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Dear Captain Awkward:

Last year, I got divorced. At the time of my divorce, I was offered the legal choice to go back to my maiden name, or to keep my married name. I decided to choose a whole new last name, which was something I had always wanted to do. My new last name is a bit unusual. People comment on it positively, but it’s definitely odd. I like it, so that’s all that matters really. However:

This year, I’m in graduate school. I’m also applying for jobs in my chosen field. I have some previous experience in that field, in addition to my in-progress degree, so I’m hoping to find a position that will give me more current experience. 

My previous experience is from five years ago or earlier, and the jobs I’ve held in the interim have been phantom jobs — there’s almost no point in including them on a resume for the positions I’m seeking now. Consequently, the professional references I need to put on my resume are also five years old, although I’ve been in minimal contact with most of the people from time to time, but they’re not people I felt I had to update on my life developments such as divorce or a new last name.

Now we get to the awkward. Practically speaking, if any potential employer contacts my references, they are going to refer to me by name. What is the best, most adult and professional way to tell these people from my past, who only knew me in a work context, that my new last name is [X]? How much information do I give them? Do I need to include mention of the divorce, or just a legal name change? 

I’m a pretty private person, and not naturally forthcoming with personal information. The thought of writing to these former employers and explaining my recent life changes makes my introvert skin crawl with misery. What do I do? 

Congratulations on your new name!

This is very easy to answer, because if you are using someone as a reference, it is polite to get in touch with them first even if you hadn’t changed your name. Script for an email:

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