How to Change Your Name After Marriage

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: 16 Important Documents You’ll Want Updated

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If you are getting married anytime soon, or if you are recently engaged, you have a lot to think about! One item on the never ending list that you and your partner have probably considered already is how to change your name after marriage. Will you change names? Keep them? Combine them? There are many possibilities.

At Change My Names, we believe that learning how to change your name after marriage should be simple and straightforward. This guide will help you understand the options you have for changing your name after marriage as well as the options (saving time and easily changing your name through us, or manually filling out the necessary forms) in front of you as you embark on marriage.

For some new couples, this is one of the toughest considerations that needs to be decided before the wedding day. For many people, it is a cut and dry issue. Those who come from more traditional backgrounds, especially those with religious roots, adopt the common practice of the wife taking the husband’s last name. 

While this was the standard practice for hundreds of years, today, there are many more options for both men and women when it comes to the possibilities of name changes after marriage. Deciding which option is best for you can be a nerve-wracking decision. It also should not be a decision made unilaterally.

The name change conundrum should be decided well before the wedding vows are taken and the rice gets thrown. Getting this decision out of the way as part of the pre-wedding planning can make those first steps toward wedded bliss less likely to be stumbles. 

Deciding on last names could be the first real decision you make as a couple, and the decision you make will, more than likely stay with you for the rest of your life. Let’s look at some of the options in front of you as you consider changing your names after marriage.

Name Change Options After Marriage

Generally, there are four options that a couple can consider when it comes to changing their name: 

  • The new wife will take the husband’s last name
  • The wife will keep her maiden name
  • The couple may decide to hyphenate their last names
  • The husband may elect to take his wife’s last name

Each of these is perfectly legal and acceptable. Some of these choices are less traditional than others, but couples have done them all. Some are easier than others and different states have different requirements and processes for a couple who wants to change their name after marriage to one of these choices.

Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed at what may seem a long and daunting legal maze if you decide on some of the less traditional name change options. Remember, this is a decision that will be a significant part of your life and both of you should be comfortable with the results. Below, we’ll outline how to change your name after marriage in as many places as possible.

Changing Your Life…Changing Your Name? You Decide

The day you take your marriage vows marks a significant new chapter in your life. Whether it happens in a church with all the fanfare and ritual or in front of a judge in a simple civil ceremony, your life and your partner’s life become a single entity.

“For better or for worse” are the words used during most ceremonies. You have created not just an emotional bond; you have created a new legal entity that takes two lives and all the attendant financial and historical connections and melds them together into a single entity. 

Unless you have entered into a legally binding prenuptial agreement, in most states in the US, when you complete those vows, there are no longer two sets of assets. The concept of community property kicks in, and what’s yours is now mine and vice versa. This community asset concept goes for the good and the bad.

Part of that joining is the decision on how this new entity will be known legally. That is one reason having the decision on last names out of the way before the marriage license is signed and filed is so essential. You don’t want to have this discussion on your wedding day, at the back of the church, when it comes time to sign the official documents. Learning how to change your name after marriage is important, here!

It’s important to note, as well, that people make a name changing decision for different reasons. Some are personal, some are financial, and some relate to career and profession. Whatever the reason, the name change issue is one that should be carefully thought out and then executed with care to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks during a time that can be very chaotic, which might create an issue in the future.

There are several questions that you and your beloved should answer as you start the decision-making process around how to change your name after marriage. The answers to these questions will help you understand your feelings on the matter of changing last names and give you a better concept of what your partner’s feelings are as well. Working through this decision can lay the groundwork for many joint decisions upcoming in your future.

We will look at these questions in more detail, but to get an understanding of what you should be considering, these are the types of questions you should be asking as part of this decision making process.

  • Will you take your partner’s last name?
  • Can a new wife keep her last name?
  • Do we want to hyphenate our last names?
  • Can a husband take his wife’s last name?

Taking Your New Husband’s Last Name

A wife taking her new husband’s last name is still the most popular option by far in the United States. There are lots of theories about why this remains such a popular choice. For many women, tradition is the reason for changing their last name. But, where did that tradition originate? 

A Look Back in History

The tradition of a woman taking her husband’s last name dates to England and the ninth century when legal concerns about personhood, family lineage, and property rights led to codification. A means of consistently tracing a family lineage for property matters, particularly inheritance matters, was needed. 

The concept of coverture was the norm at that time. Coverture essentially says that women have no independent legal identity apart from their husbands. This concept kept women from entering contracts, participating in business ventures, or owning property. A female baby took her father’s surname because she was his property and that didn’t change until she took her husband’s name at marriage.

