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First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a name change—if you want. Changing your name to match your spouse is a common tradition and one that actually dates back to ninth century English common law. Back then, women were required to ditch their maiden names and take their husband’s surname after marriage. Fast forward to more modern times: There’s no law in the U.S. that demands a name change after marriage, but many married couples still choose to come together under a single family name. If you’re thinking about or decided to legally change your name after your wedding, here’s everything you need to know about how to do it—and why you might want to.
The Benefits of Changing Your Name After Marriage
These days, the reasons to change your name lean more personally and socially acceptable than legally beneficial. Here are a few good reasons to change your name:
- It creates consistency throughout the family. Many people prefer to change their names to keep the same last name running throughout the entire unit. This is especially true when children are involved. One family name can make things easier on things like vacations or school trips.
- You don’t like your current name. Here’s your excuse to finally shed the surname that makes you cringe.
- It’s for a religious reason. Many people change their names if they’ve converted religions or simply want to honor your spouse’s traditions. Name changes for religious reasons are quite common.
- You love a personal touch. This may seem like a shallow reason to legally change your name, but if you’re big on monogramming and personalization (hand towels, anyone?), one family name makes customization easy.
Note: Changing your name doesn’t only have to mean taking your partner’s name, or vice versa. There are a few different ways to change your name. You could hyphenate both your names into a joint surname (Lopez-Rodriguez, for example). Or you could try combining your names into an entirely new one (Miller + Winston = Milton). There are a number of alternative approaches so think about what’s best for you as a married couple.
Name Change Laws
While there’s no law requiring a name change after marriage, there are laws that come into play if you do decide to make the switch. It’s important to note that name change laws vary by jurisdiction so it’s crucial that you check which rules and regulations apply to your specific situation. In some cases, you may have to file a formal name change petition with the court.
Generally, though, most states simply require that you meet certain residency requirements. All states require the applicant to be a resident of the state—typically for six months, but this varies—before filing for a legal name change.
Depending on your state, you may need a formal name change petition and court date for the following situations:
- A man taking his wife’s last name
- Both partners choosing a last name different from either of theirs
- A same-sex marriage partner changing his or her last name
Changing your name isn’t typically hard to do. Just be sure to review the laws in your state ahead of time so you don’t encounter any surprises and find yourself delayed during the change process.
How to Change Your Name After Marriage
You probably guessed that you need your marriage license to change your name. And you’re right. In fact, you need several certified copies of your marriage license and marriage certificate (request these from the county clerk where your marriage license application was filed). Some states offer both short- and long-form marriage licenses—request the long forms. Once you have those copies from the county clerk’s office, you’re ready to start the name change process.
Social Security Card
The first step on your name change journey should be the Social Security Administration. In many states, you can’t change the name on your license without an updated Social Security card. Here’s how to do it.
Bad news: You can’t apply for a new card online. Good news: A new card is free.
Before heading to your local Social Security office, gather your marriage license, a valid driver’s license or ID, and this Social Security form. In some cases, you may also need to show proof of citizenship by providing a certified copy of your birth certificate or passport. Check here to make sure you have all the right documents.
Take or mail your legal name change application and copies of your documents to your local Social Security office.
Next, it’s time to update the name on your license. Driver’s license name change requirements vary pretty significantly state-to-state. So, do your research and make sure you know exactly what legal documents you need before you head to the DMV. In most cases, you’ll need your current driver’s license, marriage certificate, new Social Security card, a form of ID, and any forms required by your state. A quick Google search for your state’s requirements should lay out everything you need to bring to your local DMV.
Once your Social Security card and driver’s license are updated, you’ll want to head to the bank. Visit your local branch and bring your marriage license and your updated driver’s license. Ask the bank to change your name on all of your accounts—this will make a big difference if you decide to open joint bank accounts with your new spouse. Also, request new checks, credit cards, and debit cards. Note: You might get hit with a fee for the new cards.
Now that you’ve covered the major name updates, it’s time to update your name on just about everything else. Here’s a list of places you may need or want to update with your name change.
- Employer/Payroll Department
- Post Office (especially if your address has changed)
- Utility Companies
- Schools/Alumni Organizations
- Landlord or Mortgage Office
- Insurance (Home, Auto, Life)
- Doctor’s Offices
- Voter Registration
- Investment Account Providers
- Attorney (to update legal documents, including your will)
- Passport Office
- Airlines (transfer your miles!)
- Subscriptions (magazines, monthly boxes, etc.)
Don’t let all the steps stress you out. Changing your surname after marriage is an age-old tradition—and it stuck for a reason. If you decide to make the switch, rest assured that you’ll be able to with ease, thanks to a little bit of research.