden name when it comes to what goes on the top of their articles – it’s certainly a lot easier, and there’s no messing around with having to explain to contacts or sub-editors that you’re the same person, you haven’t disappeared anywhere or metamorphosed into another creature overnight, you just so happen to have got hitched.

Personally, I reckon sticking with one’s maiden name as a journalist is definitely the way forward – it’s easier, less hassle, and above all, if you’ve managed to build up a name for yourself in a certain field, you won’t lose that named identity you’ve worked so hard to foster. 
Of course there’s nothing wrong with choosing to take on a partner’s surname in professional dealings – but if you’re going to do an Elizabeth Taylor and make your way through several hubbies, there are going to be some confused sub-editors around. (Then again, getting the right byline isn’t always a prerogative for every sub, unfortunately – I know of one sub-editor who, on having it pointed out to him that he had put the wrong byline on top of a story, replied that it didn’t matter whose name was on the top of a story, adding: “It’s only a design thing anyway”. Tell that to the journalist who’s worked hard on that story, only to have the credit given to someone else).
Anyway, another issue struck me as well – what if two journalists in the same country have exactly the same name? Is it a problem? One answer could be to stick an initial into your name, to differentiate it. Three might be pushing it, though – I’m not sure a name like JRR Tolkien as a byline would look that great. 
Either way, it wouldn’t be as unfortunate as being threatened with legal action because of the name your parents gave you at birth – take the case of reporter Bill Wyman, who received a letter from lawyers telling him to ‘cease and desist’ from using his own name. This was because lawyers for a certain Rolling Stones bass player of the same name thought it was “a seriously misleading and arguably, an intentional, unauthorized exploitation of our client’s name”.

Ironically, the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman wasn’t even born with that name – he was born William Perks, and changed his name to Bill Wyman three years after the journalist Wyman was born. 

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© Melanie Hall 2017