Luckily, certainly, legal, and societal concepts have changed. However, the tradition of a woman taking her new husband’s last name remains with us today and doesn’t seem to be waning in its popularity.

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: The Modern Approach

While modern attitudes about marriage and the traditions that are often associated with it, there are some interesting statistics about these traditions. For example, in the 1970s and 1980s, the trend was for women to keep their birth names. For many of these women, this was an equality issue. Recent surveys show that about 20 percent of women decide to keep their birth name, a reduction in numbers since the 1970s and 1980s.

Why this reduction? There are many theories and ideas.

  • Sometimes Traditions are Important – In families where this practice is a tradition, tradition often carries on and is an integral part of the culture. There is something to be said about preserving long-standing traditions, especially those interwoven with religious doctrines and beliefs. 
  • Marriage Represents a New Start – For many women, their marriage day represents a new start in a new life. The interpretation of the name change as a symbol of a commitment to a new life and a new relationship is vital to many people. 
  • The Concept of Linear Continuity – In almost all instances, even if a woman retains her maiden name after marriage when children start arriving, the official records of the birth of that child will list the child with the father’s surname. At this point, the wife’s maiden name is lost and negates any argument about continuing the name lineage of the wife’s family.
  • It’s the Romance – Many women seem to take a more romantic view of the whole situation. Plenty of newly married women state that they made the name change because they thought it romantic and emotionally satisfying to signal their commitment to their partner.

Regardless of the reason, the number of women adopting the husband’s surname seems to be rising after decades of slow decline. The tradition of a woman adopting her husband’s last name remains the predominant choice in the United States.

However, there remain many viable options for couples who decide to abandon tradition and go their own way in their new relationship.

How to Take Your Husband’s Last Name

If the choice is to go the traditional route and to take your new husband’s last name, the process is relatively simple. In most cases, the only legal document you will need to begin the process of changing your name from your maiden name to your husband’s last name is your properly filed marriage certificate.

With a few exceptions, most agencies will accept a copy of your marriage certificate as proof of your name change. You will still need to make the appropriate name change everywhere you have accounts or hold a license. We will have more on that later in this article.

Keeping Your Last Name

One option that is growing in popularity is for a newly married wife to keep her last name. Keeping and using a maiden name is not a new concept. Historical data shows that even in the 1700s, women were starting to question the attitude of the prevailing culture that women should, without question, adopt their husband’s surname at marriage. 

Studies show that approximately 20 percent of women keep their maiden names after marriage. Arguments in favor of a woman keeping her maiden name are, for the most part, logical and convincing. Looking at some of the reasons a woman may decide to keep her maiden name include:

  • Challenging the Status Quo – Some women see the tradition of adopting their husband’s surname as a cultural concept that belittles their worth and status. Keeping their maiden name after marriage is seen as a means of challenging those traditions and concepts.
  • Financial Considerations – More and more couples are living together for extended periods before committing to marriage. In many instances, both individuals have long-established financial plans that aren’t necessarily amenable to commingling. Many couples chose to maintain separate financial plans and with that comes the necessity of maintaining separate identities.
  • Professional Needs – In addition to the financial situations, many couples contemplating marriage have already established professional credentials and reputations intimately linked to their names. Making a name change during a professional career can be complicated and may, in some instances, hurt a career path.

Since there are no legal requirements for anyone to change their name after marriage, the decision to keep a maiden name is entirely legitimate and, in some cases, the better decision for a career or financial situation. 

How To Keep Your Last Name

Maintaining the status quo is, perhaps, the easiest and most straightforward of the alternatives since there are no name changes. There is no need to work through a long list of accounts, documents, and official records that need to be changed and updated, nor are there any legal hurdles to jump.

Some accounts may want you to update your marital status, but in large part, this can be done along the way as other changes occur in the accounts. These are easy to manage when performing other updates such as address changes or routine maintenance of the account information.

The Internal Revenue Service is a place where your marital status is essential. However, there are some considerations with your IRS filings as well. If you decided to keep your maiden name for financial or professional reasons, you might also elect to continue to file your tax returns separately instead of electing the joint married filing status. 

In either case, you will want to update your status on your tax filings as married. This simple change may qualify you for additional exemptions, credits, or deductions.

Hyphenating Your Last Name

Hyphenated last names became all the rage in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many couples seemed to see the practice of hyphenating both last names and each person adopting the hyphenated last name as a more equal and respectful treatment of the whole issue. 

