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The Ultimate Guide to Changing Your Last Name

Excited to become a Mrs. but wondering how to change your name or figure out what options work best for you? You’re not alone. As if wedding planning isn’t stressful enough, we’re sorry to say that changing your name is a process—one filled with big decisions, bureaucracy, forms, and sometimes lots of hold music.

Not to worry, though; in the end, you’ll get to flaunt your new name, and the hassle will be worth it! Plus, we’re making your life a little bit easier with this thorough guide that’ll walk you through the whole process. One quick tip first: don’t wait until after your wedding day to read this. You need to complete some steps before you walk down the aisle, so you’ll want to go into this as prepared as possible.

Let’s dive right in so you can figure out your preferred married name and add those monogram sets you’ve been eyeing to your wedding registry.

Becoming a Mrs.

Photo Credit: Omar Lopez, Unsplash

Consider Your Options

While most brides choose to change their names post-marriage, it isn’t required. If you’re on the fence about it, take a moment to consider your own needs and tune out other opinions. Maybe you already have an awesome last name and don’t feel like changing it? So, keep your maiden name as is. Happy bonus: you can skip all of the paperwork.

Read ahead if you want to celebrate your married life with a name change but aren’t sure which one is right for you. Here’s the low-down on the many married name options you can choose from today:

·       Embrace the Hyphenate

Are you having trouble deciding between your maiden name and your spouse’s last name? Hyphenating your last names can be the best of both worlds. This option makes it easy to transition into a post-married life since colleagues and old friends can still easily identify you by your maiden name. All you have to do is decide which last name comes before the hyphen and which comes after. Then make sure to write it down correctly when you apply for your marriage license.

·       Keep it Traditional

If you can’t wait to put your maiden name behind you along with your single life, there’s nothing wrong with keeping your name choice traditional. Whether you are a romantic who dreams of taking your spouse’s last name or can’t take people mispronouncing your maiden name anymore, this option is a classic that still works today.

·       Land in the Middle

Growing in popularity these days is the option of changing your middle name to your maiden name and then taking your partner’s last name. If you have a particularly cringe-worthy middle name, this choice works double-time in giving you the identity you want. Just pay close attention to your state’s rules. States like Ohio, New Jersey, and Washington don’t allow this type of name change on a marriage license. Others like New York, California, and Pennsylvania have very particular rules.

There are many options for changing your name

Photo Credit: Wu Jianxiong, Unsplash

·       Twice the Fun

Want to transition from your maiden name to your married name seamlessly and introduce yourself using one of the names whenever you like with no issues? Opt for a last name that lists both your maiden name and your spouse’s last name. Consider it a cousin to the hyphenated last name for those not into punctuation. Just be sure to always list both names on legal documents, wedding license included.

·       Flip the Script

Sure, tradition says that a bride usually adopts the groom’s last name, but not every wedding has a groom! And for those that do, maybe the groom is the one who prefers to change his last name. While that might not be a common choice, it’s important to do what feels right for you as a couple. Just be sure that your state legally recognizes his name change on a marriage license. 

States like California, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Georgia, New York, North Dakota, and Massachusetts permit this, but others might not. So do your homework before you fill out your marriage license application, so there are no surprises later on.

 Not every wedding has a groom

Photo Credit: Brianna Amick, Pexels

·       When Two Become One

Not feeling any of these options and want to start this new chapter in your life by creating an entirely new name? California couples rejoice because you can now get super creative on your marriage license and blend your two names to form a new one. 

Think combining Smith and Gold to become Goldsmith. You get the point, but please steer clear of any celebrity portmanteaus. If you aren’t in the Golden State and want to do this, you likely still can, but it’ll be a more involved process involving a court petition to change your name. 

Whether you go unconventional or more traditional is a personal choice. Don’t let anyone dictate what your post-marriage name should be. Do some research and select the last name option you’ll love as you both grow old together. 

Before Your Wedding

You’ve weighed your options and decided how you want to change your name. Great! But this is only the beginning. Once you’ve set your date and venue, start researching the wedding license application process in the county where you are getting married. Find out how early you need to apply and when the license expires so you can time it right for your wedding. Some states might have a backlog, so you’ll need to apply months before the Big Day, while others only take a day or two.

Most of this can be completed online or at the appropriate county office. When asked about your new name, fill it out exactly as you would like it to appear after marriage. Expect to pay a small processing fee and provide documents like your driver’s license or state ID and proof of address. Some counties might ask for a birth certificate, witness, or even a blood test in rare cases. If previously married, you’ll need a divorce certificate. If widowed, you’ll need a copy of the death certificate.

Marriage license

Photo Credit: Cleyder Duque, Pexels

On Your Big Day

One of the biggest responsibilities your wedding officiant has on your Big Day is making sure your marriage license is appropriately filled out, signed, and submitted. Most counties require your officiant’s signature as well as a witness or two. Double-check the rules in your venue’s area and lean on your officiant or event planner for help completing this. Also, make sure you get a copy before it’s mailed.

