Do I Have to Change My Name After Marriage?

Woman Undecided About Changing Her Name

So you're facing the prospect of changing your name, but aren't sure if you have to go through with it. Maybe you're married, divorced, or either event is eminent and this name change question remains an unanswered, looming storm cloud.

Over the years, we've gotten this question many times. Across multiple articles. Of the thousands of queries posted throughout this blog, "do I have to change my name" (or a close variation) remains in the top five.

This is a genuine point of anxiety, doubt, and stress. Dread of penalties, fines, being reported, and worry that they (whoever "they" are) will invalidate your marriage for failing to change your name. The stuff of post-marriage nightmares.

Woman waking up from a name change nightmare

These worries are much ado about nothing. Next, you'll see why when we dispel these myths.

Bottom line, is name change required?

So, TL;DR: Are you required to change your name after marriage, divorce, or court order? No, you don't have to change your name. It's not mandatory. It's optional. Thinking otherwise is an unfounded concern or assumption.

Woman hand holding placard with no sign

If you're resolved to keep your name unchanged, you could always reconsider. Next month, next year, next decade. There's no time limit to change your name. Do nothing, then nothing changes.

Note: If you decide to pursue your name change after all, you can use our online name change application to guide you through the process.

Will I get penalized for not changing my name?

There's no civil or criminal penalty for not changing your name. But various DMVs may impose a fine for not changing the name on your driver's license within 30 days or thereabouts.

Whoa, did we just contradict the lead up to this article? No, this occurs when you change your name with the Social Security Administration (SSA), but not the DMV soon afterward.

Happy man relaxing on sofa

In reality, whatever DMV fine may exist is minor to dismissible. There's often zero teeth behind these rules and regulations.

They're meant to prod people to get off their butts and finish the name changes they've started. Not to force anyone to start a name change they don't want.

So, there's a penalty, but not really?

We phoned several DMVs to ask what happens if you don't change the name on your driver's license within X-days to match what's on your social security card as directed on their websites and referenced state legislature statutes.

Couple (man and woman) pondering a name change question

The most frequent response: nothing happens to you. There's no penalty. No clear enforcement mechanism to force you to update your name on file. Your license remains valid until it's time to renew.

But this is not a universal truth. There are name change deadlines in several states. With financial penalties. But their method of compulsion is often murky and flaky.

So why the veiled threat? Why the charade?

Consider this for motivation: If you update the name on your driver's license, there's a revision or reissue fee. Over two million people get married each year in the U.S.

That's a large pool of potential funding for cities and counties waiting to get collected year after year. Someone's gotta scoop up all that cheddar.

Woman sits atop big mountain gold coins green banknotes

Plus, it offers the useful purpose of making sure driver name and address records are up-to-date. Name changes do often coincide with address changes.

What if my marriage certificate lists my new name?

When you apply for a marriage license, they may ask you to choose a new name after marriage. Are you bound to that choice or can you renege?

Marriage license records search concept

In most states, the marriage license application doesn't ask the new name question, but if you're in one that does, it's decision time.

The new name slot on your marriage certificate gives you the choice to change your name—today, tomorrow, or 10 years later. But it's nonbinding.

But my marriage certificate will only show my new rejected name

Wrong. Your marriage license and certificate will show both your current and new name after marriage. So, if you decide not to change, there will be a reference to your pre-marriage name, a.k.a. old name, a.k.a. current name, a.k.a. legal name.

Nine times out of ten, it's your maiden name. (Birth surname for the fellas.)

I was told my new name takes effect upon marriage

The marriage license clerk or application might have expressed language to the effect that when you get married your new name choice becomes your new legal name.

Smirking marriage license office clerk with paper stack on desk

Maybe you were told that, but in the real world name change after marriage isn't automatic. It only becomes real once you update ID. We're talking social security card and driver's license.

Think of it this way. You may have a winning lottery ticket, but you ain't a millionaire until you claim and cash it. Do nothing, and it has zero value.

Will someone report my refusal to change my name?

Who's going to tattletale on you for refusing to change your name? And to who? The SSA? IRS? Or another shadowy state or federal entity?

Funny detective character looking through binoculars from bush spying

This is conspiracy theory, tin foil hat, going down the rabbit hole level of paranoia. Still, it's our duty to entertain it. For the sake of completion.

Will the SSA find out?

The Social Security Administration won't know of your name change, non-name change, marriage, or divorce unless you tell. No city, state, or federal authority will send an auto-alert.

Will the DMV figure it out?

City, county, and state offices that issue marriage licenses, certificates, and divorce decrees don't communicate name change related data or intentions to county or state DMVs.

Will the marriage license clerk snitch?

