Guest Post: An Open Letter to BYU — Please Stop Changing Married Alumnae Names

photo by Bri Ryma


First off, I wanted to thank you for 4.5 of the best years of my life. I am a non-Mormon alumna who graduated in 2005, and I can’t even begin to say how much I enjoyed my time at BYU. You weren’t perfect, and I was far from, but I feel like we made the most of our experience together and had some pretty amazing times, overall.

I also wanted to thank you for my two beautiful children. I met their father at BYU, an LDS man whom I deeply loved, and I know that without our imperfect, interfaith union, my children would not exist. So I thank you for putting me on the path in life that brought my children into this world. The world is better off with them in it, and you were a part of that.

But I wanted to talk to you today about your alumni listing practices. To cut to the chase: I think you should stop making changes to our alumni directory information without our consent.

You see, that LDS man whom I deeply loved turned out to be a serial adulterer, and he effectively abandoned his family when I was pregnant with our second. I know that isn’t a reflection of his church’s values, but it happened. While infidelity is its own abuse, he was verbally and emotionally abusive in other ways on top of that. I divorced him in 2014, blocked him on all forms of social media (he’s only permitted to communicate with me via e-mail or phone), and haven’t lived with him since. Between then and now, I’ve lived in two different apartments that were leased in my name only.

You can imagine my surprise when I began receiving mail for him from BYU, sent to addresses where he had never lived. Bewildered, I informed the university that we were divorced, but the mail still periodically came. I would write on these letters, “Return to Sender – Has Never Lived Here,” but it did not stop. The letters were infrequent enough that I just gritted my teeth and did not investigate further.

It was only this past week that I solved the mystery. Someone at BYU assigned my address to his alumni directory entry without my consent:

Stop and consider that for a moment. This man abused me and walked out on his children, and I have made a Herculean effort to separate myself from him and build a life apart from him. Yet you put us back together on your records as if nothing happened.

This was not the only error I found in the directory. I remarried in June 2018 to a kind, gentle, evangelical Christian man whom I met a few years ago. I’m fortunate to have him as a husband, and my children are fortunate to have him as a stepped-up father.

Yet, once again, I was in for a shock when I looked myself up in the directory and discovered that my entry had been replaced by this person who does not exist:

Not only was my last name incorrect, but my middle name had reverted to a name that I haven’t had since 2003. I know that, when I last checked the directory in April or May, it correctly listed me as “Bridget J. Jeffries.” So I’m just bewildered.

I get that you guessed (incorrectly) that I took my new husband’s last name at marriage, but I don’t get why you switched “Jack” to “Leanne” for my middle name. (Because “Leanne” is prettier and more feminine than “Jack”?) Regardless, I can assure you that my legal name is “Bridget Jack Jeffries,” and barring some unforeseen foray into a witness protection program, that will remain my legal name until the day I die.

Listen, Alma Mater, I’m not rebuking you. I love you, even when I think you’re regressive about gender and marriage. Just as I hope that you love me even when you think I’m being a feminist shill. And I know that these changes were made with good intentions. I wish we lived in a world where first marriages always work out, where there is no abuse or abandonment, where no one ever has to change a name due to brokenness or sin.

I also wish we lived in a world where men followed the biblical mandate to leave their fathers and mothers and cleave unto their wives (Gen. 2:24), which they could symbolize by taking their wives’ surnames (not the other way around).

But this is not that world. Hence you probably shouldn’t be making changes to our alumni directory information when we haven’t requested those changes ourselves.

Let me be clear that I consider this a minor grumble, not some grievous miscarriage of social justice.

Then again, isn’t that all the more reason that this should be an easy change to make?

Grace & Peace,

– Bridget

Related:  “No, I Did Not Keep My ‘Maiden’ Name” by Emily Belanger

Bridget Jack Jeffries is the co-founder of Worlds Without End: A Mormon Studies Roundtable and the author of As God Is, Woman May Become?: Women and the Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation (master’s thesis) as well as So I Married a Mormon: An Interfaith Memoir (forthcoming). She blogs on the Bible, church, and spirituality at Weighted Glory.”

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13 Responses

  1. Rita says:

    Bridget, I’m sorry that’s happened to you. How annoying and perplexing. I have a different story – my BYU grad husband and I married several years after we graduated, and BYU still hasn’t figured out that we are married to each other. Perhaps it’s because we took so long to get married? Or perhaps because I am several years older than him, and they just can’t believe that we would do such a strange thing? I don’t know, but I’m not going to bother to correct them.

