Family Law

Do I Have to Change My Name After Marriage?

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
Taking on a new surname.

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Historically, a woman was expected to take her husband's last name upon marriage. Times have changed though, and today same-sex and opposite-sex married couples have many options, including:

  • women/men can take their spouse's last name
  • women/men can keep their own last name
  • spouses can hyphenate their own last name with their spouse's last name
  • couples may create a new last name that they both use, and
  • some spouses keep their own surnames, but hyphenate their children’s last names.

Changing Your Name Through Common Usage

It's completely up to you whether you take on your spouse’s surname after marriage. But if you decide to change your last name, you can do so relatively easily through “common usage.” This was traditionally available to a wife who wanted to adopt her husband’s last name. If you're in a same-sex marriage, common usage name changes should be available to you, but since same-sex marriage is new to some states, you may need to obtain a court-ordered name change.

To legally change your name through the common usage method, you should take the following steps:

  • obtain a copy of your marriage certificate reflecting your new name
  • update your driver’s license by supplying a copy of your marriage certificate
  • obtain a new social security card reflecting your new last name by providing your marriage certificate, and
  • update any bank, insurance, passport, or employer records through the same method.

This process is relatively easy to complete if your marriage certificate reflects your new name. If you have children with or are planning to have children with your new spouse, you may want to change your name so you all share a single family name. However, if you want to use a new last name that's different from your spouse’s, you’ll need to go through an official court-ordered name change. States want to prevent individuals from changing their names to commit fraud or conceal an identity.

Changing Your Name Through a Court Order

Although more complicated than a common usage name change, a court-ordered name change is still relatively simple to complete. Many state courts provide online forms to help you do this your own. You can start by reviewing your county court’s website for information and instructions. You can also call your local court clerk with basic questions on locating forms. If you're not comfortable doing this on your own, an attorney may be able to help for a small fee.

In most cases, you’ll need to submit a name change request and a proposed order for a judge to review and sign. The judge may hold a hearing in your case to ensure that your name change request is not an attempt to commit fraud. Once you’ve received an order granting your request, you’ll go through the common usage process to change your name on things like your driver’s license and social security card. Instead of providing a copy of your marriage certificate, you’ll need to submit a certified copy of the name change court order. Certified copies of a court order are available upon request and for a small fee through your local courthouse.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What happens if a judge denies my name change?
  • Does it matter if my driver’s license has my new name, but my passport still has my maiden name?
  • I changed my name through the common usage method, but my employer won’t accept my name change without a court order. What should I do?
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