The city or county clerk will record your marriage license after you're married. There's no follow-up. They won't know or care if you've changed your name.

Will my divorce judge force my name change?

Once your divorce judge restores your maiden name or a prior name in your finalized divorce decree, the court won't get involved in your name change pontificating.

That will be your cross to bear.

Will I need new certificates issued?

You can't undo history. It's a waste of time. But if you must know…

How do I remove the new name from my marriage certificate?

If you've decided not to change your name, don't bother erasing the new name on your marriage certificate. Leave it alone. It's a historical document. A snapshot in time.

How do I remove the restored name from my divorce decree?

Assuming your divorce judge allowed removal of your restored name order, it's unnecessary. Your divorce is valid either way.

But I want it! I don't care; I want my new name banished!

Angry woman erupting over her new, unwanted name

Assuming you got your marriage certificate or divorce decree reissued (unlikely, as they're not mistakes or clerical errors), it'll arrive stapled to your old record.

Your indecision will live in infamy.

You are not alone

Here's a sample of actual comments posted on these pages, pondering the wonders of skipping that fussy name change stuff.

So if I want to change it legally, I can but I do not have to and if I do, I can do it at any point during the marriage?

Odette Manresa

Answer: Yes, you can legally change your name, now, later, or never.

Recently we have to file some immigration document. In the application form, it asks for my new surname after marriage. Can i not fill in the new surname? I supposed I have to declare since it is recorded in my marriage certificate.

Helena

Answer: Nope, your immigration document needn't match your new married name.

I haven't gone through the process of changing my name yet, and am now feeling that I'd rather just keep my maiden name. What are my options? Am I out of luck, or is there a way to fix this?

Christina Pauken

Answer: Nothing to fix. Take no action and your maiden name stays as your legal name.

If you get divorced and in the divorce decree, it says you will now be known as "xyz" (your maiden name); do you actually have to go through all the hassle of changing your name. Can you choose to just keep the name you have.

Sandy

Answer: Ignore your divorce decree's new name declaration. It's not the boss of you.

Now I worry that my current marriage is not valid, because I never followed with decree order.

Iryna

Answer: No worries. You can get remarried using your ex-husband's surname. It's your rightful name too.

Would I get on legal trouble if I don't change the last name on every document and I have been signing with my last name still.

Maria

Answer: You're committing no crime. The name change police aren't coming for you.

On our new marriage license I took his name, but am wondering if I should just continue with my old name on my legal documents like the bank and SS?

Regi

Answer: Name change doesn't affect social security benefits. Change it, don't change, it matters none.

Triumphant man planting victory flag

Alright, alright, alright. Ladies and gentlemen, we could do this until sunrise. Until forever. You get the point.

Have we slayed the name change Boogie Man?

And, yes, it's spelled Boogie Man, not Bogeyman? This article has sought to dispel myths and common fears surrounding not changing your name. Did we miss a beat? If so, share your questions in the comments section.

Happy Never Name Change Folks!

Do you plan to change your name?

Our online name change kit makes it easy.

Get Started

33 Comments

  1. Celine

    I do still plan to change my name but wanted to give a thumbs up to the Veruca Salt reference. Nice touch.

    Reply
    1. Valera

      wanted to give a thumbs up to the Veruca Salt reference

      Glad you enjoyed the reference. I guess it wasn't too over the top.

      Reply
  2. Heather

    I wrote my husband's last name in the heat of the moment as we were filing out the paperwork in front of the clerk…instant regret. I honestly don't know why I did it, I grew up always saying I would never change my name and my husband didn't expect me to.

    We got married last year and because of covid-19 I wasn't able to get to the social security office and change my name legally, and it got me wondering if I could just pretend like I never switched the name.

    Not gonna lie I was afraid of the name police XD. I'm feeling reassured now though and pretty confident, I'm just gonna not switch it and be a happy camper with my maiden name. Thank you for this article! Definitely helped me out

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Heather. You've made the right choice for yourself. Name change shouldn't be done under pressure.

      Reply
    2. Also Heather

      Wow, the same thing happened to me. I have been debating back and forth just because I really didn’t want to go through the process.

      But when we were signing the papers, the clerk pressured me telling me that I’d have to change it with the Magistrate court if I decide to do it later so I have to choose right now what I want my name to be. Then told me that “this will be your legal name.”

      The process felt daunting as I’m looking at the list and no longer want to go through with the process either.

      Thank you for writing the article!

      Reply
  3. Tamika Wright

    On my marriage license it checked some where that I was not going to change my name. When I went to the SS office they wouldn't change my name because of the the marriage license. They state I have to go to court.

    Reply
    1. Valera

      they wouldn't change my name because of the the marriage license. They state I have to go to court.