  2. Wendy says:

    Amen to this! So much wrong with this. And I’m so sorry for the pain of your first marriage. And happy that you’ve found a loving partner now. I really hope the powers that be listen to you. This kind of clerical patriarchy affects almost all of us female BYU students. Former and current.

    And since you’re not a member you may not be aware that upon marriage the church automatically changes the wife’s last name to her husband’s on their records. Not surprising but equally presumptive and inappropriate. And this name change almost inevitably becomes what people call you at church and what goes in the ward directory and on the church’s app and web site.

    For a church that values agency, shouldn’t they get a person’s consent before changing something as personal as a name?

    • I actually was not aware of this, though someone else brought this up on FB in a comment in response to this article.

      Do you know, do they do this even in countries where it’s standard for a married woman to keep her own name, like Spain?

      • Nancy says:

        In France they automatically change the woman’s last name for security social and records…they did with me when I married my ex…even though in the us I kept my maiden name.

  3. Jason K. says:

    Wendy: “clerical patriarchy” is such a good and apt phrase for this terrible phenomenon. We need to stop it!

  4. Madeline Burgener says:

    That is a terrible story! I do think there has been some progress made. I had to bring in my new social security card proving that I had changed my last name to my husbands last name. There was nothing automatic about it, it was just another process like I had to take to get my new social security card. The church records, however, are a different story.

  5. knonymous says:

    The church automatically changed my name on my records when I was married and they did not consult me as to the name I wanted (both maiden and married). I was hoping this was just a practice in my very Provo UT ward… it was very upsetting for me as it took me over a year to decide if/what I would change my name to upon marriage.

    This feels like one example of death by a thousand paper cuts. It’s not the most important “issue” but when you encounter these little things so frequently it starts to feel so disheartening.

    I’m sorry for this paper cut, especially because it reminds you of much larger wounds. Glad you have found some measure of healing.

    • Wondering Why says:

      The “church” did nothing. A man, sad but true, changed your name when he made the status change.

      The system does not do this automatically. As a ward clerk, and stake clerk, I have had to deal with married couples where the name wasn’t changed (because it isn’t automatic) and it should have been. And it is quite a hassle.

      To ensure that this didn’t happen when my daughter got married I transferred her husband’s record into our ward (200 miles, four stakes, and two missions away), did the work to marry them in the system and change her name (something she most definitely wanted), then transferred the new “family” back to his ward. I would point out that I was a close personal friend of the bishop in his ward, and this was not some random act of power.

  6. CS Eric says:

    I don’t think it is automatic. A few years back I was the membership clerk in my ward and we had a newly married couple move in. I don’t know whether she intended to keep her name, but it wasn’t changed in the records for as long as they lived in our ward. Maybe she is the exception that proves the rule.

  7. traumatizednotcrazy says:

    I was in some of the same classes as Jack and married just a few months after her. BYU only added my married name upon my request. And my sister was married and had a baby at BYU’s law school and her married name was never added. I also wonder how much you are attributing to patriarchy as opposed to just students dealing with this information for 7 dollars an hour and not actually caring how correct the information is. I took my last name as my middle name and they never replaced it with my more feminine middle name. I’m sure there are a lot of triggers because of this but that’s life and life is rough!

    • I don’t know who you are, but hello again!

      “I also wonder how much you are attributing to patriarchy as opposed to just students dealing with this information for 7 dollars an hour and not actually caring how correct the information is.”

      It’s possible, but they could easily avoid these errors by implementing a firm policy of not making changes to the alumni directory that alumni didn’t request themselves. It’s what my other alma mater does.

  8. Mary says:

    I don’t think BYU is the only one guilty of this. I only communicate with my ex through email. However, I’ve moved on to a new email address. I did this as a way of moving forward with my life. When I type in a contact’s name, I don’t want to see his name come up as a possibility. I don’t want to see his name when I do a search of old emails. You get the idea. However, technology doesn’t care about all that. I get my contacts synced ALL THE TIME, even when I turn off the capabilty. My contacts still get synced, no matter what I do. It’s almost worse than church where I get records and family trees with his name on them. I don t see those everyday, the way I see email.

    Also, I still get unsolicted mail for him. I get unsolicited mail in a name I haven’t used for five years. I figure they don’t know who I am and I have no interest in doing business with them. If I get a phone call and the caller asks for the person with my maiden name, I tell them that person doesn’t live here.

    I think you’re right to be upset this is happening, but I think the ultimate “patriarch” may be technology.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    I just changed your first name from Bridget to Gidget, the 1950s character portrayed by Sally Field on TV. I’m sure you will have no objections to this…

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