Whether you’re changing your last name to match your spouses, you’re combining your last names, or even just inventing a new surname and both taking it up, you’ve got a long road ahead of you.

And that road is lined in paperwork.

Despite the fact that 83% of women change their last names after marriage 

Change of Last Names

– either to their spouse’s last name, a hyphenated name, or a newly created or hybridized name – the system still has no idea how to handle name changes. There’s no single “name change for marriage” person you can go to, fill out some paperwork for, and then leave knowing you’ve done the job.

It takes multiple government agencies and contacting pretty much all of your accounts (public and private) to make the change stick. At the moment, it’s generally easier for women to change their last names than men (in most States), an artifact of the traditional nature of the practice.

However, no matter where you are or who you are, it’s good to consult a guide to help you navigate these tricky waters.

Why Change Your Name at All?

certificate of marriage

That’s an excellent question, and one we want to cover briefly.

First off, that’s an entirely personal decision between you and your spouse – if you want to change your name, you have all the tools at your disposal. If you don’t, more power to you – it’ll certainly save you a mountain of paperwork.

However, in general, people change their names for the following reasons:


– the classic, of course. In most western cultures its traditional for the wife to take the husband’s surname. It’s considered fairly normal and most people won’t blink an eye. In fact, because of this tradition, in most states in the U.S. it’s actually easier for women to change their last names – instead of just filling out paperwork, men have to actually put an ad or announcement in the newspaper that they’re legally changing their name.

This is a throwback to when people were trying to change their names for nefarious purposes, and the law required that you essentially publish your new alias to prevent it from being a secret.


– Having different names isn’t that big of a difference for a married couple, but it starts to become more difficult when kids enter the equation. Do the kids take the dad’s name or the mom’s name? A hyphenated version? What if two hyphenated people have kids? Do they have four last names?

It’s also generally easier for things like schools

 – if you have to pick up your kid early or take them to a doctor’s visit, you’ll generally get hassled less if you share the same last name.

You Don’t Like Your Last Name

 – Some people just don’t like their surname. Maybe it’s boring, or overly complicated, or you don’t want to be associated with your family any more. Either way, marriage is a great opportunity to drop the old name like a bad habit.

Step One: The Marriage Certificate

writing on certificate of marriage

I suppose the real “step one” would be “get married,” but we’re going to assume you’ve got that part covered.

So, first thing’s first, you’re going to need anywhere from three to five certified copies of your marriage certificate. Now that’s certified copies, with the raised seal, that you’ve obtained from the Department of Public Health. The Xerox machine isn’t going to cut it.

Getting these usually entails filling out a form, sending it away, and paying a processing fee per copy. How much the charge is going to be will depend greatly on where you live, but it ranges from $10 to $30 per copy.

Also keep in mind that this can be a slow process – government record keepers aren’t known for their incredible alacrity. Give yourself 3 to 4 weeks of lead time, because it may take that long to get your certified copies back.

In fact, if it’s your plan to change your name, do it the day after you get married. Or the day you get married. In fact, have a messenger standing by that you can give an envelope to the second the church bells ring.

Step Two: The Social Security Card

This is the next bottle neck on your journey to a new surname – the social security card. The card that proves you exist.

You’ll want to start with the form that allows you to apply for a new Social Security card, called the SS-5. From there, you can either take it in person to your local Social Security branch or simply mail it in – consider, though, that mailing is going to take longer.

Keep in mind, too, that you’ll need your ID (or copies of your ID, if you’re mailing) and one of your certified Marriage Certificate copies from Step One. And don’t worry – you won’t lose the copies of either your ID or your marriage certificate. BUT, it’s a good idea to have multiple copies any way so you can send to different agencies all at once.

Step Three: Tell Your Boss

Or, more accurately, tell the HR department, or the accounting department, whoever sets up taxes for your employer.

It’s a simple step, but one that’s easy to forget and could end up causing a problem with your tax return down the line. So, inform them of the name change right away to prevent any trouble in the future.

Step Four: The Driver’s License

drivers license

The steps beyond this one require a photo ID, so it’s good to get this step taken care of next.

Now, how to change your name on your driver’s license, and what you’ll need to do it, will change greatly depending on where you live.

Many states have a handy checklist to help you through the process. For instance, if you live in California, the DMV website can guide you through step by step. In California, the name, SSN, and birthdate are all verified through the 

Social Security office, meaning you won’t necessarily need your new Social Security card. Though, you will need to have already made the change with their office.

From there, you have to fill out a Driver License Identification Card Application, have a certified copy of your marriage license, pay the application fee of $27, and then give up your old driver license.

The process becomes a little more complicated if you’re a commercial driver. You’ll have to fill out a 10-Year History Record Check Form and get a Medical Examiner’s Certificate from whoever did your last medical examination.

Some states require a physical visit – you have to make an appointment and go through the process manually. Make sure to check your state or country’s DMV or DMV-equivalent beforehand to save some time.

Step Five: For Men Only

As we mentioned earlier, if you’re who wants to know how to change your name after marriage, it’s slightly more complicated.

In many states in the US, it’s assumed that a woman is changing her last name for marriage and a man is changing his last name to escape debt / loan sharks / the police. It’s hardly fair for either party, but these traditional laws are still in place in many municipalities.

If you don’t live in Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Oregon, Iowa, Georgia, North Dakota, New York, or California, the law assumes you’re trying to change your name for nefarious purposes.

First, you have to fill out a form to change your name. Then, you have to fill out a letter of intent to change your name, which must be published as an advertisement in a newspaper – which is a cost you’ll have to pay. This is done so that it’s very easy to track who changes their name and where they are.

After that, you need to actually go before a judge and explain why you’re changing your name, and the judge has to approve the name change.

This whole process can take a month or more, so be prepared for a longer wait if you’re a man changing your name.

Step Six: The Passport


This one is especially important if you’re planning on an international honeymoon right after ma​rriage. In fact, it may be smarter to go on the honeymoon and then change your last name, because the passport process is not quick.

You’ll need to pay a fee of around $100 and fill out a form. From there, you’ll have to wait over a month to get your new Passport sent to you.

Changing Your Name After Marriage Is a Long Process

man writing

Changing your name for marriage isn’t going to get done in a weekend, unfortunately.

It’s also important to remember to inform all of your private institutions as well, like your bank, your job, your friends, your health insurance, etc.  Luckily, if you’ve done all of the previous steps and have certified marriage licenses, a new ID, a new social security card, and a new passport, getting your name changed with private companies will be a relative breeze.

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