So your marriage certificate is missing your married name and you're wondering if you'll ever be able to change your name. What happened? What went wrong? You're not alone.
Folks in California, Georgia, Oregon, New York, among others, have it easy. When they apply for a marriage license the application has a clear bright spot to choose a new last name after marriage.
But if you don't live in one of those types of states, you can't declare a new name on your marriage application, marriage license, or marriage certificate. Are you missing out?
On the flip side, maybe you live in a state that allows you to choose a new name on the application, but you regret your choice. Or maybe you didn't choose. Are you disadvantaged?
In this brief post, we'll cover both angles. You'll find out how much trouble you're in and potential fixes to resolve your woes.
They never asked me for my new name
Maybe the marriage license application asked for your new name, but you missed it. Did you forget? Did the clerk forgot? What are you missing? Do you need to correct your marriage certificate? Does it even matter?
If these are the questions you're asking yourself, you're in limbo. It's time to bring you out of the fog.
Let's assume that you're sure the marriage license application never asked for your new name after marriage. Your memory isn't faulty. You looked for it and it wasn't there.
Your marriage license has your current name. Your marriage certificate has your current name. If you're not married yet, you expect your marriage certificate to fall in line and show your current name too.
At this point you may wonder how you'll change your name if your marriage license or marriage certificate only has your current name.
You can't be the only one facing this predicament, right?
If this matches your experience, you're in the majority. This omission may appear to be a roadblock, but it's not.
It just doesn't matter
Most marriage certificates don't show married names. Instead, they'll show the current name, maiden name, or birth name.
This is because the marriage license application for most states doesn't offer spots to specify a new name after marriage. But this won't stop you from changing your name.
For those states, your marriage certificate is proof of a name change event, even if it doesn't show your new name. The act of marriage itself is what allows your name change to take place.
They did ask for my new name, but I screwed up
Everything explained so far only applies if your state's marriage license application did not offer a space to choose a new name after marriage.
If they asked, but you left it empty, you have a problem. If you made a mistake in choosing your new name, you have a problem.
I left my new name blank
What if the marriage license application had a spot to choose a new name after marriage, but you left it blank? Did you miss your shot?
Yes, you've missed your shot, assuming your marriage has occurred. If you're not married yet, get another marriage license.
Remember, they tell you to review your marriage license before signing it for a reason. Your signature locks in your choices. Not choosing is a choice.
I chose the wrong name
What if you specified a new name, but have since changed your mind? Today you want to pick out an entirely different name. Are you out of luck?
Yes, you're out of luck, assuming your marriage has taken place. If you're not married yet, get a new marriage license in your preferred name.
Why am I stuck?
If you choose a new name on your marriage license application, it will automatically show up on your marriage certificate.
The Social Security Administration, DMV, and other government agencies will recognize and use the new name shown on your marriage certificate when you update or renew your documents.
That's why having the wrong name on your marriage certificate is such a problem.
For example, let's say you get married in California. The marriage application allows you to choose a new last name. It even lets you to choose a new middle name.
On the application, you add your spouse's birth name to your middle name, separated by a space. You hyphenate your maiden name with your spouse's current surname.
Now you're married, but you haven't changed your name with anyone yet. Your social security card, driver's license, and passport are still in your old name. Well, your current name, that is.
Your marriage certificate arrives in the mail. You're not happy. It shows the new names you chose, but they're no longer the names you want.
Now you want to keep your middle name by itself. And you want the last names to stay hyphenated, but in reverse order. Spouse's first, yours last.
The county clerk refuses to alter your marriage certificate. Next, you go to the Social Security Administration and DMV and ask them to make an exception. What do they do?
They reject your request.
Fix your mistake
If you're not satisfied with the name you chose or didn't choose, apply for a new marriage license, amend your marriage certificate, or petition the court for a name change.
Those are you three options. Let's go through them.
1: Apply for a new marriage license
If your marriage ceremony hasn't happened yet, you're in luck. Replace your faulty marriage license by applying for a new one. You must pay the marriage license fee again.
2: Amend the marriage certificate
Marriage certificate amendments are for mistakes and typos. They're not meant for changes of heart. Perhaps the clerk will sympathize and allow the change, but it's a Hail Mary pass. Failure is likelier than not.
Even if you could get your marriage certificate amended, it might not help. This is because they attach amendments to the original marriage record. They're not replaced. Everyone will still see the old record.
Just because a vital records clerk forgoes or straight up breaks the rules doesn't mean other federal and state agencies will accept it. They could dismiss your amendment as unlawful.
3: Petition the court
If you've run out of options, you must petition the court for a name change. This is the worst-case scenario. It may be expensive and time-consuming, but at least you're guaranteed to get the name you want.
You could even change your first name while you're in court. You can't do with a marriage certificate.
Will I get in trouble if I don't change my name?
No, you won't get in trouble if you don't change your name after marriage. That's a myth or misconception.
Even if your marriage certificate shows a new married name, you don't have to follow through with it. Maybe in 2 years, 10 years, or 20 years, you'll change your mind. But, for now, just ignore it.
My certificate's good, I'm ready to change my name
If your marriage certificate is usable and you're ready to change your name, start with your social security card, then move onto your driver's license and passport.
We've even put together a streamlined online name change service to help you complete the application process.
Is there a loophole?
We've had readers report unlikely successes dealing with city, county, social security, passport, and DMV clerks. You may fail where they've succeeded. But you may find an opening where others don't even bother to venture.
Did you find a name change loophole? Were you able to get your name changed when you thought it was impossible? Share how you did it.