Should you ride the coattails of a famous spouse?

This dilemma came to me as a result of this week's Art Marketing Action newsletter about using your name for your art business.

What do you do when your spouse is very well known–even famous–and you don't want to ride his or her coat tails?

What do you do when you want to be known with your own name, but everyone is more impressed with your spouse's name? (Okay, this mostly applies to women who take their husband's name.)

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9 thoughts on “Should you ride the coattails of a famous spouse?”

  1. Why be content to “ride the coattails” when you can wear the coat? Not sure what that means, exactly, but it certainly sounded profound upon awakening this morning. Having a famous (or established) name or spouse (parent, sibling, etc.) can definitely open doors. It is still, however, up to the individual to walk through those doors and to realize his/her full potential. As regards a woman taking her husband’s name, don’t get me started on that one. Oh well. Too late. Although I was not raised in a home where women’s rights and feminist issues were discussed, I grew up expecting my future wife to keep her name after marriage. To not do so didn’t make sense to me. Fortunately, it was never an issue because both of my wives (one at a time, of course) felt the same way. When my siblings questioned my view after my first marriage, I simply stated that I could understand putting a car, a home, or an insurance policy in one’s name, but I could not understand doing the same to another human being. Do I digress? Oh well. Too late. Anyway, I think riding the coattails of a famous spouse or relative as a means to an end, e.g., as a way to get your foot in the door, is okay as long as you have what it takes to keep the door open on your own. If you don’t, you will most certainly be eventually found out.

  2. Audrey Bottrell

    I’d like to respond with a bit of a twist to this scenario. I have built my name and business up with some high profile clients. I have since divorced and my ex-husband’s new wife has decided she wants to do exactly what I do, though she has not had any formal training and the quality of her work is not up to mine. However, our names our very similar and now we share the same last name. I do NOT want her to ride my coattail, nor do I want others to be confused when they hear either of our names as to who is the professional. How can I use my name and make it distinctive enough to be differentiated from her?

  3. given the infinite number of possibilities, personalities and cultural differences; I can’t imagine that anyone’s take on this matter is relevant to more than the person trying to decide. My mother loved having my father’s name. And what name should the child have; maternal or paternal or both with a hyphen. Do whatever suites you. there are no rules!

  4. Maybe I am actually Jamie Wyeth’s more talented younger brother, but I changed my name so I could achieve on my own merits rather than coasting on my dad and grandfather’s acclaim.

  5. when I met the man of my dreams , his last name was Grove …I had rejected many before for dumb last names …sorry , I had already had enough trouble with my own maiden name to take on a man with troubles of his own …I say , if the last name is nice , like Argyle or Cumberland or Willow or Stanfield , take it … to all the others , sorry , I am not going through life as either Ima or Youra Hogg …

  6. I don’t have a comment here but two book recommendations, both novels: The Wife by Meg Wolitzer The Great Man by kate Christensen Both show how women have been in the shadow of the great men in their lives. Interesting fiction for the summer!

  7. I think the term “riding the coattails” is sort of derogatory and could start this whole conversation off in a negative manner. I see nothing wrong with networking in art and business, and using a spouse’s or a friend’s contacts is a smart thing to do — if you are creating something valid and original and the contact is used as a foot-in-the-door and once there you prove yourself. How else do you get your work out in public, if not by using contacts and information available to you? As for using a spouse’s name, why not? You make the name what it is, so if you share last names in a marriage, the potential for exponential exposure is probably more than the sum of its parts. BTW in Japan, traditionally if the woman’s family has a stronger business name and reputation, the man in the marriage may choose to assume the woman’s family name.

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