      What was their reason? They'd have to give an explanation, such as the name choice you specified was unsupported or insufficient identity documentation.

      Reply
  4. Tarley Temple

    I was married young, married for thirty years. I thought that when you married your name changes automatically to your spouses last name. I never changed my last name legally and have been using my spouses last name. Now that I know should I keep using my married name or start using my maiden name? Financially everything is in my married name. Legally what should I do?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Tarley. You can make it official. Get a certified copy of your marriage certificate and submit your name change with the SSA. I'm assuming your driver's license is in your married name, so that's fine as-is. If not, commit your name change there too.

      Reply
  5. Ashley

    I dropped my middle name and added my last name as my middle name and added my husband last name at the heat of the moment while filling out paperwork with the clerk. I didn’t really think nothing but regret it… still haven’t went to social security office to change my name legally.

    I’m wondering do I legally actually have to go through all the process of getting a new social, drivers license, passport? I now don’t want to change my name at but I’m a little confused on it because my marriage Certificate says my new name

    Reply
    1. Valera

      do I legally actually have to go through all the process of getting a new social, drivers license, passport?

      You do not.

      I’m a little confused on it because my marriage Certificate says my new name

      It merely gives you the option to change. It's nonbinding. You can ignore it if you have no intention of changing.

      Reply
  6. Brianna Smith

    I live in Florida and I plan to elope but I don't want to change my name until a few months after we get married.

    So if I am understanding correctly, I can put my husband's last name as my new name on the marriage license but nothing will be offical until I actually let the SSA know of the change.

    So that would mean that I can let go of the irrational fear of getting into trouble with the government for not changing my name?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      I can put my husband's last name as my new name on the marriage license

      No, you only put your current last name in Florida. Your issued marriage certificate is proof of a name change "event" allowing a change, which is optional.

      but nothing will be offical until I actually let the SSA know of the change.

      That part's correct.

      So that would mean that I can let go of the irrational fear of getting into trouble with the government for not changing my name?

      That's right.

      Reply
  7. Jasmine

    I actually have the opposite question. I originally did not want to change my name at the time of marriage but now I do 6 years later. I live in NC and my marriage license has only my maiden name. How do I now move forward to change my last name to match my husband? Is it a different process since I didn't use his last name on my marriage license?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      my marriage license has only my maiden name

      That's normal for NC.

      How do I now move forward to change my last name to match my husband?

      Same as before. Get a certified copy of your NC marriage license and update the name on your social security card, driver's license, passport, etc. You can review the name change on social security article for where to begin.

      Is it a different process since I didn't use his last name on my marriage license?

      No, the process is the same.

      Reply
  8. Jenny

    Hi I got married and my license has my name with my spouses last name. I never changed it with SSN, ID, nothing legal or even used it at all. Now I'm filing divorce papers and its asking me if I want to change my name back to maiden last name. Do I have to ask the court to change it back if I never legally enforced my spouses last name?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Do I have to ask the court to change it back if I never legally enforced my spouses last name?

      Nope. Since you've never changed your name on anything official, there's nothing to go back to.

      Reply
  9. Jess

    Hi! I live in CA and when we applied for our marriage license I put my first, middle and my husbands last name as my new last name. I really regret not putting my maiden name as my new middle.

    I know that I have to go through the courts now to change my name to have my old maiden name as my new middle name but will i get in any trouble since I changed my name to something other than what I said I would change it to on my marriage certificate?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      will i get in any trouble since I changed my name to something other than what I said I would

      No, you won't get in trouble. There's no penalty. The state doesn't get involved with name change decisions after marriage. And it doesn't track what people do.

      The new name on your marriage certificate gives you the option to change, but it's nonbinding. If you change your name through the courts, that document would then give you a second avenue to change your name.

      Neither document displaces the other. You could still use either one in the end.

      Reply
  10. Helen

    Hello,
    I’m getting married next month and we’re in TX. From the article I know that I can write down my husband’s last name as mine in our marriage cert. I’ll be going through some immigration docs afterward too and if I decide not to officially change my last name to his (not updating it on my ssn and DL etc), my immigration docs would still have my last name as my current last name, is it correct? Will it affect my green card in the future if I dont officially take his last name?
    Thank you

    Reply
    1. Valera

      From the article I know that I can write down my husband’s last name as mine in our marriage cert

      In Texas you don't write down your new married name on the marriage license, application, or certificate. Just your current name at the time. That's the case in most states. That wouldn't prevent you from changing your name though.

      if I decide not to officially change my last name to his (not updating it on my ssn and DL etc), my immigration docs would still have my last name as my current last name

      That's correct.

      Will it affect my green card in the future if I dont officially take his last name?

      There's no impact.

