Steps to make it official
Words by Rebecca Mitchell, Photo by Jamye Chrisman

Should newly wed women change their surnames? It’s a question that can elicit some intense responses. Some women find the age-old tradition to be a romantic sign of familial commitment, while others find it promotes inequality in a marriage. Wherever you stand on the maiden- versus married-name pendulum, the practice is steeped in tradition, yet remains malleable enough to meet the needs of modern-day couples.

The name-changing tradition dates back to fifteenth-century England, where a woman was required to take her husband’s name. In the United States, the custom was followed without much deviation until the 1970s, when the laws that pressured a woman to adopt her husband’s name changed. Retaining one’s maiden name became a cornerstone of the feminist movement. Data analyzed by The New York Times showed a steady increase in “name keepers” from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, when it hit roughly 20 percent and held. After the initial surge, the pressure to adhere to convention proved too great, and the “keeper” numbers shrank in the 1990s. Today, roughly 33 percent of recently married women keep their surnames.

What distinguishes a “keeper” from a “name changer”? These days the reasons are more practical than political. With women marrying later in life, the decision comes after they’ve already established personal credit, accumulated assets, and started a career. Oftentimes, it boils down to the level of effort a change will take and/or whether the woman has “made a name for herself” prior to marriage.

If you’re leaning toward being a “changer,” you have options. Aside from the common choices—like using the husband’s surname, the wife’s surname, or combining both names with a hyphen—trends indicate growing popularity for using a maiden name as a wife’s middle name or creating an entirely new surname for the couple to use.

Just as the societal definition of family and marriage continues to evolve, so will the name-changing options available to couples. Embrace the tradition or blaze your own trail!

Knowing when and how to change your name can save you time and headaches. Begin the name-changing process after you are married. While you may want to get a jump-start on what can be a lengthy course of action, starting before you are officially married is a waste of time.

Tackle the most important entities first, and then work your way down the list.

Taylor Glenn

STEP ONE: Marriage License Copies

Once you are legally wed, obtain at least two certified copies of your marriage certificate, and make several noncertified copies, too.

STEP TWO: Social Security Card

To change your name on your Social Security card, you will need to complete Form SS-5 and submit it, along with proof of your U.S. citizenship, identity, and legal name change. You must submit original copies of documents like your birth certificate, passport, and/or driver’s license. Roughly ten days after the records at the Social Security Administration are changed, your Internal Revenue Service records will be updated.
To obtain Form SS-5 and get further details on acceptable proof documents, visit or call toll-free 800-772-1213.

STEP THREE: Driver’s License

Visit your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles office with a certified copy of your marriage certificate and your current driver’s license. You will likely have to pay a fee for your new license. And while you’re there, update your vehicle registration with your new name.

STEP FOUR: Passport

Having updated your Social Security card and driver’s license, now is a good time to update your passport. There are two different processes for updating your passport with a name change: one for name changes occurring within one year of passport issuance, and another for name changes occurring more than one year from the issuance date. Each situation requires a unique application form (either DS-5504 or DS-82), both of which can be obtained online at

The completed form, a certified copy of your marriage certificate, one recent color photograph (2-inch-by-2-inch), your current valid passport, and any required fees must be mailed to a processing facility, the address of which is found at the above-referenced website. The normal turnaround time is ten to twelve weeks, but if you need to receive your passport sooner, you can pay an additional $60 per application, plus delivery costs, to have it expedited. This reduces the turnaround time to two to three weeks.

STEP FIVE: Benefits Plans

If you are employed and have company benefits, such as health insurance or a retirement account, you’ll need to update those plans with your new name and any new dependents and/or
beneficiaries. These tasks can likely be completed by your company’s human resources or accounting personnel.

STEP SIX: Odds & Ends

The remainder of your list should include personal accounts like credit cards, banks, mortgages, investments, insurances, utilities, and personal memberships. Be sure to update your will and other legal documents, medical records, and voter registration. And, let the post office know your new name, so mail can be correctly sorted.

Jessica Calderwood
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