Hyphenating Your Last Name After Marriage

766 Comments

Congratulations on deciding to get married! You are in for… okay, we can't lie. While being married is great and wonderful, the act of getting married can be quite stressful. There is the planning of the ceremony itself, the merging of two households (if you don't already live together) and all of the details involved with that. You also have to take the time to apply for your marriage license and then decide whether or not you are going to keep your name or change it.

If you've made up your mind and would like to hyphenate your name online, you can use our name change application to complete the necessary forms.

This is where a lot of people have trouble. Once upon a time, it was just customary for a Bride to take her Groom's last name as her own and abandon her maiden name completely. The act of keeping her own name was considered taboo and people's eyebrows would raise right off their faces when they found out that the Bride was even considering something so radical. Over time, though, more and more women are deciding to keep their names.

There are a lot of reasons to want to keep your own name. Hopefully you have a supportive Groom who understands why this idea is the most appealing to you. A lot of times, though, the act of keeping your name is still something that causes concern… even if your Groom is fine with it, his family (or your own) might not be so understanding.

There are a couple of ways to compromise on the whole "you wanting to keep your name and your Groom hating the idea" problem. You could choose an entirely new last name for the two of you to share. This way neither of you gets "your" way and you both have to deal with the legalities of going through a name change. Most of the time, though, the most popular compromise is to hyphenate your last name and the last name of your Groom.

For example, if your Groom's name is John Smith and your name is Kate Jones, you would name yourself Kate Jones-Smith or Kate Smith-Jones.

This allows you to keep going by your own last name while legally adopting your husband's surname at the same time.

Why Is Hyphenation a Good Thing?

The compromise is the biggest reason that so many women choose to hyphenate their last names. It is a way of you keeping your own identity while also keeping your future husband happy

It allows you to stay connected to accomplishments that you achieved before you got married. For example, many women who choose to hyphenate do so partially because they have earned higher educational degrees and certifications under their maiden names. They might have also had things published or publicized and want to stay connected to that identity.

It helps you stay obviously connected to your children whose names might not be hyphenated and who have been given your husband's surname.

It can help you bridge the gap between your personal and professional life. Many women who opt to simply keep their own names do so because they don't want to give up all that they have accomplished professionally. Unfortunately this makes it hard for them to claim ownership of these accomplishments personally because they happened under their "other" name.

Nobody wants to think about the negative stuff but, with the divorce statistics being what they are, you might want a contingency plan. Changing your name to his last name and then back to your own if things go south will be a major hassle.

While tradition is one thing, there isn't any logical reason—at least one that isn't rooted in "because that's how it has always been done" to completely change your name. Keeping your name and joining it to your husband's through hyphenation is as legal as simply adopting his name or as simply keeping your own and leaving his out of the picture entirely.

Probably the most important reason to consider hyphenation is your identity. You've spent your whole life building your identity under a certain name. Obviously you will still be you even if you've taken on your husband's last name and omitted yours entirely. At the same time, your name is associated with the identity you've built up and hyphenation allows you to respect that while also respecting tradition and your husband's family's identity at the same time.

Why Might Hyphenation Be a Bad Thing?

Hyphenated names are more difficult for computers to handle. When you type in your personal information, the hyphen often isn't recognized by the computer's code. This means that you have to eliminate the hyphen and that can cause problems later on.

If you care about outside opinions on your name, you should know that a large portion of today's society is annoyed by the hyphenated name. Some people find it "snobby" and others simply find it irritating because they have a hard time remembering which last name they are supposed to say first. Some people even believe that not simply adopting your husband's last name is a huge sign of disrespect and a lack of commitment.

It is possible that your future husband will find this choice offensive. Some men, regardless of how you might feel about such things, are traditionalists and feel that it is simply "right" for the woman to take the man's last name as her own. Whether or not your future husband insisting on your adopting his last name is a red flag to you or not, it is still something that you should take under consideration.

Some people worry that having a hyphenated name—if you do not plan on passing the hyphenation down to your children and are planning on giving them only your husband's surname—can be confusing for a child. Even when the child is given a hyphenated last name, they might be confused when they get older when they start making friends whose names aren't hyphenated.