Remember, this license only says you are legally eligible to be married, but it is different from the marriage certificate. Once your license is submitted, the certificate will usually be ready a few weeks after your wedding. That is the document to keep, which proves that you are married.

A Few Weeks to a Month After Your Wedding

After your officiant has turned in your completed marriage license, you’ll usually receive a certified copy of the marriage certificate in the mail. Or depending on where you live, they could notify you to pick up your certificate in person at the county clerk’s office.

Once that is in your hands, you are now officially married in the eyes of the law. We recommend purchasing two additional certified copies of your marriage certificate. This way, you can file one away and use the others for mailing in required name change documents.

Your Big Day

Photo Credit: Soroush Karimi, Unsplash

Once You Have Your Marriage Certificate

Now that you received your marriage certificate, you can move on to the most important steps of changing your last name. It all begins with your social security card. Your social security number doesn’t change, only your name.

Obtain the SS-5 application online and mail it to your local office, along with a certified copy of your marriage certificate and any required identification proof. Find your local office’s mailing address here. We’d also recommend calling first to determine the expected wait times and if in-person appointments are open again.

Just be sure you mail only originals or certified copies and no expired IDs. These documents will be returned to you with your new card, typically posted in a separate mailer. If tax time is nearing, check with your accountant before filing so your social security and married name will match your tax return.

After You Get Your New Social Security Card

Once the name on your social security card is updated and you have the new card in hand, you can move on to updating your driver’s license or state ID. Sadly, this step often requires waiting in lines at the DMV. Typically, you’ll fill out your application from your state’s DMV website, pay a small fee, and they’ll take a new photo on-site.

Just Married Vibes

Photo Credit: Khang Pham, Pexels

Be sure to bring your current license or ID, new social security card, a certified copy of your marriage certificate, proof of address like a utility bill, and any other documentation mentioned on your local DMV’s website. If you don’t already have a REAL ID, we’d recommend taking care of that the same day since it’ll be a mandate for air travel starting in May 2023. This usually requires a bit more proof, so look over the documentation requirements for your local DMV carefully.

It would also help to come prepared to update your car registration and title. Check first that the DMV location you are going to can handle both of these transactions since some locations are for licenses only. You’ll usually leave with your new registration in hand, but the title and license will arrive in the mail a few weeks later. Don’t forget to research the proof you need to bring with you for these steps too.

At Least 3 Months Before Traveling Abroad

Planning an international honeymoon and already purchased the tickets in your married name? Then you won’t want to miss this next step. If your current passport is only a year old or less, you can update your name for free by filling out form DS-5504. If it’s over a year old, you’ll need to pay a fee for a new passport and fill out DS-82. If your passport is expired for more than five years, use this form instead: DS-11.

Get a valid passport photo taken at a local post office or pharmacy, mail that in with your application form, certified marriage license, current passport, and other required documentation along with the applicable fee, which you can calculate here. There have been reported delays in passport processing, so if you have an upcoming trip, it might be worth paying extra for expedited service. One nice thing about this step, unlike so many others, is that you can track the status of your application online.

If you are part of an expedited travel program like TSA Precheck or Global Entry, these will need to be changed separately. Precheck allows online and phone inquiries, but you’ll have to set up an in-person appointment to change your Global Entry name.

Get your new passport

Photo Credit: Spencer Davis, Pexels

After Your New Passport Arrives

Once your passport is complete, you should give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. The heavy lifting is pretty much behind you! Now you can sort through your financial accounts and tie up loose ends on a more relaxed timeline. Each company has separate processes for name changes, so start on their website and call or email if you need more answers. Always note what documentation is required. Here are some of the areas to focus on:

  • Personal bank accounts
  • Employer payroll or school administration
  • USPS if your address changed
  • IRS
  • Utility company
  • Retirement accounts and beneficiaries
  • Brokerage account
  • Credit cards
  • Mortgage or Landlord
  • Auto Lender
  • Health, Auto, Home & Life Insurance Policies
  • Doctor offices
  • Voter registration
  • Attorney or accountant
  • Airline miles
  • Social media accounts
  • Email address if you want

Overwhelmed? These sites can help

Photo Credit: Valerie Elash, Unsplash

Feeling Overwhelmed? Don’t Go it Alone

If just reading this guide was enough to get your head spinning, then you might want to approach this a different way. Consider purchasing a name change package from a company like Hitchswitch, MissNowMrs, or NewlyNames. They can help organize the steps specific to your situation and locale and provide you with pre-filled forms.

Just be sure you know what you are getting for the cost. In many states, they cannot file the paperwork on your behalf, so you will still need to mail the forms or visit offices in-person to complete your name change. They can minimize the time you spend researching the required steps and documentation for your venue’s county. So, whether it’s worth it or not is entirely up to you. However you go about this process, we get that it’s a lot! When it’s all over, relax, plan a spa day, or reward yourself with a nice meal.

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1 comment

  • This information was very helpful!! Thank you so much!!!

    Samantha Jordan on

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