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.
Today we're going to answer the following question from every angle:
Can I change my last name if my marriage certificate has my maiden name?Asked by many-a-married person
What's the problem?
Folks in California, Georgia, Oregon, New York, among others, have it easy. When they apply for a marriage license, the application has a clear 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 at a disadvantage?
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.
Once you've eased your concerns, you can fill out your name change forms with confidence using our online app to create your printable, auto-filled PDF forms.
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 forget?
- What are you missing?
- Do you need to correct your marriage certificate?
- Does it even matter at this point?
If these are the questions you're asking yourself, you're in limbo. It's time to bring you out of the fog and get your name change back on track, minus obstacles.
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 only has your maiden name.
- Your marriage certificate only shows your maiden name.
If you're not married yet, you expect your marriage certificate to fall in line and show your maiden name after it's returned and recorded by the marriage clerk.
At this point you may wonder how you'll change your name if your marriage license or marriage certificate only has your current name or maiden 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.
Note: Although we reference maiden name, it could be your current name or birth name instead. It's the same predicament: lack of a new designated surname.
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 applications for most states don't offer spots to specify a new name after marriage. But this won't stop you from changing your name.
For those predominate 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 when your marriage certificate will never show a new name field because of its inherent design.
They did ask for my new name, but I screwed up
Everything explained so far only applies if your state's marriage license application didn't offer a space to choose a new name after marriage. But what if they offered it?
You have a problem if they asked, but you left it empty—whether on purpose by accident. If you made a mistake choosing your new name, you have a problem.
If you mess up your marriage license, it will mess up your marriage certificate as well. Avoiding these problems starts with a flawless marriage application.
1. I left my new name blank
What if your marriage license application had a spot to choose a new name after marriage, but you left it blank? Did you miss your shot by omission?
Yes, you have missed your shot if your marriage ceremony has taken place. But you may apply for another marriage license if you're not married yet.
Remember, they tell you to review your marriage license before signing it for a reason. Your signature locks in your choices. Not choosing a new name is a choice.
2. 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 replacement marriage license in your preferred name.
Picking the incorrect name on your marriage license will cascade and get mirrored onto your marriage certificate. Avoid this ripple effect at the outset.
I signed my marriage license or certificate wrong
You should sign your marriage license with your maiden name if it's your current legal name at the time of signing. Bottom line, just sign your current name.
But it doesn't matter if you signed the wrong name, your maiden name, or your future married name on your marriage license or certificate. The fact is:
- It won't invalidate your marriage.
- It won't nullify your marriage license or certificate.
- It won't affect your name change in any real-world sense.
Applying the wrong signature to your marriage record is an annoyance and red herring that's not worth mulling over, assuming it's not an egregious blunder.
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 (SSA), DMV, and other government agencies will only use the new name shown on your marriage certificate when you update or renew your documents.
That's why the wrong name appearing on your marriage certificate is a problem. You're locked into your new name unless you revise it or go to court.
Next, we'll document a common failed name pick scenario.
1. Documenting your new name
For example, say you were to marry where the marriage license application asks you to choose a new last name. The form may even let you to adopt a new middle name.
On the application, you replace your middle name with your maiden name. You then take your spouse's current surname as your new last name. This is a common preference.
Arrive prepared to answer the new name question. Don't get caught flatfooted and panic respond. Your state may not ask for it today, but laws change and it may later.
2. Seemed like a good idea at the time
Now you're married, yet haven't changed your name with anyone. Your social security card, driver's license, and passport are still in your old name. Well, your current name, that is.
Now second thoughts, regrets, and doubts invade. Did you make a mistake?
3. Change of heart
Your marriage certificate arrives by 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 restore your middle name to its original state. And you want to hyphenate your last name in reverse order—spouse's first, yours last.
4. Dejected and rejected
The city or county clerk refuses to alter your marriage certificate. Next, you visit the Social Security Administration and DMV and ask them to make an exception.
But they both refuse. They will only honor your undesired new name that is shown on your marriage certificate. No exceptions, overrides, or waivers.
Fix your mistake
You have three options if you're not satisfied with the name you chose (or didn't choose):
- Apply for a new marriage license;
- Change the name on your marriage certificate; or
- Petition the court for a separate legal name change.
Next, we'll explain the pros and cons of each potential solution.
1. Apply for a new marriage license
If your marriage ceremony has not happened yet, you're in luck. You still have time to replace your faulty marriage license by applying for a new one.
You must pay the marriage license fee again, assuming they do not offer complimentary, reissued licenses. (A meager sum to secure the name you want.)
2. Change the name on your marriage certificate
Marriage certificate amendments are not for changes of heart. They're meant to fix mistakes and typos. Yet the clerk may sympathize and allow for the change.
It's a Hail Mary pass, as you're not guaranteed a successful outcome.
Even if you could change the name on your marriage certificate, it may well snag you. Because they might attach (instead of overwrite) amendments to the original marriage record.
- Everyone would still see the old record.
- And both documents would remain public records.
If a vital records clerk forgoes or straight up breaks the rules, other federal and state agencies might consider your amendment questionable. (Assuming they even notice.)
Caveats aside, most city and county clerks and recorders have vast authority to change marriage certificates and other records within their discretion.
3. Petition the court for a separate legal name change
You must petition the court for a name change when you've run out of options. This is the worst-case scenario that's worth avoiding if possible.
Court may be an expensive and time-consuming process, but at least you're guaranteed to get the name you want. Your court order will assure acceptance by every organization.
You could even change your first name while you're in court. Or opt for a brand new middle name or surname. You can't do that with a marriage certificate.
Note: A court order supersedes—not supplements—your marriage certificate.
Will I get in trouble if I don't change my name?
You don't have to follow through with a name change even if your marriage certificate shows a new married name. Maybe you'll defer it and change your mind two, 10, or 20 years later.
Is there a loophole?
We've had intrepid readers report unlikely name change 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; through grit, luck, or a forgiving clerk.
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 in the comments section.