Getting married is a big deal. It’s life-changing, and often name-changing as well. Typically in America these days, the bride changes her last name to the groom’s last name, and his name doesn’t change at all. If you’re curious as to why, click here. At that point, she gains a Maiden Name (her former last name), but until that point, she just has a name.
Once in awhile, and more frequently in past generations, the bride will decide on a different surname fate. There are 5 main choices for changing your name, and most people don’t truly consider 4 of them, but it is good to know that they’re out there, and legally acceptable whatever your choice may be. Also, we should inform ourselves of the options whether we choose them for ourselves or not, so that we can support the decisions of our friends and family members who do take the less-traveled road.
You can take your spouse’s last name (which most young women do), keep your name the way that it is (an option I’ve yet to see in our generation), keep your name professionally but take his personally and legally (which I feel a woman would do if she is particularly attached to her family and last name and/or if she has already made a name for herself in her professional career), change your middle name to your maiden name and change your last name to his, or you can hyphenate the 2 last names together (if you like both and they work well together, but maybe not if you’re these couples). I read about a couple who created a hybrid last name that combined parts of each last name and a friend told me about a couple she knew who changed both of their last names to their shared middle name (Ryan) and changed their middle names to their former last names. The possibilities are sort of endless.
Socially, you may get some different reactions and some confused attempts to address you, but it’s your choice what you do with your name, since you’re the one who will use it for many, many years to come. Do what’s right for you. You can…
1.Take His Name
This is most common these days, and involves simply switching out your maiden name for his last name. You become Mrs. ____ and you share the last name together. There’s a process for this name change, which you can find here.
2. Keep Your Name
This is also an option, and is especially popular among women who have established a reputation with their birth names, those who are getting married at an older age, those with a rare last name, those who fully relate to their given name’s self (and not so much with the married name), or those who are marrying into an odd or unflattering last name with your first name. You may be seen to some as going against tradition, but many women do this, and people will often understand as long as you clearly and graciously share your decision: Don’t make friends and family guess! I believe you can decide whether you’d like to be referred to as Mrs. or Ms., but you would no longer be referred to as Miss. Click here to find out how, why, and how to tell people you’ve decided to keep your last name. Part of this option is to take your husband’s last name as your middle name, but keep your first and last name the same. If equality is of utmost importance in your marriage, your husband may even consider taking your last name as his middle name as well. If this is your preference, discuss the plan with your significant other before the wedding, as well as any plans for children’s last names in the future, to prevent any disagreements on the matter in the future (and to prepare for all of the questions you’ll receive on the matter). Inform your parents, his parents, your officiant and DJ/band at the wedding so that they can announce you and greet you properly. You may even want them to announce that you’ll be keeping your birth names, so that they all know for future reference. Otherwise, they’ll likely assume that you’re Mr. & Mrs. ___ and continue to address you that way until/unless you request otherwise. A few more tips: When you send out Thank You’s, print labels and sign the card using both names. Guests will likely take this opportunity to update address books and contact information, and they’ll take the cue from you. Also, don’t take it personally if people assume you changed your last name. Be gracious and explain that you’ve kept your birth name. Keep a notarized copy of your marriage certificate and eventual children’s birth certificates on hand in case you need to verify that you are a spouse or a parent despite the different last names.
Check out this article from the Huffington Post about Why 8 Women Kept Their Given Names After Marriage.
3. Keep Your Name Professionally, but Change it Personally
I’m not exactly sure of all the legal logistics of this name change, but you could ask friends and family to refer to you socially and personally as Mrs. ____, but keep your given name for your professional life. I believe this would mean leaving everything the same legally (which is sort of nice) for tax an payroll purposes, but asking loved ones to understand when they hear you being referred to with your given name. You’re not being lazy and waiting a long time to change it- it’s intentional and works better for you. Women may have many of the same reasons to do this as keeping their given name entirely, but also want to be a little family unit with loved ones. You may want to consider a name change when children come along, but that’s up to you.
4. Move Your Surname to Your Middle Name’s Spot and Drop Your Middle Name
This is a unique idea that allows your last name to change, but your maiden name to stick around as well. It means losing your middle name, but some people aren’t crazy about their middle names anyway and feel as though they’d like to honor their birth family in this way. This would take some legal changing around, but it’s definitely doable, and probably wouldn’t take any longer than just changing your last name.
Advantages: This allows for the sentimentality of keeping your maiden name around, satisfies your relatives, is usually easier than hyphenation, makes proving that you’ve gotten married but are the same person a little bit easier (“See? There’s my maiden name right there!”), makes professional endeavors easier, as you can keep both parts of your name there and use both if you’d like. It helps you through the transition of marriage and name changing, and can be a comfort to you and your identity.
You could also keep your middle name and add your maiden name (as a 2nd middle name, technically) between your middle and last names, but this can prove difficult, especially on forms and documents that only have space for one middle name.
Warnings: Some states make this tricky, including California, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington State. In these states, you need to petition the court to change your name from your maiden to middle name. The process can be relatively easy or potentially stressful, taking a little more time than the already-time-consuming name changing process.
Tip: There’s an option to get an addendum added to your passport that says your given name as well as another name that you legally go by. If you get this done first and bring your Passport along to the DMV for your license, you should be able to proceed without petitioning the courts, at least in New York. In any case, this may be a useful step to take to ensure easier travel, proof of ID, etc.
5. Hyphenate the 2 Last Names Together for just you or for you and your partner.
A married woman with a hyphenated last name (Maiden Name – New Last Name) may decide whether she’d like to be referred to as Mrs. or Ms. Typically, I would guess Ms. if I saw hyphenation, but if I knew her preference is Mrs., I’d follow her lead, as it’s her choice. I would never want to assume, and would ask if I was unsure. That being said, you should make your choice for your own name and then kindly inform friends and family members of your decision as quickly as possible, especially during wedding planning, as they could give you a gift with Mrs. ___ on it and then feel regretful or even awkward for doing so.
The benefit of both names as a hyphenation is that you get double the fun- both families represented equally in your name. You are honoring the union with your significant other without losing your middle name or last name. It is slightly easier to hyphenate than it is to change your maiden name to a middle name, and while it has its moments of frustration, women who hyphenate often come to love their joint names. When a man and a woman hyphenate their names together, and then have children, the children should also have both names, so as to avoid any confusion for them or others regarding who the children belong to.
Prepare yourself and consider how many times you and your family will write this name over the years. Know that most airlines do not let you use hyphens in your name on a plain ticket, and pharmacy clerks may have a difficult time with the idea that the first letter of your last name is actually the first letter of the FIRST part of your last name. You may not be able to fit all of the letters into a form or an application, and may have to clarify your name many, many times. However, it’s more uniquely yours than any female out there with your first name and either of your last names alone. Whether you’re paying homage to your parents, grandparents, your new family, or your ‘new self’, your last name is part of who you are, and that makes it awesome.
Just for fun:
These GIF’s gave me a little headache, but here are 14 Signs You’ve Got Hyphenated Last Name Problems. Pretty funny and probably true, but you can still love your hyphenated last name in spite of it all.
In case you missed it way up top, you may not want to hyphenate your names if you are a part of any of these couples.
Whatever you choose is right for you, so know your options, make that choice, and let your loved ones know. Congratulations- accept my wishes for a happy marriage and a happy life!