      Reply
  11. Sarah

    Hi! My name change request is being processed by SS. I know I need to at least wait a week or so for the records to update, but do I need to wait for the physical card to come in the mail before I can change my name at the DMV? I am in PA and changing my middle name to maiden and taking my husbands surname. I have the original marriage certificate to show. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Sarah. You don't have to wait until your new card arrives, as the DMV will perform an electronic query against Social Security's database to make sure your name matches.

      Reply
  12. Mari

    Hi, I am currently applying for naturalization process and I am unsure as to how to answer name questions. When I got married I had every intention to take my husbands last name, during that period my resident card needed to be renewed and I presented my marriage certificate to change my name to my married name.

    However, I never followed through with the name change with SSAand DMV. Meaning I have kept using my maiden name. Now that I am filing for naturalization the form asks for legal name? Used other name? Do you want to change name?

    I want to keep my maiden name, do I use my maiden name as legal name and my married name as other name used since that is what is on their record?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Mari. The form will have multiple name sections. Legal name is the name on your birth certificate. The next line will ask for the name on our permanent resident card. Later in the document it'll ask what you'll want to change to.

      Reply
  13. Tiffany

    I'm in Florida. I got married in May 2021. Due to pandemic are SSN offices are closed and wants things sent via mail. No lie procrastination when I found out the process. I got my new SSN card with my new name.

    Next I wanted to change my driver's license but realize it says everything has to be done WITHIN 30 days. I way past 30 days. Will I need to take a new picture, start all over to get a new driver's license just to change my last name to my husband's last name, will I have to pay an extra fee?

    I haven't changed my passport yet, I heard that's a different process since the pandemic as well. So I'm all out of order.

    I was going to notify my job next after I update my driver's license so I have no issues with taxes. Then do my banks, accounts, state licenses, etc. Is this a problem that I haven't changed my passport yet. Ughhh

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Next I wanted to change my driver's license but realize it says everything has to be done WITHIN 30 days.

      Within 30 days of receiving your new SS card, not 30 days of mailing out your paperwork.

      Will I need to take a new picture, start all over to get a new driver's license just to change my last name to my husband's last name

      I'm not clear about your sequence. Are you saying you tried to update your driver's license too early and had to back out?

      will I have to pay an extra fee?

      If you're referring to failure to update your name within 30 days, Florida's change of name or address statutes says they'll apply a $30 nonmoving traffic violation penalty fee.

      I haven't changed my passport yet, I heard that's a different process since the pandemic as well.

      The passport process is the same. It just takes longer than usual.

      I was going to notify my job next after I update my driver's license so I have no issues with taxes.

      It's your social security record that matters, not your driver's license. You can alert your employer now.

      Is this a problem that I haven't changed my passport yet. Ughhh

      No, you can keep it unchanged until it's time to renew. Just make sure you book your travel tickets to match the name on your passport.

      Reply
  14. Tracy K

    I'm in Iowa and just got married. Just like others, I put my husband's name down as my married name. I'm DREADING changing everything now and wish that I had just put down my name as my married name.

    So, in Iowa, if I don't change everything with SSA, drivers license, etc. I don't have to worry about it? LEGALLY, I can continue on as I have for my many years of life? Even if we file taxes together, I would still use my original name??

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Tracy. Yes, it's still legal to use your original name as it still remains your legal name.

      Reply
  15. Mari

    I have 10 year green card and getting divorce soon. For how long time I need to change my ex surname on green card? Is it mandatory to change it if I change all other documents like my passport?

    I mean It can stay like is it for 5 years when I will take naturalization application but meanwhile to travel with old surname on green card and new on passport (because on passport I will change it)?

    I read that I need I-90 but it takes a lot of time to get a new green card… So for how long I can travel with my green card on ex husband's surname if my passport is already on my maiden name. Thank you 🙌

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Is it mandatory to change it if I change all other documents like my passport?

      It's not mandatory.

      I mean It can stay like is it for 5 years when I will take naturalization application but meanwhile to travel with old surname on green card and new on passport

      Yes, but you should bring certified copies of documents showing your name transition, including your marriage certificate and divorce decree.

      So for how long I can travel with my green card on ex husband's surname if my passport is already on my maiden name.

      As long as you prefer, but make sure the name on your travel or airline tickets matches the name on your passport.

      Reply
  16. JAM

    Hi! I’m looking to get married soon and do not want to change my name until later. Honestly I’m still considering it. I plan to hyphenate on my marriage license but wait until I’m ready to legally change my name.

    We live and are getting married in TN. Is this okay? I want to make sure we can still present our marriage license (including my current and ‘new’ name) as proof of marriage if necessary.

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Jam. Yes, that will work. You can defer your name change until later.

      Reply

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