What’s in a name?

Though it’s typically been seen as traditional for the woman to adopt her husband’s name after tying the knot, we’re seeing fewer women change their names after marriage overall. According to a 2015 study conducted by the New York Times, roughly 20 percent of women choose to keep their maiden names after marriage. Then again, even though there is a rise of women who are keeping their maiden names getting married, they are still ultimately in the minority. The Knot reports that 80 percent of brides choose to change their names after the wedding, both professionally and legally. Even if that number does appear to be going down (in 2009, The Knot had 86 percent of women changing their names after marriage), most women still appear to be making the switch to their partner’s name. However, these days, newlyweds have options other than simply “hold onto their maiden name” or “adopt their spouse’s name,” like hyphenating or combining names, which four and five percent of brides opt for, respectively. There are also couples who come up with an entirely new last name together. The bottom line? It’s 2019, and there are options — nobody should feel forced to stick to a tradition simply for tradition’s sake. But if you do want to go the traditional route (no shame in that game; it’s a personal choice that has benefits and drawbacks, like any other big life decision), here’s how to do it and what to expect.

Here’s how you do it

You’d think it would be a relatively simple process to change your last name. You get your marriage certificate, you put your shiny new last name on there, and bam! You’re a new person. Right? Not right. There are a few documents you’ll need to gather, and an in-person visit or two to make. But you will need your marriage license, so make sure your updated last name is on it. And you’ll need the original certificate with the raised seal, so you’ll need to call the clerk’s office where your license was filed if you weren’t mailed copies already.

Got that? Good, that’s only the first step. The next will be getting a new Social Security card. This part is relatively easy — you just need to go online, fill out an application, mail it in, and then wait for the new card to come in the mail. If only planning a wedding was that easy.

The headaches come in when it comes to changing your license, as anyone who’s ever been to the DMV could probably guess. Amelia Halstead, who did change her last name to her husband’s after getting married in 2012, had a relatively easy time actually changing her name. “It was a visit to the social security office with my marriage certificate,” she recalls matter-of-factly. “No issues.” She adds, “I had a harder time changing my name on my driver’s license!”

That’s because, in order to change the name on a driver’s license in Louisiana, where Halstead was wed, it requires first a visit to the Social Security Office. Then, you have to visit the Office of Motor Vehicles (AKA the OMV, also known as the Department of Motor Vehicles or DMV in other states)  with a Louisiana driver’s license, vehicle registration, Social Security card, plus proof of identity (it’s not clear if a social security card and driver’s license counts as proof of identity), proof of residence, marriage decree, and a court order. And, of course, that doesn’t even factor in the inconveniences of visiting the OMV during daytime hours, plus waiting in line. (Even in the South, where Southern hospitality exists, the DMV is surely no cakewalk.)

But, changing the name on your driver’s license is still not the end of the road as far as fully changing your name goes. The last big step is changing the name on your bank accounts, which can get sticky if you have a joint account with your spouse. The easiest route? Head to a local branch with your new driver’s license and marriage certificate.

It’s hard to pinpoint precisely how long the process takes, given the multiple bureaucracies involved. For Megan Brown, she recalls the process taking “maybe 4-6 weeks.” This included waiting a few weeks for her marriage certificate to arrive in the mail, taking said marriage certificate to the social security office, and then waiting a couple weeks for her driver’s license to arrive in the mail.

Brown may have had it relatively easy, since, as she put it, she got married young, at 21. “I didn’t have too much to change,” she explains. “Mainly social security card, license, bank account, credit cards, car title.” She elaborates that the older you are and more documents you have to your name, the harder it may be to complete the name change process. “For instance,” she says, “I didn’t yet have my professional degree or retirement accounts, so I did not have to change those.”

Which brings up another, less formal aspect of adopting your spouse’s name: making the switch in your professional and personal life. You’ll need to change your Facebook and LinkedIn (if you choose to change your name professionally, as well), plus your email accounts, addresses, and signatures. There are many places people use their full names without realizing until it comes time to change it. Of course, it’s not necessary to change your email address in order to be able to send or receive emails, but it’s something most people would likely want to reflect their new legal name, eventually.

And for some people, life can actually be more difficult having not changed their last name after marriage. Charlotte Sloan did not want to change her last name to her husband’s after she got married, because, as she put it, “changing my name felt like a hassle, from changing passports, SSN, driver’s license, work contact, etc., and I very much enjoyed my last name.” Her husband supported her decision, and they were both generally happy with it, but Sloan admits, “I have found that there are [their] own confusions with not taking his last name.” She cites issues with her military health insurance as a main one, explaining that her provider “challenges my eligibility because we do not share a last name.”

Ultimately, Halstead, Brown, and Sloan each stressed that they carefully considered the pros and cons of changing (or not changing) their last names after getting married, and arrived at their decisions independently, with their spouses’ support. And despite a few extra bumps along the way, in the end, they are all pleased with their names.