Interesting Statistics and Hyphenation Stories

Instances of today's generation of women hyphenating their names has gotten significantly smaller since the baby-boomers' generation started making the practice more popular.

The Knot website says that less than 10% of women today hyphenate their names. Some simply choose to have two last names or two middle names when they want to keep their own last names after they get married.

Same-sex couples sometimes have a difficult time trying to hyphenate or change their surnames after they are married. Even when they are married legally, there are some states in which the judges who hear these petitions will deny the peoples' request to have the same last name. In some cases, applicants sometimes fib about the reason they are seeking the name change.

What It All Boils Down To

There are all sorts of reasons to hyphenate your name and not to hyphenate your name. The basis for each of these things, however, is whether or not you are willing to make a compromise when it comes to changing your name (or whether you are willing to compromise on your future spouse adopting your name as their own). The hyphenation is the epitome of a compromise. One spouse wants a complete name change. The other spouse wants no name change. Hyphenating the two names is a way for each person to, at least a little bit, "win" the argument.

Of course this isn't the actual end of the argument. Why would you ever think that anything having to do with getting married would be that easy? Once the decision to hyphenate one person's name is made, you have to decide whether both of you are going to hyphenate your surname.

After all, why should the bride be the only one to go through the name change process? Equal partners and opportunities and all that, right?

Many men, when they acquiesce to a bride's compromise on hyphenating her surname are happy to do the hyphenation as well. There are always going to be a few exceptions to the rule but we're willing to bet that most men will say "okay, if you will, I will too." From here, then, you need to decide which name is going to come first in the hyphenation.

The decisions and compromises just don't ever end, do they?

And don't forget the legal stuff! Making the decision is just part of the process. From there you are going to have to legally change your name all over the place. You'll need to change your name at the bank, with social security, with your credit cards, on your driver's license, at the gym… everywhere. It's easy to get overwhelmed just thinking about it.

The good news here, however, is that there are tools you can use to help you make the process a little bit less scary and intricate.

What matters of course, is that the two of you are going to be happily married—hopefully for the rest of your lives. At the end of the day, whether you each keep your names, whether you come up with an entirely new name for the two of you to share or whether you hyphenate your current surnames, what matters is that you love each other and are going to be joining your lives together. Try to remember that as you are staring at the application for your marriage license and filling out the portion that reads "name after you get married" (or whatever the legalese for that might be).

That's what matters most of all, right?

766 Comments

  1. Toni Gegar

    Question? Do I "HAVE" to change my whole name on my drivers license, ect if I keep my last name and add his? I want to keep my "identity" ! Also, what are the "time" limits after getting married to add his last name to mine? for WV residence.

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Toni. Yes, if you keep your last name and add his you will have to update your drivers license to reflect the change. There isn't a time limit to change your name.

      Reply
  2. Edwards

    So what I'm getting from this article is that, I could hyphenate or just have two last names, is this correct? I would like an opinion after I tell you WHY I'm considering this…I'm 37, first marriage. I've had my name all my life. No problem changing, however, I have a sixteen yr old daughter who also has my name and probably will for a while. SO, those are my reasons. Does it still look disrespectful? I mainly don't want to leave her ESPECIALLY since she has no siblings. (sounds sad doesn't it?)

    Anyhow, the wedding is less than three months away, so any advice is appreciated. Also, do I use MY last name first or HIS? And which way do most people do it?
    My name is Edwards, His is Orme
    Thank You

    Reply
    1. Valera

      So what I'm getting from this article is that, I could hyphenate or just have two last names, is this correct?

      The hyphenation is the two last names—that's what it's referring to. You could alternatively opt for two middle names. For instance, you could go from Jane Emma Doe to Jane Emma Doe Mitchell where "Emma Doe" is your new middle name.

      I have a sixteen yr old daughter who also has my name … Does it still look disrespectful?

      I think this is something you should discuss with your daughter. That's the only way you'll know for sure how she feels about the matter.

      I mainly don't want to leave her … (sounds sad doesn't it?)

      I don't think your concerns are sad at all. On the contrary, it's very thoughtful that you're factoring this into your decision making.

