Dear 100 Hour Board,
When I got married, I "dropped" my maiden name and kept my middle name, for various reasons. However, now I'm missing my maiden name, but alas, changing one's name is way too big of a pain for me to actually want to go back and change it AGAIN. What I'm wondering is, how much would I be able to get away with just using my maiden name as my middle name, even though that's not officially correct? For example, I'm in a PhD program, and when I publish (which HOPEFULLY happens someday), I think I'd like to have my maiden name be my middle "initial." Do you know if there's much leeway in being able to do that kind of thing without officially changing your name? I'm assuming that things like diplomas might need to match my legal name, but where is that line drawn?
-I still mix up M. Russell and Russell M.
In my office I work with a lot of books... and I know lots of professors in the department have different abbreviations of their name in different books. (Random example would be like "Mary Eleanor Hunter Smith" being the same as "Mary E. Smith" or "Mary E.H. Smith" or "Mary Hunter Smith" or any combination of those names). It's not recommended that you change which one you use, because that can make things pretty confusing if people are looking for books by you.
Ultimately, your name is your name. It would be smart to have your legal last name on official and academic publications, and if you are bound by a specific institution/publisher, they'll probably make you do that. But if you are publishing your own works, you can choose whichever name you wish. The most reasonable thing to do, I think, would be to have both initials so you would have "Mary E.H. Smith", using the above example. That way you have more identifiers and your name on the publication would be the most unique. Of course, if you already have a very unique name, you might choose not to use any middle initials.
Also, I would think that your full name is preserved in some sense even if you chose to "drop" your maiden name because your identity on your birth certificate and other records are the same. So as far as "legal records" go, you still are the same person.
In short, there's quite a bit of leeway, though consistency is better, and official publishers may have a preference for which names you use.
Here's one source you can look through for further information.
Just as an anectdote: I got married while in law school, took my husband's last name, and never bothered to officially change my name with BYU. When diploma time came around, they confirmed that I wanted my legal name (husband's last name) on my diploma, rather than the name that was still on my BYU records. It seemed to me like they were confirming my preference, rather than ensuring they had what was my legal name.