What's In A Name

By Chelle Cordero

February 1, 2016 4 min read

There are many decisions to work out when a couple decides to get hitched; one of those complicated decisions is the choice of surname. Several decades ago, women didn't have much choice when it came to the name they would be using once betrothed. Some women chose to drop their given middle names and replaced those with their maiden names, but that was not legally acceptable in all states. A few "rebels" found ways to keep their own surnames for professional reasons, but socially and legally they were to be forever known as "Mrs." followed by their husbands' last names.

Times have changed. In 2016, couples can choose to both use one name belonging originally to either partner, use both names (with or without a hyphen), blending the names into one or simply each keeping their respective names. The names should be decided before applying for the marriage license, as these will be the names used on the marriage certificate.

There are many reasons for challenging traditional patterns. Some people equate surrendering one's name upon marriage to chattel, a loss of personal identity; others fear losing important professional reputations, and some want to keep their birth family's name alive, especially when there are no sons to do so traditionally. Surprisingly, even though women are no longer forced to lose their names when they gain husbands, more women are choosing to use their new husbands' names as at least part of their new surnames. Whatever option the married couple chooses, each partner's name goes onto the marriage certificate, and this will be used to change names on official records, drivers' licenses, passports, bank accounts and more. Women will be able to use any of these options without any hitches; however, a few states do require husbands and same-sex partners to get a court order, so check your local laws.

The married name change is as legally binding as petitioning a court and is generally the only document required to make changes to all of your official documents. It's a good idea to get one or two certified copies of the marriage certificate, so copies can be mailed and other notifications won't need to wait for the documents to come back in the mail.

To change the Social Security card, bring a certified copy of the marriage certificate, photo ID in your old name and form SS-5, which can be mailed or hand delivered to any Social Security office.

Driver's license changes need to be made in person using the marriage certificate (or certified copy). Using the marriage license as ID, fill out the appropriate forms (available at any DMV office) and prepare to wait in line. You also will probably pose for a photo ID. With your new driver's license and your marriage certificate, you can update your voter registration and passport. Some states require a minimum amount of time between changing multiple forms of ID.

Some other people and places to contact after the wedding to inform them of any name changes include: employers and clients; banks and other lenders; utility providers; vendors and contractors; your doctor and other medical providers; insurance companies; brokerage firms; and the U.S. Postal Service. (That being said, it's a good idea to keep your original name and married name on your home mailbox to avoid confusion.)

If you hold professional certifications or licenses (such as for being a teacher, lawyer, doctor, paramedic, nurse or other tradesman), contact the overseeing bureau or registry and find out the specific steps and forms you'll need. While you are at it, don't forget to update online profiles.

Most municipalities will mail the couple the certified and registered marriage certificate. Some municipalities will require you to contact the official records department. Be sure to find out any deadlines to filing for name changes to avoid excess fees.

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