Although there is no law requiring a name change after marriage, the practice continues to be common in the United States—and not only for women. Increasingly, men are taking their wives’ last names, and in the case of same-sex marriages, some couples are deciding that having one family surname is beneficial to them, particularly when children are involved.
Changing your last name after marriage isn’t usually difficult, but it does require some organizational skills and plenty of patience as you deal with paperwork and government offices.
Here are some basic guidelines on how to change your name after marriage.
State by state
First, note that name change laws vary by jurisdiction, which means you should always be sure to check which rules and regulations apply to your situation. Generally, however, in most states, a legal name change after marriage can be accomplished by simply filling out some forms and without court involvement.
One caveat: some states have different name change procedures for anyone except a woman taking her husband’s surname after marriage (which includes hyphenating). Accordingly, a formal name change petition may have to be filed with the court in the following circumstances:
- A man taking his wife’s last name
- A couple choosing a last name different from either partner’s
- A same-sex marriage partner changing his or her last name
The most important document in the name change process is your marriage certificate. You will need several certified copies, which you can request from the clerk of the county in which you were married.
If your state has both long- and short-form marriage certificates, request the long form.
After you have procured certified copies of your marriage certificate, download Form SS-5 (PDF) from the Social Security Administration, which you’ll need to complete and take to your local Social Security office in person.
Along with the completed form, you should bring a certified copy of your marriage certificate as well as other proof of your identity and citizenship or lawful immigration status (driver’s license or passport).
Because most people’s main form of identification is their driver’s license, you’ll want to get your name changed on that as well. Again, the rules of Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMV) vary slightly, so be sure to check what your state requires before setting off on this quest.
Some DMVs may need only your marriage certificate while others require a copy of your new Social Security card. Moreover, some may have you complete an entirely new application and even get a new photo. The same process usually applies to a state-issued identification card.
While you’re at the DMV, you may also want to find out how to change the name on the titles of any vehicles you own.
Keep in mind that any name change after marriage means you should also get your name changed on any and all official documents, including but not limited to, the following:
- Bank and other financial/investment accounts
- Credit cards
- Insurance policies
- Utility bills
- Phone/cable bills
- Student loans
- School/work, including payroll and retirement plans
- Voter registration
- State tax authority (IRS is notified automatically through the SSA)
- Professional licensing boards/associations
- Magazine subscriptions
This might even be a good time to clean out your wallet of all the membership cards from libraries and grocery stores to gyms and clubs—and get your name changed on all of them in the process.
Because each step in the name change process can take a few weeks, it's best to begin as early as possible, especially if you'll need a new form of identification for an upcoming trip or the like.