      Also, do I use MY last name first or HIS? And which way do most people do it?

      For hyphenations, most people do maiden name first.

      Reply
    2. Erica

      I don't think you should care if it's disrespectful or not. People who matter to you don't mind those who mind don't matter. :) Think of you and your daughter before considering others' opinion.

      Reply
    3. Anne

      I think that you are probably a wonderful mom. When my mom left my dad she changed back to her maiden name without so much as a hair toss my way. Why was this such a big deal? I'm an only child and the last to carry my fathers name (he has 6 sisters and again, no brothers). My dad was terminally ill and it was no secret that I would be the last one to proudly be called my surname. The kicker though, it's a tough name to grow up with. Hint: it's a properly spelled part of the human body…plural. Either you work and own it, or it'll own you. Well I grew to love it (however I would never make my kids suffer the same fate). I'm getting married in April 2014 & my hubby 2 be wants me to take his last name only. So I'm changing my plain middle name of Anne by either the dash or I may just slap my last name to it. It's who I am, and it can't imagine not being her. I would never put our future kids through it though. They might not be as feisty as their ol' ma. Also 18 + years is a long time to wait b4 they finally stop being mad and get it, & embrace it. See I was chubby, omgoodness, what if our daughter was a knock out…one builds character the other (if you've got a "hot" one) adds to ur cockiness and draws attention to it even more than other girls….wow that just hit me.

      Reply
      1. Anne

        See one builds character and strength, while the other can lead to cockiness and unwanted attention from boys. Nothing like having the advantage of basically a huge neon sign, always reminding young hormonal boys of a particular place to look at. No, I think I'll keep our family's namesake safe with me…at least until our (yet to be conceived) son picks up the torch for when he marries. Awe WTHECK it's Butts, and I love it! I'm sorry I'm so off topic…here's the important part…TALK TO UR PRECIOUS DAUGHTER ABOUT IT! Pls! It's who you've always been to her, who she is, and who you both together are, as mom and child. Especially if it's a life shaper, shaker upper like "Butts". I felt so alone when I found out my mom was not even connected to me at all anymore. Like she not only wanted to leave my dad…but me too.

        Reply
      2. Anne

        She's definitely old enough to know what she feels best with. Just make sure it's an accepting open vibe rolling along, and I'd just have it be the two of you. She'll be able to speak freely w/out worrying about hurting anyone else's feelings, also avoid she's only doing what she thinks she's supposed to be doing. Maybe you two can share a middle name that you come up with? Idk how corny that is, no kids yet. Lol! Pls, pls INCLUDE her! See I might not of been strong enough for what my mom did if it weren't for the overweight, gotta like me for my personality, and ignore a funny last name. This world is tough, & us girls have to be too sometimes.

        Reply
      3. Anne

        Like I said though it's who I am now, and I wouldn't trade it for anything else in the world! Well except move it up a bit to take my amazing fiancĂ©'s last name, and have our "kids to be" not have to worry about every role call in school…or phone calls asking if Seymour, Seymour Butts is home. Boy if I only knew how things would change. I'm 115 lbs, guys say I'm very attractive (I don't see it) and I ware that name on jerseys, my friends call me Butts or Buttsie, and I feel connected to my dad who did graduate to Heaven. I have a feeling it's going to see a few more generations, and I can't think of better ppl to be honored and remembered. It'll be hard not to make my dad a super hero to our kids. The secret's out anyways once they meet his 6 sisters…best aunts ever! Great luck!
        Ur's truly,
        Miss Butts

        Reply
  3. GiGurl

    Do you have to do a legal name change if you want to combine both last names?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Whether you're combining last names or just changing your maiden name to a new last name, you'll have to go through the formal name change process. Once you complete the process your name will be legally changed.

      Reply
    2. sandra douglas-russell

      Correct. Don't forget to change your SS information as well as your Driver's License!