The argument that taking and using both last names creates equality in the relationships has some merit. There are undoubtedly many couples with hyphenated last names from this period. However, unlike our previous two choices, some legal and cultural considerations arise when taking this route.

Hyphenating Names and the Legal Ramifications

Before you decide that a hyphenated last name is a happy compromise, you must be aware of some of the legal ramifications of adopting that hyphenated last name. 

  • The Challenge of Making the Change – Unlike a wife taking a husband’s last name or deciding to keep her maiden name, adopting a hyphenated name involves a name change for both parties. In most states in the US, this requires a legal name change process that can be expensive and time-consuming to accomplish.
  • Once Done, It is Done – One the formal court documents are complete, approved, signed, and filed, there is no going back without another round of lawyers and courts. You are also obliged to stick with the hyphenation that you have chosen. You can’t merely flip-flop the names, stop using the hyphen, or change the spelling. This sort of change affects every aspect of your life that requires a legal signature.
  • Society Is Slow to Accept This – More and more of our daily life is conducted online and requires using your name on official electronic forms. Many electronic forms and websites will not recognize a hyphen in the last name field. Many government online forms have character limits, and two long hyphenated last names overrun those limits. 
  • How Does it Affect Children? – If both parents use the hyphenated version of the last name, the children will also be required to use that hyphenated last name. One problem arises when only one parent chooses to use a hyphenated last name. In most states, the official birth-record will use the father’s last name. The last name issues can cause confusion down the road in certain instances.
  • Consider the Future – This one may sound a little tongue in cheek, but consider Tommy Anderson-Foster, who falls in love with Amanda Christianson-Roberts. What are the options when it comes to their choices in the last names? 

Can a Husband Take His Wife’s Last Name?

While far from the traditional mold, there are no legal barriers to a man assuming his wife’s last name when they marry. Some studies done in England have found that as many as one in ten men take their wife’s last name. 

This phenomenon seems to have several driving reasons.

  • A woman with an established professional reputation wants to maintain that identity but the couple sees the value in having a single last name more traditionally.
  • In blended families where the wife has children already and the man does not, the interest may be in keeping the integrity of the family by the man assuming the wife’s name to eliminate confusion.
  • It may sound a little trite, but some couples may just like the sound of the wife’s last name as opposed to the husbands.

The Legalities of a Man Taking his Wife’s Last Name

Here’s the good news – there are no legal issues with a man taking his wife’s last name. However, the process for a newly married couple to change the husband’s last name rather than the wife’s is considerably more challenging. 

Not only does the couple face the requirements of changing all their legal and financial documents and accounts, the process for a man to change his name after marriage generally requires the services of an attorney and some legal proceedings, whereas the wife would not have this issue.

How to Change Your Name in Tricky Situations

Learning how to change your name after marriage is generally straightforward, however there are some trickier situations. Hyphenating last names or a husband who adopts his wife’s last name may be an option for some couples. The desire to maintain the familial ties through the surname of each partner can be significant, or professional reasons may prompt this decision. 

However, anytime that a husband makes a name change, the legal implications become more involved and more significant. Most states and many organizations accept the marriage certificate as proof of a woman’s name change. Not so with men.

For example, in Texas, a man wanting to change his name will, in most instances, require a formal court order to effect the change. Making this kind of change involves special forms and documents, filing supporting evidence, and an appearance before a judge in a court of law. In many cases, hiring an attorney may be in your best interest.

As we all know, anything involving the court system and attorneys is probably going to get expensive before the process is complete and making a legal name change is no exception. Expect the filing fees alone at the court to be anywhere from $150 to $300. These figures don’t include any attorney’s fees.

Once the court order is filed and approved, you can use those documents to work through the process of changing all your other records, accounts, and official documents as outlined below. Be aware that some organizations and governmental entities may want a notarized copy of the court documents. Copies and notarization will incur an additional expense and time.

Once you get all the necessary legal issues resolved and you have the necessary documents in hand, it is time to start making the changes that will officially mark the transition to your new last name. Most people are unaware of how involved this process can get. In an age where data collection has become almost obsessive for many organizations and agencies, learning how to change your name after marriage everywhere it is recorded is a challenge.

How To Change Your Name After Marriage, Step by Step

At Change My Names, we understand how complex and time consuming the name change process can be. Save yourself hours of headache by filling out your information once, and letting us handle the rest. If, however you want to take the longer route, we have compiled a list of potential name change items that you may need. No list is exhaustive on this subject, so be sure to use this as a starting point.

