Do you plan to hyphenate your last name after marriage? There's a vast array of name change factors that could impact your decision, beyond "does it sound good?"
This article will outline the pros and cons of hyphenating your last name, making the best choice for you and your spouse, and updating legal documents and ID cards.
The calm before the name change storm
Congratulations on deciding to get married! You're in for… okay, we can't lie. While marriage is great, the act of wedlock can overload your stress markers.
There's your wedding to plan and pull off, merging of two households (if you don't live together now), and ticking off post-marriage to-dos.
Of course, you must step back, take time to apply for your marriage license, and then determine whether it's even worth changing your last name after marriage.
Welcome to this brief hyphenated surname guide that will explain:
- What is hyphenation?
- Is it a good idea?
- Is it disrespectful?
- Will it impact your kids?
- How to legally hyphenate your name?
When the bourgeois reigned supreme
Choosing a new name after marriage can be difficult. Onetime, it was normal and expected for a wife to take her husband's last name; abandoning her original name altogether.
Polite society saw the act of keeping her maiden name taboo. Eyebrows raised straight off their faces. Shocked to discover the bride dared consider such a radical act.
But times and culture have evolved. Today, more women are deciding to keep their original names. (At least in one form or another.) And it's met with far less hostility.
Nostalgia, family, and keeping the peace
There are many reasons to keep your last name in play. (Your family legacy, for one.) Here's hoping you have a supportive spouse who understands why this idea appeals to you.
Still, the personal choice to retain your birth name may cause concern. Even if your spouse is okay with it, your in-laws might give you grief about your pick. (Your own family too.)
The naysayers—silent, gossipy, and vocal—may declare, "How dare you commit the selfish act of retaining your original identity after marriage?"
But is there a win-win pathway? Yes, of course…
Ready, set, compromise
There are a couple of decent ways to compromise on the whole "you wanting to keep your name and your spouse hating the idea" problem.
1. Start from scratch
Many couples decide to invent a new last name to share. This way neither of you gets "your" way. You could then tackle the legalities of the name change process together.
Do you prefer to fabricate a brand new family name without precedent? Then you may have to file a court petition for a court ordered name change.
2. Hyphenate: the happy medium
The most popular compromise is to hyphenate your last name and your spouse's last name. This allows you to keep using your own surname while adopting your spouse's surname.
What is a hyphenated name?
A hyphenated name is when you join two last names with a hyphen (-). It's also known as a double surname. For example, Ms. Hall marries Mr. Miller to become Mrs. Hall-Miller.
You shouldn't conflate hyphenating with a double-barrelled surname, which has no hyphen and is more associated with using a space to separate surnames.
Hyphenation isn't limited to two names. You can hyphenate pre-hyphenated names; creating double or triple hyphens. E.g., Clark-Lee-Lopez.
Is hyphenation even legal?
Name change through hyphenation is legal. It's valid as taking your partner's last name as-is. It's no more or less lawful than any other name change through marriage.
Federal and state agencies will accept your new hyphenated name after marriage. From the social security office and passport agencies to motor vehicles, you can expect approval.
Which last name goes first when hyphenating?
Either you or your spouse's surname can come first or last when you hyphenate last names. And you should always capitalize both names in a hyphenated last name.
There's no hyphenation law or rule. But whoever opts to hyphenate their name will more often than not place their last name first. Still, you don't have to follow this custom.
For example, if Adrian Brown marries Drew Davis, the hyphenated last name could be Brown-Davis or Davis-Brown. It's up to you whose name comes first or last.
If your partner is hyphenating too, they can sync their last name sequence to equal yours, or reverse it. It's unorthodox, yet okay to have different last names.
Tip: Sign and spell out your name—both ways—on paper to make sure it flows well.
Pros! Why is hyphenation a good thing?
Compromise is the biggest reason so many people choose to hyphenate their names. You keep your identity while you honor your commitment to your new spouse.
1. Guarding achievements
Hyphenating your name is a great way to stay connected with what you've accomplished in life before getting married. (There goes the win-win we alluded to earlier.)
For example, many people choose to hyphenate their names because they've earned higher educational degrees and certifications under their maiden names.
They want their identities associated with work they've published or publicized. Losing or obscuring years of recognition for a basic change of name is an avoidable sacrifice.
The same logic applies to men who take their wives' names and same-sex couples. Sustaining your individuality and title is an understandable and sensible pursuit.
2. Bonding with my children
Hyphenating your name can be a great way to stay connected with your kids whose:
- Names are not hyphenated.
- Have been given your spouse's last name.
But you can still hyphenate your children's names to match. Ensuring your moniker will carry onto the next generation instead of ending with you.
You can further enrich the bond with your children by assigning your last name to their middle names, while keeping your name hyphenated.
3. Bucking tradition
You can take your spouse's surname as-is, or you could hyphenate it. There's no compelling reason to avoid the hyphen route, other than convention.
While name change traditions may be hard to break, they're not:
- Rooted in good sense.
- Based on any legal rationale.
- Beyond what people have just done by default.
Keeping your name and joining it to your spouse's through hyphenation is as legal and simple as just taking their name alone or not changing your name at all.
4. Linking my personal and professional identity
You'll still be you, even with a name change. But a giant reason to consider hyphenation is to preserve your profile on paper. The persona you've spent your whole life building.