      Reply
  4. Colleen

    I was married for almost 20 years and have been divorced for about 5. I have had his last name for almost all of my professional career, so changing completely will disrupt my professional network. If I hyphenate, can I legally use either name (the new version for work, and my maiden name for everything else)?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      It appears you're referring to three name options: divorced husband's last name, maiden name, and hyphenated name. I'm not sure what your hyphenated pairing is, but I don't think we need to get too far into the weeds to answer your question.

      The key thing to remember is that you should sign your legal name to legal documents. Beyond that, you can informally use your previous/maiden/etc name in other contexts.

      Reply
    2. sandra douglas-russell

      You can choose any last name you want. Just remember when you sign any legal documents, you must use them all. ie.. buying a home

      Reply
  5. Kim

    My husband – we have been married for 3 years – was initially okay with me not changing my name because I am published and had just been selected for a prestigious award months before our marriage.

    Since that time I have had a lot of professional changes and because taking his last name is so important – I am seriously considering it as an anniversary present sort of. What I am considering is two middle names – I am a little uncertain on how that will impact day-to-day personal things. Can I still use my maiden name when authoring professional papers? Can I still use my old email address that everyone knows? What are the guidelines for using my maiden name as an AKA?

    If it were left to me I wouldn't change my name – first marriage and I am 46 so I have spent a long-time with this name and in adding his name – my maiden name is 10 letters and his name 9 so, it will be too long for most forms but, it is something that is very important to my husband – much more so than he ever let on when we were engaged and first married so, I am willing to go through the process if it takes some stress off. He is overseas an awful lot – 80% year for the next 3-4 years and I think will give him some peace of mind while he is overseas. Any suggestions or advice is welcomed.

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Kim. Yes, you can continue using your maiden name in professional contexts. Many people do this. Although you do have to use your "legal name" on legal/licensing documents.

      You can take a look at the maiden name article on this site that goes into extended detail about continuing to use your maiden name after a name change. It covers a lot of the ins and outs of what you're considering.

      Reply
  6. Nancy

    Hi I have been married for over a year and I took my husbands last name but I really miss my maiden name. Can I still hyphenate it even though I already took his last name?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Yes, of course. There's no limit to how often you can change your name. As long as you're not changing your name for fraudulent reasons, you're good to go.

      Reply
  7. Jodi

    When I got married 22 yrs ago, I took my husbands name. My fathers passed away, & I now want to add my maiden name with married name (hyphenated).
    What is the easiest &cheapest way to do this, as I am disabled.
    Thank you for your help

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Jodi. Condolences on the passing of your father. As you've already gone through a marriage-related name change and would like to change it again, you're basically looking at a general, adult legal name change. This is a non-marriage name change that a person can go through who wants to change their name for their own personal reasons. For that, you're likely looking at having to petition the court for a name change. You'll have to contact your local courthouse for a rundown of their fees, as it varies.

      Reply
  8. Heather

    If I hyp my maiden name and my husbands name, he has to do it too?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      No. Both of you do not have to hyphenate together. It's a decision you must make separately.

      Reply
  9. Camelia

    Hi, I recently got married and have two young kids. Can I hyphenate my last name with my husbands AND do the same for my children, so we all have the same name? My ex is not consenting to just change the kids' last name to their new dads even tho he (ex) is not at all involved/ only sees the kids once a year for a weekend…

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Camelia, in all likelihood you'll need to acquire written, notarized consent from your kids' biological father to change their names.

      Reply
  10. Ryan

    Ok this is coming from a Guy's perspective and a Single mans perspective, so go easy on me.

    To me the whole hyphenating a last name seems to me as if the girl is expecting things to go wrong and they will eventually get divorced and by hyphenating the name it's easier to get changed later on. To me it shows no commitment at all and that you just want an easy out.

    On the flip side, a guy wanting a girl to take his last name makes it seem as if she is his property or something, which back in the traditional days, a bride was deemed his property. So why even bother hyphenating at all? Why not just keep your last name instead of taking his or even hyphenating at all? If you are willing to break tradition by hyphenating, then don't bother, just keep your last name. If a guy or his family has a problem with you not taking his last name, then perhaps him or his family is not the one for you. I would have no problem with the girl of my dreams keeping her last name if that was what she wanted. Why complicate things? But then again, I am a single guy….go figure. Maybe I should do some chest thumping and just drag a girl back to my cave…..LOL!!