With the wedding over and married life starting, hopefully the last name decision is already made. The challenge now is to get the job done. Some planning may be required depending on which option you choose. In any case, understanding the necessary steps and the general requirements for each option will help you through the processes.

No matter which option you choose, there are a couple of things that you should do immediately:

  • Use your new names on the marriage certificate
  • Start the processes promptly. In some states, there is a mandatory time window in which changes to names can occur (see more on this below).

In some states, using your marriage certificate may not be enough documentation, so you should check and be sure of the exact requirements for the state in which you live. Whatever the requirements, you should be thorough in the process of updating all your legal and financial documents with your new name.

The requirements for each agency that administers these documents may be different. Making all the changes in all the different places can be one of the most tedious portions of settling into married life. To make things a bit easier, here is a list of the most common items that need a name change after you get married, no matter which option you choose for your last names. 

Please note that the most critical documents to update as soon as possible after the wedding will be your Social Security card, your driver’s license, and your U.S. passport.

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: Social Security Administration

We suggest that this be your priority in making your name change official. Many other organizations will require that you present a social security card with your new name as part of the name change process, so getting this updated with your name change should be your top priority. 

 

Keep in mind that it usually takes 10 – 14 days after you submit your application to receive your new Social Security card. The good news is that updating your Social Security card is completely free. You’ll need a certified copy of your marriage license, a driver’s license, ID, or U.S. Passport, and an identifying document showing your previous name (this is sometimes optional, but good to include).

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: Driver’s License

Changing the name on your driver’s license requires a visit to the department of motor vehicles or licensing for the state in which you live. More than likely, you can make the changes online as well. Some states will require you to present both your marriage license and your updated social security card. 

 

You should also remember that in many states, there is a time limit to get this change made. You should receive your new Driver’s License within 60 days of submitting your application. This varies state by state, but usually costs less than $50. Given that the rules and legality of driver’s license changes, you’ll need to look this up, state by state.

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: Passport

Don’t forget to start the process of changing the name on your passport. If you are traveling out of the country on your honeymoon, there can be complications with name changes and identity documents. Updating your passport usually takes between six and eight weeks. We will spend more time later in this article on ways to deal with passports, foreign travel, and your new name. 

 

This will cost between $10 and $165, depending on where you got your passport. To update this, you’ll need your most recent U.S. Passport, a certified copy of your marriage certificate, two color photos of yourself, and to fill out form DS-5504 or DS-82, depending on when your passport was initially issued.

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: Internal Revenue Service

You must make a name change with the IRS before the next tax filing deadline if you want to qualify for all the available credits and deductions that may be coming your way as a newly married couple. The name on your tax return must match the name on your social security account.

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: State Taxing Authority

If you live in a state that collects state income tax or if you own property in a state that taxes property, don’t forget to make the name change with those agencies as well. Not doing so could cause problems if you are due a refund or when you get ready to sell your real property.

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: Voter Registration

Voter registration information needs updating before the next election. Otherwise, you may find it difficult to vote because your identification does not match the records on the voter registration lists. Processes and methods of making changes to your voter registration differ from state to state and you must check with the proper authorities in the state in which you live.

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: Banks and Financial Institutions

Consider the number of financial institutions with which you do business and then add mortgage companies, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and brokerage accounts and you can find yourself mired in a confusing mix of forms, websites, and requirements. Our suggestion is to make a list, keep notes on what each organization requires, and check them off in an orderly manner as you make the changes.

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: Credit cards and Debit Cards

Credit and debit cards … chances are, you’ve got a few of these. Many of these items will enjoy a cascade effect as you start to make name changes with the financial institution that supports these cards and you may not need to do a separate name change. 

 

However, if you use airline cards, independent cards, or store-based credit cards, these must all be changed separately. Again, a list helps to keep track of where you need to make changes, what information, and documents you need, and where you are in the process.

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: Professional Licenses and Certifications

Licenses and certifications are another focus area when making name changes after marriage. Government agencies manage some licenses, but many certifications are issued and managed by independent private organizations. The requirements for making changes with these organizations are hard to predict. 

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: Your Employer

A visit to your employer’s human resource department will usually suffice to make a name change in your employment records. Your employer may require a photocopy of your new social security card or other identification. In some instances, making the change with your employer will also change the records on your retirement accounts and your medical insurance. Be sure and check to make sure that this is true.

