I'm considering changing my legal middle and last name, for unrelated personal/emotional reasons. As a man, this isn't common for obvious reasons. I'm worried that this will negatively affect career opportunities in the future and invalidate my current references on my resume. I'm currently a student and have been getting summer employment in the field of my study and have built up some really good work experience and a few references. I'm worried that by changing my name, when job prospects call my references they won't know me by my new name and I'll look like I'm lying about work experience. Is there a common practice in applying for jobs or building a resume when you get a name change?
I think the best way to approach this is to just be honest about having changed your name. Either in your cover letter or resume, mention that you used to go by a different name and specify which references will know you by that name. Maybe even just list the date of the name change so that all contacts before that date will know you by your previous name. This question gives a good example for earning a degree under a different name.
As to your worry that you will be judged - don't. Many people change their names for reasons besides marriage, and you have no obligation to explain why. The fact that you are being honest about it should show that you are not trying to hide anything. If an interviewer asked why you changed your name, I would find that highly inappropriate and respond with "for personal reasons" or something equally as vague. Marital status is considered a protected class in the US, and asking about a name change gets very close to asking if someone is married, which is illegal in the US.
I'm worried that by changing my name, when job prospects call my references they won't know me by my new name and I'll look like I'm lying about work experience. Is there a common practice in applying for jobs or building a resume when you get a name change?
This one is easy.
Let all of your references know of your name change, before they are contacted.
This is what everyone I know who changed their name has done. And it hasn't ever been an issue for them.