The name you choose to go by after your marriage is a personal decision. However, if the approximately 1,000 articles and blog posts I’ve read on name choice over the past few months are any indication, this does not stop family, friends, and complete strangers from voicing their opinion.
Name changes after marriage are social because they indicate how you will be referred to as an individual, and within the context of you and your spouse as a unit. While some like to be referred to as Mr. and Mrs. (or Mr. and Ms., Mrs. and Mrs., or Mr. and Mr.) MarriedName or #teammarriedname, that does not mean you have to. What is meaningful to someone else does not make you more or less married.
Name changes after marriage are political because of the origins of this phenomenon. For some, it calls back to a time where women were regarded as property, first of their fathers, and later of their spouses. They feel that a woman has the right to keep the name under which she has established her own life and there should be no obligation to change it to that of her husband. They are correct in that you are not obligated to change your name, but it is inevitable that others will develop preconceived notions based on whichever decision you make. Remember that this is out of your control, and should not factor into your decision.
In many areas, rules exist to protect your decision to preserve your current name, or use the name of your spouse. Rights as a married couple can be established through the marriage license, power of attorney, and other legal documents, and do not require that you share the same name. However, it should be noted that not all regions of the world afford these liberties.
Name changes after marriage are personal. Some people make this decision as an individual. Others may choose to change their names as a family, or to share their name with any children they may have. Whether you are weighing the opinions of your future spouse and/or extended family, or looking for the option that suits you best, you want to feel confident about your name at the end of the day.
This article presents some of the thoughts you might be having as you think about how you will change your name, if at all:
What are the rules for name changes where you live?
The state of California affords the following options through the marriage license (avoiding the court process and associated fees). These options are extended to both men and women, and are inclusive of same-sex marriages. The information below can be found on EZ Name Change.
The California Marriage License Name Change possibilities are (thanks to the 2007 Name Equality Act, effective as of 2009):
1. First Names cannot be changed.
2. Middle or Last Names can be changed, but only in the following ways:
A. Either spouse/partner may take any of the following last names:
- The current last name of the other spouse.
- The last name of either spouse given at birth.
- A name combining into a single last name all or a segment of the current last name or the last name of either spouse given at birth.
- A hyphenated combination of last names.
B. Either spouse/partner may take any of the following middle names:
- The current last name of either spouse
- The last name of either spouse given at birth
- A hyphenated combination of the current middle name and the current last name of the person or spouse.
- A hyphenated combination of the current middle name and the birth last name of the person or spouse.[space height=”20″]
For this example, lets say that David Walter Bradley is planning to wed Tomas Seth Brown, who was born Tomas Seth Rios. Here are a few of the possible names David can create:
David Walter Bradley
David Bradley Brown
David Walter Rios
David Bradley-Brown Rios
David Walter Bradley-Rios
David Walter-Bradley Rios
David Bradley Brown-Rios
David Walter-Bradley Brown
David Walter Bradley Brown (yes, it is possible to have two last names! Not sure if this falls under hyphenation with a space, but for some reason, it works!)
David Walter Brios (new name combining last names)
David Walter Ridley (new name combining last names)
However, if David and Tomas would like to create a new name that does not reflect a combination of their current names (Caldwell, for example), this cannot be accomplished under a marriage license change. David will need to go through the official court process.
2. What if you want to change your name legally, but keep your current last name for professional purposes?
This can vary widely based on your profession. If you have a professional license using your current last name, check with your licensing board to see if you can continue to practice under your current last name, even if you change your name legally.
For those who publish books, articles, or columns, you may want to use your current last name in some form or fashion for continuity purposes. There are several options. One is to shift your current last name to your middle name, then use all three names. So, Yvonne Amanda Black, who is marring Steven Leonard Mitchell, may choose to write as Yvonne Black Mitchell. Or, in the style of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, she might opt for Yvonne Mitchell Black.
Let’s walk through a few examples using a group of female doctors.
Dr. Sandra Bell (no middle name) is planning to marry Edward Mateo Crown. Professionally, Sandra has received permission to continue to practice as Dr. Sandra Bell, although she plans to change her name legally to Sandra Bell-Crown (yes, I snuck in a hyphenate!). Sandra will continue to publish in peer-reviewed journals as Dr. Sandra Bell. However, she wants privacy in her personal life. So she will use Sandra Crown on social media.
Sandra’s colleagues, Beth and Wanda are also considering name changes, but ultimately make decisions that are very different from Sandra’s.
Beth Ann Winter is marrying Douglas Paul Prince in a few months, but can’t decide on her name. She does not want to hyphenate, because as she states, “I can’t say Beth Winter-Prince with a straight face”. She decides to change her name legally and professionally to Dr. Beth Ann Prince. However, she will publish as Beth Winter Prince for a few years to aid the transition for those who follow her. She will also update her name on social media (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn to Beth (Winter) Prince, so people are able to find her.
Wanda Elaine Price is marrying Samantha Alice Bell. At the time they got married, they had a hard time deciding whether to change their names at all, and so, they kept their own names. When their daughter Alice was born, they decided to give her Bell as a middle name, and Price as a last name. However, with the recent passing of Samantha’s mother, Wanda has considered hyphenating her last name to honor her mother in law.