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Thanks for chiming in Ryan. That's an interesting perspective. And one, I suspect, is mulled over across the spectrum—men and women. Changing a name is a pretty personal decision. You can hyphenate. You can choose to do nothing and leave it as is. There was an article posted a few days ago that discussed a sort of middle ground of changing the maiden to middle name. That option is gaining prevalence among folks who don't like the idea of hyphenation, while wanting to acknowledge one's spouse, while not casting off one's family identity.

      Whatever someone chooses, they should be happy with it. Do it because you want to do it and not because you feel obligated to. And if there's uncertainty, perhaps the best decision to make is to not make a decision. Think it over, as long as necessary.

      Reply
      1. Penny A. W-H

        I'm a family researcher (Genealogy). I hyphenate the females name only to insure other researchers getting HER maiden name. Due to the fact a female's maiden name was never noted after marriage. She was always Mrs… causing the loss of her heritage. No maiden names in early Court records, land records, some death records, obituaries, news articles and such. There are thousands of women in family research still remain lost in these records. Therefore making finding her a very lengthy difficult task. I have often thought I might be making a mistake to hyphenate the names in this manner within my research but then again I have a totally different reason for doing it. I would like input from other researchers keeping this theme in mind.

        Reply
    2. Thea

      Hi Ryan, thanks for sharing your view. Personally for me it becomes an issue now that I'm pregnant. I originally don't want to change my last name, but I definitely want to have the same last name as my kids. with all the work of carrying them around for nine months and birthing them and then being their main source of food etc would kind of make me feel ripped off without any sort of name-link. But then I'm pretty sure my husband would want them to have his last name too.

      Reply
      1. Rocio

        Hi Thea,

        I'm getting married soon, I already have 2 last names, my father's first then my mom's. Since I am not close to my father I have decided to drop his last name and add my husband's last name instead followed by my mom's. My husband and I have decided that our children will have that same last name. It is very important to me that my kids also have my last name from my family's side too. Like you I strongly feel like children should have their mother's last name as well, especially after all that work we do to have them! lol Being from Central America, you get your father's and mother's last name which I've always believed was the right way to do it. They are both of your children, not just the father's.

        Reply
    3. Anne

      Well that all depends on why she's hanging on…an only child whose dad passed on to glory, and no uncles to carry on the name (to me) is sentimental & trying to keep her dad part of the families heritage. However it did feel good, no great when my fiancĂ© said that he really wants me to just take his last name. Like he's proud and anxious to share with me an intimate piece of himself, for the world to see. He has no problem with me adding my maiden name to my middle name, so everybody's happy! :-)

      Reply
    4. Cheri

      Ryan, I smiled when reading your post. I am fifteen years into my hyphenated last name, and I want to drop my previous name and only keep my husbands. I advise everyone that will listen to not hyphenate, based on my sole experience. From the moment we filed the marriage certificate and drove away from the courthouse, I felt doomed. For fifteen years now I have had an identity crisis and one I am finally doing something about. I didn't know which name I even was. I use my husbands last name on everything I possibly can. However everything that requires legal name, I have to use the hyphen. I hate it. My situation maybe different than some, I was married once prior and had children in my first marriage. Those children were minors (under age nine) when I remarried, and I kept my first husbands last name for the children's sake, and added it to my new husbands last name. I have been dragging around a hundred pound weight for the last fifteen years. I wasn't looking at it from the point of view that I was keeping a part of my past relationship, heck we had kids together and I didn't want any part of him. I just didn't realize how substantial it would be later. I want nothing to do with my ex-husband and I certainly do not want his name. I just wish I had seen fifteen years ago, what I do now.

      Reply
  11. Anita Bakke

    I at age 71 recently remarried, and have taken my husband's name. I own a lake cabin, and need to redo the sign on the road. My new name is Bakke, my old name was Thomas. I would like to use both names on the road sign, since my kids love the place and come there. Should I hyphenate (Bakke – Thomas) or use the slanted slash (Bakke/Thomas). I don't know if there is significance either way. Thanks for your help.

