31 Comments

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.

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.

31 Comments

  1. Leann

    I got married in Las Vegas but my home is California. My marriage certificate only shows my maiden name. Will they accept my Nevada marriage certificate to do a name change how I want?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Will they accept my Nevada marriage certificate to do a name change

      Yes, your Nevada marriage certificate will be accepted in California, even if it only shows your maiden name.

      how I want?

      I'm not sure what you mean by how you want. Your name change has to be within the boundaries of what's allowed by state law.

      Reply
  2. Jnny

    I got married in Vegas a few weeks ago but didn't state a name change in the marriage license application. I reside in Texas and want to change my last name to my husband's. Will this be an issue to change in Texas if my marriage certificate only shows my maiden name and not a name change?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      I got married in Vegas a few weeks ago but didn't state a name change in the marriage license application.

      That's normal for Nevada.

      Will this be an issue to change in Texas if my marriage certificate only shows my maiden name and not a name change?

      It won't be a problem.

      Reply
  3. Charlotte

    I'm kind of in the opposite situation. I got married in Oregon and my new name is on the marriage certificate but I want to change it. Can I go back to the office and have them change the certificate?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Can I go back to the office and have them change the certificate?

      Amendments are reserved for typographical errors and factual mistakes. You can't retroactively change the name on your marriage record because you changed your mind.

      Reply
  4. Danijela

    Hello,thank you for all this useful information.

    We are married at North Carolina and we live at Virginia,noone didnt ask as about changing my name,I'm European and now what can I do to change that.

    One thing that I also don't understand,its diferent from Europe is that we get at 1 paper marriage certified,licence and 1 more thing.Very big and long paper.I didnt like it honestly how it looks ??but I love my husband very much.Thank you for answering

    Reply
    1. Valera

      We are married at North Carolina and we live at Virginia,noone didnt ask as about changing my name,I'm European and now what can I do to change that.

      That's normal. The North Carolina marriage license application doesn't ask for new names post-marriage. That won't stop you from changing your name though.

      One thing that I also don't understand,its diferent from Europe is that we get at 1 paper marriage certified,licence and 1 more thing.

      For NC and most states, you'll get your marriage license immediately or soon after you apply. Later, you'll get a certified copy of your marriage certificate. The certificate copy is automatically sent in some states, while others require a separate purchase.

      Reply
  5. Jeanette

    We just got married in Las Vegas and just noticed on the unofficial marriage certificate that only my first and middle name but not maiden name are listed to be changed to the correct new married name.

    I await the certified copy with hope, but it looks like even on the marriage license application only my first and middle name are listed without the maiden name. I think it is a clerk error and I did not notice at the window. I am so nervous about changing my name at the SS office and being denied. Yikes!

    Reply
    1. Valera

      I think it is a clerk error and I did not notice at the window.

      That may indeed be a clerical error. If you did specify a new name on your marriage application, the marriage certificate should show it. You'll have to get in touch with the clerk to correct or amend your marriage record and reissue a new marriage certificate.

      Reply
      1. Jeanette

        Thank you! The unofficial marriage certificate shows the correct married name, but only shows my first and middle name without maiden name as the one getting married. I ordered the certified copy of marriage certificate and also the copy of marriage license, so we will know more when those arrive in about a week :)

        Reply
  6. Noelle

    I am applying for a new passport and have since been married and changed my name. I live and was married in Florida, which is one of the states that does not have a place on the application to designate your new last name. So our marriage certificate does not have my new last name on it, however, this certificate is supposed to be the supporting documentation of my name change for my passport. Do the passport folks just match up your social security # with your marriage certificate, and verify it that way?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Do the passport folks just match up your social security # with your marriage certificate, and verify it that way?

      The passport office/agency may use your social security number for debt collection purposes, to verify identity, and to determine if you're on a list of persons ineligible to receive or renew a passport. There are other internal uses as well.

      For name change, your marriage certificate is what's used to effect a name change, even if it doesn't match the SSA. This is what allows someone to renew a passport in their current or premarital name even though they've changed their name on their social security card, driver's license, and other records.

      Reply
  7. Mariah

    I got married in Pennsylvania and now live in South Dakota and my new name isnt on my marriage certificate only my maiden name and they never asked will they accept my certificate for a name change?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      my new name isnt on my marriage certificate only my maiden name

      That's the way it should be. Pennsylvania's marriage license application only allows you to specify your current legal name, not a new post-marriage name.

      will they accept my certificate for a name change?

      Your Pennsylvania marriage certificate will be accepted in South Dakota for name change purposes as-is.

      Reply
  8. Claudine

    Hello, I got my marriage license in Florida and they didn’t ask for a new last name change, I have my current legal name on it. Now I want a name change on my passport, social security and other documents would that be a problem?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Now I want a name change on my passport, social security and other documents

      To be clear, you must use your marriage certificate to change your name, not your marriage license.

      would that be a problem?

      This won't be a problem in Florida. The state's marriage license application doesn't have an option to choose a new last name. That's why your marriage license only shows the name you had before marriage. This won't prevent you from changing your name using your eventual marriage certificate.

