'YOU'VE changed your name,' said my cousin accusingly on the phone after my wedding. 'I saw it in the paper. I don't see why you did that.' Well, yes, I had to admit that I had indeed changed it. I spend a lot of time ringing people up and was not unhappy to lose a name that sounded like a cross between a tongue-twister and a long sneeze when said at speed over a bad line. Also, I happen to think Hester Lacey is rather an elegant combination.

But changing your name just because you've hitched yourself to some man is looked down on in some circles. 'I would never dream of changing my name,' sniffed one friend (female). 'It would be like having a nose job or a tattoo - changing and disfiguring.'

'Changing your name is stupid,' snorted one (male) colleague tetchily. 'I mean, why should you?' 'You're not going to change from that splendid Teutonic mouthful to a pansy name like Lacey?' enquired another.

Hanging on to your maiden name, as Tony Blair's wife has done, is politically correct. According to his office, she should be known as Ms Cherie Booth, not Mrs Tony Blair. Legally, it's a matter of personal choice whether a married woman takes her husband's name - though professional women who do so may get a rough ride in the office. 'I had no idea it was such an issue,' said Linda, a senior sales manager. 'I was quite shaken by the haranguing I got from two of my women colleagues who tried to tell me it was somehow demeaning or belittling to change my name. I don't agree, and told them to mind their own business. But for a long time they insisted on using my maiden name - it all got quite ridiculous.'

The mechanics of changing identity are enough to put anyone off it - particularly any woman who attempts to keep her maiden name for professional purposes and use her married name at home. 'My income tax returns, current bank account, work pass and union card are in my married name and everything else like credit cards and store cards and driving licence are in my married name,' explains journalist Ms Gillian Mullins (Monday to Friday, nine to five) or Mrs Gillian May (weekends, evenings and holidays), who lives in a state of continual confusion.

The other trendy way to preserve one's vital identity while signalling one's spoken-for status is to tack husband's name on the end of maiden name - as Mrs Lisa Marie Presley-Jackson has done. This fashion has led to a rise in the number of people lugging around double-barrelled names. In 1962, one person in 300 was registered with a composite name; the figure now is about one in 50, according to the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys.

Simone Edwards Zapf wanted to keep her British name when she married an Austrian and moved abroad. 'It caused terrible confusion because the Austrians always put the man's name first - women here are campaigning to get the law changed.' She evolved a neat dual personality to deal with problem calls at work. 'If anything had gone wrong I'd say, 'Oh, Mrs Zapf did that, and you're now speaking to Miss Edwards'.' She resisted the temptation to pass the double name on to her son. 'Alexander is just Zapf. I thought it would be terrible if someone asked him in the playground at school what his name was and he had to come out with Alexander James Edwards Zapf.'

Usefully, double barrels can be shuffled at will. Hillary Rodham Clinton became plain Hillary Clinton when her husband was canvassing conservative voters who appreciated a traditional wife more than a professional woman.

However, the coolest way to resolve the surname dilemma is just to drop the whole thing, like Colette, Bjork, Cher, Iman and Sonia. The latest is Roseanne, formerly Barr, who took on husband Tom Arnold's name, but following the marriage break-up has decided to give up on surnames altogether. The Queen manages very well without hers, too.

(Photographs omitted)