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Anita. Well, it would depend on what type of sign it is. If this is an official city street sign, then you'll have to get info from your local public works office about what is or isn't allowed, in terms of formatting.

      But, if you're just looking to put up a sign in an informal sense, so you can pretty much do what you want. Since you've already decided that you do want to use both names, you have to choose a format. Or, specifically, what symbol to put in between the names. I don't see any significance either way, be it hyphen, slash, star, or plus. Do whatever makes you happy. If you're really having trouble deciding, you could always have your kids serve as tiebreaker or have a family vote.

      Whatever you decide, please come back and share what the final verdict came out to be. Good luck.

      Reply
  12. Rachel

    I recently got married and am going through the name change process. I know for sure that I would like to keep my maiden name in some form, but will also be taking my husband's name. I am going back and forth between using my maiden name as a second middle name, or just having two last names (without the hyphen in between since my maiden name is fairly long). I would probably just go by his last name in everyday use for simplicity (I am a teacher so long names can be tricky on the kiddos). Either way I guess I would be Rachel MiddleName MaidenName Husband's. Any thoughts? Thank you for your help!!

    Reply
    1. Valera

      So your criteria is you want to take your husband's name, while keeping your maiden name in some form, but without hyphenating? I think you answered your own question by narrowing down your options so thoroughly.

      The one thing I'd caution about doubling the names like you're considering is that it can be confusing for some folks to understand which name belongs to which slot. Also, how will it look on paper? Think filling out forms. I'm not suggesting it's a better or worse option. It just comes with its own quirks.

      Another approach is to swap out the middle name with the maiden name, and just go with Rachel [Maiden Name] [Husband's Name].

      Reply
      1. Rachel

        Thanks Valera! The thing is my middle name was my Grandma's name, so I would really like to keep it. I think the reason I am hesitant to have the hyphen in there is because it is confusing for my students who are pretty young. I was thinking if I have my maiden name as a second middle name though, it wouldn't be as prominent as a second last name (for example, it wouldn't be on ID's at all, etc.).

        Reply
        1. Valera

          You could go with that as well. I think you're whittling down your options quite nicely.

          A little further below, Sandra mentioned a similar thing about her young students having potential difficulty pronouncing her hyphenated name. If she hyphenated her name she wondered if they could continue to call her by a single last name, for the sake of simplicity. That does make sense, assuming the school doesn't have an issue with it. Perhaps it could apply to your situation as well.

          Reply
    2. MJ

      Hi Rachel…I realize you got married awhile ago so this may be a moot point, but I too am a teacher and have a hyphenated name. The students don't/won't get confused by it. Kids are pretty flexible and understanding of whatever you explain. I go by my maiden name because that is what my teacher name was before I was teaching and it is a cute teacher name, "example…Mrs. Doll."

      My emails and formal letters have both names but other than that I sign, "Mrs. Doll"-not actual name.

      I would not base your decision on what your students may think. Go with what works for you, your husband and your career. By the way, I chose to name my baby after my husband (last name wise) as I want him to be able to carry on his last name and this is only baby. I have three kids from my first marriage and they have the last name of their dad (and that is not my maiden name) so we have 3 different family names in our blended family so we just end up signing our first names on our Christmas Cards.

      Best wishes in your new marriage!
      MJ

      Reply
  13. Mary

    I got married last year and hyphenated my last name. It's been tough because like you mentioned, people at work don't know what to call me. When I first filled out the forms, I wanted my maiden name to become part of my middle name but the lady wouldn't allow it. Now, I want to drop my middle name and use my maiden name as my middle name and my husbands last name for mine. How do I begin this process in California? Do I have to go through the courts? Can I just go through social security? When I do get it changed, will I have to fill out a new marriage certificate? Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Valera

      How do I begin this process in California? Do I have to go through the courts? Can I just go through social security?

      Pretty much. As you already underwent a name change following your marriage, changing it a second time for non-marriage related reasons likely requires a court petition process.

      When I do get it changed, will I have to fill out a new marriage certificate? Thanks.

      At this point in time, your marriage certificate is immaterial. It's just a historical record of your marriage event.

      Reply

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