Hyphenation can help bridge the gap between your personal and professional life. Providing an off-ramp if you're wary of giving up your accomplishments and name.
Further, hyphenating makes it easier for friends, family, and colleagues to transition to your newfound name since they'll have something familiar to latch onto.
Whether you're a doctor, lawyer, nurse, or other professional, name recognition among your peers and community is important. A hyphenated last name helps sustain awareness.
Cons! Why might hyphenation be a bad thing?
"I wish someone had told me these problems could've happened after hyphenating," is a future thought worth avoiding by considering the following potential shortcomings.
1. Dumb, legacy software and computer systems
Hyphenated names are harder for computers to handle. Deficient software may not recognize the hyphen as an accepted special character when you input personal information.
Apps and databases may choke—by intentional or flawed design—on non-alphabetic characters. If flexible, their character sets will allow apostrophes, hyphens, and accents.
This means you'd have to drop the hyphen or replace it with a space. Such name inconsistency can cause trouble later.
Caution: Agencies may drop your hyphen without warning; even merging your last names into one whole word instead of using a space separator.
2. Lanky, tongue-twister combination
Hyphenated last names are longer. (No kidding!) They get unwieldy if you and your spouse's surnames are already long. It could be a handful to write and a mouthful to pronounce.
You might run out of space filling out online forms that set max lengths. And paper forms too. Chiefly form fields with those restrictive, compartmentalized boxes.
3. Complainers, misogynists, and zealots
If outside opinions matter to you, know that large swaths of today's society consider hyphenated names annoying.
These sourpusses find it "snobby." Other cranks get irritated because they can't remember which last name they're supposed to say first.
Traditionalists believe that not accepting your spouse's last name alone (especially husband and wife) is an enormous sign of contempt and a lack of commitment.
And complainers may take offense over the hassle of figuring out your name; most often when they ask for its spelling. As if your goal was to inconvenience them.
4. Angry, old-school spouse
Your spouse might consider hyphenation disrespectful. Orthodox or conservative views may believe it's "right" for a woman to take her husband's name; even if she feels otherwise.
Whether your spouse insists on your legally adopting their current last name throws a red flag or not, it's still something you should take into consideration.
5. Negative affect on children
Here's a common worry among parents:
- I'm hyphenated.
- My child is unhyphenated.
- Will my child become confused or frustrated?
Even kids with hyphenated names might become flummoxed or self-conscious when they're older and start making friends whose names aren't hyphenated.
Mom, why'd you do this to me?Vexed youngster or adolescent.
Is the above question something you'll want to answer or imagine your son or daughter struggling to reconcile in silence?
And what happens if your child grows up and marries someone with a hyphen in their name? Will they face the prospect of hyphens atop hyphens?
These are genuine worries. But kids are tough. Upon entering adulthood, they may grow to appreciate the bond to family you've given them through their hyphenated name.
How do you hyphenate a married name?
Deciding to hyphenate your name is one thing. Applying it to your new social security card, driver's license, and official paperwork is another. Learning "how to" is your next step…
- Apply for your marriage license.
- Get married.
- Get your marriage certificate.
- Notify the Social Security Administration, DMV, etc.
When applying to marry, the marriage license application may ask for your new name after marriage. Fill it in so it'll show up on your marriage certificate.
If the marriage form had no spot for a new name, your marriage certificate is okay for name change. If you're unsure, a missing married name on your certificate could jam you.
And don't forget to update your:
- Doctor's office
- Professional licenses
- Customers and clients
- Social media profiles
- Voter registration
- Bank accounts
- Credit cards
- Among other records
Preorder certified copies of your marriage certificate—the name change legal document—when applying for a marriage license, as it's often separate from the marriage fee.
If you're hyphenating and moving, submit a USPS change of address in both your pre-marriage name and hyphenated name to avoid lost mail.
Alternatives to hyphenation
Are you decided on name change, but not 100% on hyphenation? Here are a few alternative name change options to consider.
1. No name change
If you're not sure that hyphenation—or any other name shift—fits your profile, name change may not be right for you. You can keep your maiden name as your legal name.
There's no right or wrong answer, whatever you decide. It's better to wait and be correct, then rush and panic to undo your legal name change.
2. Take my spouse's name
You can go the traditional route and just replace your last name with your spouse's last name. Most women choose it as their default.
Taking your mate's surname alone remains the reigning name change champ. It's a good, sober choice, in no danger of being dethroned.
3. Maiden name to middle name
Replacing your middle name with your maiden name is a popular choice. It's a great substitute to hyphenating your name. The end results are very similar.
It keeps your last name active while evading many of the pitfalls of hyphenation. But you'd have to ditch your current middle name, which could be tough to surrender.
4. Continue using my maiden name socially
It's not the name you'd use for legal documents, tax filings, or job applications; those demand your true legal name. But amongst your family, pals, and coworkers, where's the harm?
In conclusion (or what it all boils down to!)
There are private and professional reasons to weigh when hyphenating your last name. The question is whether you're willing to compromise beyond your original last name.
Hyphenation is the epitome of a compromise. One spouse wants a complete name change. The other wants no change. Joining names allows both to "win" the argument (a bit).
Whether you keep your name or hyphenate your surnames, what matters is that you love each other and are going to be wed—hopefully for the rest of your lives.