Photo: Megan Wynn Photography
The vows have been read, the cake has been cut, and the final song has been danced to. After the love and joy of your wedding has washed over you, one of the least-fun aspects of post-wedding bliss arrives: changing your name. (If you guessed “thank-you notes,” you’re so close!)
Changing your last name after marriage is steeped in tradition, but couples are breathing new life into this moment with creative last names, name-reveal parties, and who exactly will be changing their name. It is, of course, not a requirement—legally or otherwise—but if you are looking to share a surname with your spouse, here’s how to change your name after marriage successfully.
Who Changes Their Name
*adjusts spectacles* Back in the day, the woman would take her husband’s last name almost instantly after the wedding, and that was that. These days, depending on which survey you’re looking at, anywhere from about 70-80% of women are still choosing to take their husband’s name.
That’s a strong majority, but again, there are no rules dictating who has to change their last name and to what (there are rules, however, as to how you change your name—we’ll get to that soon). Some women are keeping their maiden names, while others hyphenate their last name with their spouse’s; some couples embark on this together and share the same hyphenated last name, while many are choosing a different last name entirely for both individuals to adopt. Some men are choosing to take their wives’ last name (a cool display of gender nonconformity, in our opinion!).
For same-sex couples getting married, the choice is both more open and less clear-cut—and there isn’t as strong of a trend in any direction. Some couples are thrilled to buck as many institutional traditions as possible, while others genuinely love the idea of sharing a name together.
Our direction is the same for no matter who is getting married: Do what feels right to you! Just make sure you’re both happy and comfortable with your choice, because as we alluded to earlier, changing your name after marriage isn’t the most swift of marital steps…
When to Change Your Name
There are two timing issues to consider when changing your name. The first is when you get your marriage license. While you can legally change your name at any time, you are asked on your marriage license whether either party will be changing their last name, and to what (if you’re picking a new last name entirely, some states require additional paperwork, so keep that in mind). So it’s a good idea to have made this decision prior to picking up your marriage license to avoid having this personal discussion in the middle of your local courthouse.
The second situation to consider is the honeymoon: for any air travel within the U.S., you’ll need a current driver’s license, and if you’re vacationing internationally, you’ll need an updated passport. This timing can get tricky if you want to travel with your shiny, new last name. Carefully review our “How to Change Your Last Name” section to ensure you give yourself enough time to get your license and update all the necessary documents before you board any flights. Remember: There’s no rule that says you have to have changed your name before the honeymoon. Many couples (understandably) feel they have enough on their plates planning the wedding and honeymoon, and elect to deal with the name-change process when they return.
How to Change Your Name
Unfortunately, there is no single-button solution to changing your name; it’s a bit of a hassle no matter how you slice it. However, there are companies out there that hold your hand through the process and make it as hassle-free as possible for your specific state, like the Hitchswitch Name Change Kit or MissNowMrs.com.
Whether you use a third-party service or not, here are the steps for how to legally change your name after you get married:
1. Get your marriage license (plus copies!).
As we discussed earlier, this is the first (but not the last) documentation you’ll receive with your newly minted last name. You will need this as proof to make virtually all your name changes on subsequent official documents, so it’s advisable to get at least three copies (be sure to keep one for your own records; prices for copies vary from state to state).
2. Update your social security card.
This somehow becomes the fine print for a lot of name-change discussions, but the official document you absolutely have to change first is your social security card—the DMV won’t move forward with changing your name until 24 to 48 hours have passed since changing your social security card. You can apply for a new card by mail or in person (find your nearest social security office here).
If you decide to go in person, you can shave some time off your visit by making an appointment and filling out the free application in advance. When you do arrive, be sure to bring:
- Proof of citizenship (e.g., valid passport or a certified copy of your birth certificate—no problem that these will have your old last name)
- Proof of name change (e.g., marriage license)
- Proof of identity in two forms (e.g., driver’s license, passport, state-issued ID card, U.S. Military ID, original social security card, etc.)
If you’re not a U.S. citizen yet, the social security website details how to go about getting a social security card.
3. Get a new driver’s license.
Yep, let it all out—scream, roll your eyes, post a furious status, whatever. A DMV line is in your future, and there’s just no getting around it. Again, you will need to wait at least 24 hours after your visit to the social security office to go to the DMV so the system has time to update (we recommend waiting 48 hours to be safe). That said, if you can make an DMV appointment, be sure to schedule it so that you have enough time to go to the social security office 48 hours before that appointment.
Most states consider changing your last name to be akin to renewing your driver’s license, which means you’ll have to take a new picture, pay the renewal fee, and fill out the renewal application (this last part can be done in advance to give you back a few precious DMV-free minutes).
When you show up at the DMV, you’ll want to have:
- Your receipt from the social security office or your new social security card if you received it already
- Your current driver’s license
- A copy of your marriage license
- Proof of address, if required by your state
- Money—check with your local DMV if they accept credit cards (some do not, some do, and some do with a processing fee); otherwise bring cash or a check.
4. Get a new passport.
Don’t get overwhelmed yet—your most annoying hurdles have almost all been cleared by now, and at least there’s no government office to stand in line in when revising your passport with your new last name. All passport changes must be handled by mail.
Making this change is technically considered a passport correction; therefore, if your most recent passport was issued within the year, you can renew your passport for free. If you’ve have your passport for more than a year, the fee is $110 (not including any fees to expedite the change if you’re in a honeymoon hurry).
Here’s what you’ll need to mail in to update your passport:
- The completed DS-82 form
- Your current passport (don’t worry about your stamps, you’ll get this back)
- A certified copy of your marriage license
- A check for the passport fee, if applicable, made out to “U.S. Department of State”
- A recent color photograph (check these passport photo requirements before sending)
5. Update your bank accounts.
The last of the five absolute musts when it comes to changing your name: Make sure your financial institution(s) updates your account information. Most banks require this to be done in person, but you can check with your institution of choice about changing your name via mail if you don’t have access to a local branch.
To change your name on your bank accounts, you’ll need:
- Your new social security card
- Your new driver’s license
- A certified copy of your marriage license
Be sure to request new sets of checks, credit/debit cards, etc. And then take a deep breath—you’re almost there!
6. Everything else…
Your name is kinda everywhere. Here’s a list of the places you’ll probably want to update with your new last name once you’ve handled the first five above:
- Mail: Alert USPS of your name change with a change of address form
- All things online—email, social media profiles, etc.
- Memberships and subscriptions, from gyms and airline reward programs to magazines and clubs
- Vehicle title
- Medical records
- Employment and/or school records/forms (e.g., your W-2, name badge, work/school email address, business cards, etc.)
- Voter registration
- Veterinarian offices
- Lease or mortgage and utilities companies
- Retirement and investment accounts
And then. You’re. Done. All that’s left after that is updating it in your brain, so you stop having to scratch out your outdated signature when your hand goes on autopilot. This can take anywhere from a few days to, well, any day now!