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: Utility Companies

Utility companies are not usually as sensitive to these kinds of name changes as some other organizations. However, in the interest of being consistent and thorough, you should investigate what is required to change the name shown on your utility accounts.

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: Insurance companies

This is a fairly broad category, and can include life insurance, health insurance, accident insurance, car insurance, homeowners or property insurance, and professional insurance. Whatever policies you have, it is well worth checking into to see if you are able to update them in a timely fashion after your wedding.

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: Medical Records

Visit with your physicians and ask about changing your name on your medical records and histories. Having the right name on your records can be important should you ever end up needing emergency care and you are not able to communicate with the doctors. Being able to match you with your records could make the difference in a life or death situation.

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: Airline Accounts

Don’t forget your airline accounts. If you use airline or travel websites to book your airline tickets and other travel arrangements, there are several places that you may need to consider making changes. Booking airline tickets is the most crucial. 

 

Under the current travel security regulations, the name on your airline tickets and personal identification must be the same, or you may not be allowed to board your flight. Failing to update your airline or booking accounts can result in your airline tickets printed with your maiden name. If your tickets, boarding passes, and identification don’t match, your holiday could be in jeopardy, so be sure to look at this sooner rather than later.

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: County Clerk or County Registrar

If you already own real property in your name and you do a name change of any kind, you should check with the county clerk or country registrar to find out what steps to take to change your name on the deeds or registrations of your property. Learning how to change your name after marriage on these records can now avoid problems later on when and if you decide to sell the property.

How to Change Your Name After Marriage: Your Attorney

There may be legal documents that need the proper name changes made to keep them current and in force. Wills need to be changed and updated. If you own any businesses in your name as a sole proprietor, any legal documents, agreements, or partnership agreements must be updated.

That list looks a little overwhelming, and I assure you that you will find some things that we haven’t included on our checklist. Fortunately, many of these changes can be made online or over the phone. Some of the companies and organizations may require a copy of your marriage certificate, so you need to have that in hand. 

You will need photocopies and a scanned image of your marriage certificate (did we mention you should get as many copies of this as you can? It’s critical when learning how to change your name after marriage). Don’t forget the back as well. Often, the filing information that many organizations require will be on the back of the marriage certificate. For a scanned image, create a PDF file. A PDF file is the most portable and widely used form of a document image.

As you can see, there are a lot of documents to consider when changing your last name. Across the board, this can take up to a few months and a dozen hours going into various locations to file all your paperwork appropriately. Learning how to change your name after marriage is no small feat! There will also be a variety of miscellaneous charges, such as notarization fees and filing fees for the various institutions.

How Fast Must I Make the Change?

As far as we can tell, there are no legal requirements that govern how long you have to make a name change after you get married. However, each entity or organization with which you do business may have their own requirements on making a name or other changes to pertinent information, so it’s important to consider each of those requirements as you move forward with the process.

Employers

Many employers who provide insurance set time frames for making changes to your employment records and your insurance records whenever a significant life event occurs, such as weddings, name changes, or the birth and adoption of children.

Licenses and Certifications

Some state agencies, especially those that issue driver licenses, professional licenses, and other forms of identification, usually have time frames in which you must make updates to your accounts and be issued new licenses. 

Social Security Administration

The Social Security Administration doesn’t have any regulations about how fast you must change your name on your social security card. However, since many other agencies and organizations will require an updated social security card along with other documentation to prove the change, making the change with the social security administration should be one of your first goals.

Your Passport

Since your passport may serve as your primary identification when traveling, the name on your passport must match the name on your other identification and your travel documents such as airline tickets and boarding passes. Get this one done as soon as possible. If you are planning on traveling immediately after you get married, make sure that you book all your travel with names that match your documents and identification.

Further Assistance & Recommendations

Most couples, once they decide on their new last name, remain unaware of the challenges that await them when the time comes to start making the updates and corrections to their new name. The reality of the intricacies and pitfalls of this process is often the first bump in the road to marital bliss.

If you feel overwhelmed or are confused, it is perfectly acceptable to look for more help. You can either call each organization you need to change your name with, and get the help from a representative, or you can use an online service like Change My Names to quickly and easily get all of your information updated without having to search for the appropriate documentation. We also suggest that you consult an attorney licensed in your state to assist if your name change requires getting a court order. 

We hope that this article and the following resources can help smooth out some of the bumps in the road. Learning how to change your name after marriage can be a process, but this outlines every step you’d need to take. Whatever direction you choose to go, we hope this article has been helpful!

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