When Samantha’s brother and sister-and-law got married two years ago, they both hyphenated their names to Bell-Withers. Wanda proposed hyphenating her own name to Bell-Price. After some thought, Samantha decided to change her name as well. Their daughter remains Alice Bell Price. Professionally, Wanda will continue to practice as Dr. Wanda Price.
3. What if you don’t like your current last name (or your spouse’s last name? or either of your last names?)
Some names just flow. Ryan Victoria Wallace is excited about her name change, because she likes the alliterative sound of Ryan Rutherford. She thinks it has a nice ring to it. While she plans to keep her middle name, she will not use it outside of legal documents.
Other names, however, are challenging to spell or pronounce. Joyce Brix is tired of explaining that she actually pronounces her name as “Bree” (she often corrects spelling errors of “Brie” and gets calls for Ms. “Bricks”). Michelle von Decontreau appreciates the uniqueness of her name, but decided she will change her name when she gets married as long as her spouse’s name is shorter and easier to spell.
There are also names that call out the immature 13 year old in others. While Hickey might be a proud family name, Anita Green, who is marrying into the family, may have some misgivings.
What if your one or neither of your names are a good fit for you? For example, Zoe Elisa Ham is marrying Andrew Quinten Gross. She is not comfortable with becoming Zoe Ham Gross, and shares her feelings with Andrew. It turns out, Andrew, having grown up being teased for his last name, wasn’t keen on passing it on to his future children. Together, they decide to create a new last name of Gram.
Andrew’s sister, Lisa, having grown up as Lisa Marie Gross, was hoping to eventually change her name. She branded her design business around her first and middle names, Lisa Marie. She ended up falling in love with Wendell Peter Glue IV, and couldn’t imagine becoming Lisa Marie Glue, or even worse, Lisa Marie Gross-Glue. Because Wendell shares his exact name with three generations, he isn’t eager to change his name. He would like for the first son they have to bear the same name, but makes it clear that he does not expect Lisa change her own name. Lisa ultimately decides to change her name to Lisa Marie Green legally, but is fine with being referred to as the Glue family.
Finally, some people have less than ideal relationships with their families of origin, and may look forward to the idea of a new start with a new family name. So, the decision to keep or change one’s name is not as black and white as being a good or bad feminist, or opposing or supporting patriarchy.
4. What if you want to keep your name?
No, you don’t have to change your name when you get married. At all.
Some people choose to keep their names because they have established careers or lives using their current last name. Many have gone through the process of changing their name before, some for personal reasons, and some because of a divorce. Others want to keep their name exactly as it is, no reasons given.
When I first started thinking about my own name, I realized that I couldn’t think of many people in my personal life who have kept their names. At first glance, that is. Once I took the time to reflect on it, I realized I knew plenty. I realized that when they got married, I didn’t really pay attention to their names. I simply thought of the person they married as their husband or wife.
Will everyone in your life happily accommodate the decision you make? Chances are, probably not. Some will call you by your spouse’s name no matter how many times you try to correct them. But, what matters most is what you call yourself.
5. Do you have to decide now?
Whether you are just starting to think about name change, or you have been married for years, you have time! I focus on the marriage license name change in this article as it makes it easy for some to avoid the court process, as long as they write the intended name on the license and make changes within the first year. However, you can use the court process to change your name whenever you are ready (you will have to pay the associated fees).
I never gave much thought to changing my name until I got engaged. Then, I went through all of the variations listed in this article, reading thousands of articles, posts, and opinions along the way. I have an idea of what I would like my name to be, as well as my personal reasons for doing so. But, I won’t change my name until after the honeymoon. Note: if you are planning a honeymoon out of the country, consider changing your name after you return (having airline tickets in a different name than your identification is a huge no-no).
In the meantime, I am bouncing ideas of my top contenders, and the legal, social, and professional implications. I snagged an email account for my top name choice just in case (tip: if first.last is taken, try any combination of first, middle or last name initials or last.first). Also, many social media accounts (but not all) will allow you to change your user name.
I also am keeping a tally of what I will need to do, if I choose to change my name. Conventional wisdom is to start with recording the name on your marriage license, if applicable, and order a certified copy. Next, you can work on social security and DMV (license and registration, car title). Finally (and this is where the tally is handy), take care of insurance, loans (e.g. student, car), bank, frequent flier programs, etc. There are many kits available online that will help organize what you need and print out pre-loaded forms and letters.
I also have looked up costs to change my passport, license, and even global entry. It only occurred to me after a few months that these costs should actually be reflected in my wedding budget! If I decide to change my name after the first year, or to change my name again someday, I know the costs associated with a formal court process for my state.
No matter what meaning you ascribe to keeping or changing your name, realize that the value we ascribe to each option is personal. The only question you should be asking yourself is this:
Which name feels right to you, and why?
The only name change we can hope to understand is our own. Similarly, the only marriage we can hope to be an expert on is our own. If you were to ask 100 couples what makes them feel married, you could possibly receive up to 100 different answers. Some would answer living under one roof, while others would state that it is dedication to one another, sharing finances, raising children, or working together that makes them feel married. What matters most is what it means to you.