BYU female athletes face marriage name choices

Ari Davis
Makenzi Morrison Pulsipher handles the ball in the game against UVU earlier this season. Pulsipher is in the middle of her first season of basketball being married and is one of the leading scorers for the Cougars. (Ari Davis)

After changing her name through all of the different legal outlets after her marriage, there was only one name left to change for BYU basketball player Makenzie Morrison Pulsipher: the name on the back of her basketball jersey.

“It’s kind of a funny family matter because my dad, he’s just torn,” Pulsipher said. “I always joke with him that most parents have a hard time handing their daughter off or their dad can’t stand that a new guy is taking over and it’s not just his little girl anymore, but all he cares about is my last name. He just wants my last name on the jersey because it’s his last name.”

Getting married brings a lot of changes, but one of the hardest changes for a BYU female athlete may be changing her last name, and the attached identity that name encompasses.

A name is something given to most people minutes after birth. Maybe it’s a name that their parents think is cute, maybe it has sentimental value or maybe it just accidentally slipped out and the doctor wrote it down. It is a random selection from an odd accumulation of events, but the important part is what that child chooses to do with the name she has been given.

A name defines people in the public eye. People like rock stars, politicians and athletes spend their career working to build name recognition.  People don’t know what Madonna is like as a person, but too many people know her name; soccer fans don’t know who Lionel is, but the name Messi will bring a whole stadium to its feet. A name for an athlete is more than just a name, it becomes an identity.

“I think it’s because, like a lot of things, we’re attached to our number and our name, just because that’s what displayed and that’s our identity on the floor,” BYU basketball player Kristine Fuller Nielson said.

Three players on the BYU women’s basketball team got married between this season and the last, making a whole new list of roster names to get used to. The transition was weird for some and turned into a funny story, like Pulsipher and the battle between her father and her new husband over whose name got to go on the back of her jersey. For others like Lexi Eaton Rydalch, the change was jarring, yet comfortable.

“I had a lot of people ask me if I was going to change my name just because I’ve gone my whole career ‘Lexi Eaton,’ it just kind of rolls of the tongue, you know, and when I told people that I was changing it they were all kind of shocked,” Rydalch said. “But for me, the reason behind it is just to show that I am completely committed to my husband and to marriage in general.”

For some, the name change hasn’t quite set in. Nielson has always been known to her teammates and coaches as Fuller, and her name will always be Fuller to them even though she technically has a new last name now.

“I know, you get so attached to it,” Nielson said. “For me it was really hard because a lot of the girls called me by my last name and they still do and I’m, like, totally okay with it, because it’s kind of like my identity and it’s always just been on the back of the jersey for forever.”

The BYU women’s soccer team has also felt the effects of marriage and particularly the name change issue. Michele Murphy Vasconcelos just finished her first soccer season as a married woman and by the start of next season the BYU women’s soccer team could have as many as 10 married members of the team.

Maddi Dayton
Michele Murphy Vasconcelos controls the ball in the last home game against UVU. Vasconcelos just finished her third season with BYU and has to make the decision to be known as Murphy or Vasconcelos next year for her final season as a Cougar. (Maddi Dayton)

Most athletes choose to hyphenate their last names for media and program purposes, but get more complicated as half of the team says “I do” this summer. As it stands the soccer announcers already have a confusing job calling the games.

“Campbell-Isom steals the ball and passes it up to Murphy-Vasconcelos who passes to Nimmer-Linehan” is already a mouthful and warrants the question: were there six players involved in the play or only three?

Most college athletes are known to the world by their maiden names and the transition to their married name can sometimes take years.

“I know it’s definitely been difficult. I go to say my name and I don’t know what it’s under. Especially now with the Vasconcelos. I struggle with that because I am Murphy, that’s my name,” Vasconcelos said. “Teammates and everyone will still just call me Murphy so Vasconcelos hasn’t caught on yet and I don’t think it will until I’m done with soccer.”

It is definitely a long process and a long one at that, but the BYU athletics program is familiar with the drill and lists both names on programs and other media outlets to make a smooth transition between names without losing any identity value. The athletes realize that while this is a big decision at this point in their lives, in a few years it won’t matter so much what they were called.

“When I’m done with basketball it won’t even matter at all,” Pulsipher said. “It just kind of depends on who knew me at what point in my life.”

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” William Shakespeare said in his play Romeo and Juliet. And it’s true, a name is a tool used for recognition, but the identity of these players is found in the acts of greatness performed on and off the field each and every day.


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