      Reply
      1. Claudine

        Thank you so much. I meant marriage certificate not the license. And in Florida the marriage license and the certificate is in one paper, I thought they would be in separate papers

        Reply
        1. Valera

          Thank you so much. I meant marriage certificate not the license.

          You're welcome.

          And in Florida the marriage license and the certificate is in one paper

          Yes, in some states the marriage license and marriage certificate are exactly the same document. It's just the status changes after it's been recorded.

          Reply
  9. Emma

    I got married in va and I'm not sure what category i fall under. Its got my real last name not my husbands so what is my next step? If its right then what do i have to do tp change my name for everything and what all do i have to change?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Emma. Virginia is one of the many states that do not provide an option to choose a last name to appear on the marriage license or certificate. It's not a hindrance. Just use your marriage certificate as-is to complete your name change.

      Reply
  10. Trisha

    Hi I got married a week ago and i haven’t gotten my certified marriage certificate, but when I applied for the license, they said I didn’t need to decide then, I could change it anytime/
    So it says – Name desired after marriage: Name Not Designated.

    Can I still change my maiden name to my husband’s last name?

    This was in Reno, NV by the way.

    Reply
    1. Valera

      but when I applied for the license, they said I didn’t need to decide then, I could change it anytime

      Nevada's new marriage-related name change laws went into effect at the beginning of January 1, 2018. Before this date, the marriage application didn't provide an option to choose a new middle or last name after marriage.

      So it says – Name desired after marriage: Name Not Designated

      Not designated is essentially blank. Had you chosen something specific, it might bind you to that choice. According to the clerk who processed your marriage application and license, not choosing a name leaves your options open.

      This was in Reno, NV

      According to the Washoe County Clerk's office (where Reno, NV is situated), half the couples who come into the office leave the new name change after marriage field blank because they hadn't even considered what to choose.

      As mentioned at the beginning, Nevada only added the new name fields to their applications starting in 2018. Knowledge of it probably hasn't filtered its way down to the masses.

      Nevada's revised marriage statutes explain what you're allowed to change your name to, but goes no further. Nevada's court petition name change page doesn't provide much clarity. However, the Nevada DMV name change instructions throws a wrench in the gears by stating a maiden name to middle name change won't be processed unless that specific name sequence appears on the marriage certificate. It doesn't elaborate on a last name change.

      So, the vagueness of the Nevada's laws suggests you're probably okay and will be able to change your last name to match your husband's without jumping through extra legal/court hoops.

      I've seen no commentary or documentation to suggest not choosing a new name at the time of application will practically limit you when your marriage certificate arrives with no new name designated.

      If and when you go to change your name, please come back to report your experience and if you ended up facing resistance at the SSA or DMV.

      Reply
  11. Stef

    My marriage certificate is from Alabama. It has my maiden name. Will I be able to use this to support my name change to a married name?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Will I be able to use this to support my name change to a married name?

      Yes, you're good to go.

      Reply
  12. Miriam Oden

    so I got married 6/15/19 in Hawaii but live in California my marriage license reads brides name: Miriam middle name and my maiden last name on line 1 on line 2 it ask for my middle name and the 3rd line reads new surname, so im sure lines 2 and 3 are ok but line 1 is freaking me out

    I feel like it should of just been my first name not my entire name, middle and last but I asked the clerk that filled it out and she said it was fine but it still doesn't look correct to me and im changing all my paperwork to my married last name today!! uuuuggghhh im stressing out

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Miriam,

      Just to be clear, this is what's appearing on your marriage record?…

      Line 1: First name, middle name, maiden surname
      Line 2: Current or new middle name
      Line 3: New last name

      If this is the case, I don't see a problem. This is very clean. In Hawaii, you can specify both a new middle name and last name when you apply for a marriage license.

      Having the middle and last names in separate fields makes it clear to various government and state institutions what your current, pre-marriage, legal name is and the new name you've chosen to change to.

      Line 1 is useful because it identifies your current legal name before any change. This provides a before and after pictures of your name transition.

      Reply
  13. Lucia

    I got married in NY and left the "New Surname" field blank. I would like to change my last name to my husband's, but I now reside in NC. What is the best method to change my last name in NC? Can I apply for a NC marriage license? Will Social Security accept the original NY certificate?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Can I apply for a NC marriage license? Will Social Security accept the original NY certificate?

      No need to get NC marriage license. Your NY marriage certificate will suffice.

      Reply
  14. Erin

    Hi thanks for this helpful blog!

    I’m getting married in New York which allows the name change on the certificate. I live in New Jersey, which does not list new last names on certificates.

    If I do NOT state a name change on my NY marriage license, but later decide to change my last name, would I have to get married again? If I go to the SSA/DMV in NJ, will they refuse my name change request?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      If I do NOT state a name change on my NY marriage license, but later decide to change my last name, would I have to get married again?

      No.

      If I go to the SSA/DMV in NJ, will they refuse my name change request?

      No.

      Reply

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