When it comes to changing your name there are many ways of doing it. What many people think of is a tedious process that perhaps takes forever. Nonetheless, it's just a process, whether the court is involved or not, like any other with an outcome. To be on the safe side and avoid unnecessary long processes, there are a number of things you need to understand concerning name change, whether it comes as a result of marriage, divorce, court order, or passing of a spouse.

Changing to the last name of your spouse

This is one of the most common name changes out there. If you are planning to get married you don't need to go to court or find another way of changing into the name of your spouse. Once you are married, you can change your maiden name by using the marriage certificate only as the proof. Simply update the credit cards, banks, motor vehicle departments, among others, and you are good to go.

Remember, certified copies of a marriage certificate are required and photocopies won't help you. Call or visit the place the marriage certificate was issued and request one to three certified marriage certificate copies—each usually has a raised seal.

Hyphenated last name

In case of you don't want to do away with the maiden name but want to use the spouse's last name together with the maiden name, you don't have to go to court either. The marriage certificate process is sufficient for a hyphenated last name. However, in most cases, if the husband might want to have his name changed or if what you want is a completely different last name from either the spouse's last name or the maiden name, a name change petition has to be filed in a court.

Husband taking wife's last name

As much as it can be expensive, it's possible for a man to take his wife's last name. However, only nine states allow it currently as part of the marriage name change process, but it doesn't mean it can't be done even in states where this issue has not cropped up yet. You only need to petition for a legal name change; don't forget states and local courts have different forms for this. Filing fees are also there and should be considered before the process can be started. Just like with other forms of name change, the man will be asked whether he's associated with criminal liability or debt. A number of states will even require the intent to change into your wife's last name be published in a newspaper.

New first name

The process of changing into a new first name legally is similar to changing the last name. However, in as much as it differs from one state to the other, a court's permission is required including obtaining a judge's order. It's through that order that changing into the first new name on the birth certificate as well as other documents will be possible. Also, expect police checks to be carried out on you in a number of states before the process can begin. Remember sex offenders among others are not allowed to change any of their names.

Return to maiden name following divorce

Following divorce, you can revert back to your maiden or previous name. While this varies a lot from one jurisdiction to another, in most states it's a very easy process to request the judge handling the divorce to enter a name restoration order to the maiden name. In fact, if the divorce has been finalized and with it a court order concerning change of name, that's all one has to do. Get the court order, a certified copy, as the name restoration's proof. The copy can then be used to have the name changed on any identification card, magazine subscription, bank accounts among others.

In case the divorce has been finalized without the court order allowing name change to occur, see if you can have the court order altered to include language that allows name change.

Keep in mind, whether or not a judge grants an order to restore your maiden name, you are not required to change your name after divorce if you prefer to maintain your married name.

Maiden to middle name

It's possible to change your name and still maintain the maiden name. Once you have adopted your husband's name the maiden name can become the middle name, but you must be in a state that allows it. Many states have no problem with changing the maiden name to the middle name, but the process is very tricky in such states as Washington, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and New Jersey. These states require a court petition to have the name changed and the process can be quite stressful or trouble-free. In states with stressful processes, hyphenation might turn out to be the most ideal and easiest secondary option, if you must change.

Brand new middle name

To change into a brand new middle name is possible but a court petition is almost certainly required. You need to know in such states as New York people have the right to adopt the name they so desire by using that name as consistently as possible but without the intention of defrauding anyone. However, when it comes to financial agencies and the government, there might be problems, particularly in such a time when terrorism, credit card fraud, identity theft and other ills are so common. Legal court documents might be needed by financial agencies and the government. Also, remember passports, birth certificate and social security card requires legal name change documents.

Double, compound, or segmented middle or last name

There are many options when it comes to changing your name. Apart from the traditional hyphenated name there are many options, especially for those seeking a more elaborate name change in New York. In fact, you can change into a name that combines a single surname, a segment or all of the pre-marriage surname or any previous surname of every spouse. You can also opt for a combination type of surname that's hyphen separated provided that every part of the combination surname is a previous surname or pre-marriage surname of every one of the spouses.

The legal implications following these types of name changes is that the marriage certificate will be one of the proofs that the use of the new double/compound/segmented middle or last name is lawful. Remember, you have the right to adopt and use any kind of name you would like just by using the chosen name consistently, but devoid of the intent to cheat someone.

Entirely new last name

As already mentioned, anyone can adopt any kind of name they want simply by using that particular name consistently without the aim of defrauding. The only problem is that legal court documents could be required by government and financial agencies when it comes to changing into the entirely new last name and ensuring it appears on your passport, birth certificate, social security card and other documents. It means you need a court petition that will give you the legal backing to have the new last name you choose for yourself adopted on every document important to you.

Widowers returning to prior name

It's possible after the grieving period is over for a widow to want to restore or go back to her maiden name. In contrast with a divorce, where the decree usually gives the wife the legal power to return to a previous name or a maiden name, a widow only gets a death certificate that only mentions briefly the surviving spouse's name. This leaves the widow with the power to take further legal action if she so desires to go back to her prior name.

You need to get an order showing cause or a court's publication order setting a date in the court. However, not every state requires a publication notice to be made and the hearing date also varies from one jurisdiction to another. Remember to collect certified copies of the signed decree so that you can present it to government and financial agencies such as the social security administration, motor vehicle license department, and passport office, among others. It's possible that the court will require a certified copy of the decree provided by the vital statistics department.

Whichever approach, sequence, or name change combination you choose, it's important to know the proper procedures and limitations, based on where you live. Some options involve going to court, while others simply require a certified copy of your marriage certificate or divorce decree as proof. Your choices are many. Good luck navigating your name change journey.


  1. Carol Louise Carter

    How do I add my married last name to my current marriage certificate from a year ago? Keeping my current last name and ADDING my married name.

    1. Valera

      Hi Carol. Marriage certificates can't be amended after the fact unless there's a typographical error. They're historical documents. Snapshots in time.

  2. Donna

    Hello, I recently got married in NJ (live in NY) my marriage license / certificate did not have a spot to put my new surname. I want to change my last name to my husbands. What is the next step to getting my name changed to his?

    1. Valera

      Hi Donna. Just take a certified copy of your marriage certificate as-is to change it with the various government institutions.

  3. Yari

    Hello, my name is Yarilda
    When I requested my license the lady that was helping of refused to hyphen my new surname instead she told me I had 2 options: take both of my fiancé’s last name or combine mine and his witch I hate. If I get marry with this license can I fixed later on or not?
    I really can’t undrstandwhy she didn’t when it’s stated on the NYC page that it’s one of 4 options to name changing after marriage.

    Thank you

    1. Valera

      Hi Yari. You could either combine a portion of surnames without a hyphen or hyphenate surnames in their entirety. These can be current or former surnames.

      Whatever you choose to change it to now can only be done once using your marriage certificate. Changing it again would require you to go to court.

  4. Winnie weng

    i received a marriage certificate about 7 years ago at city hall getting married and i changed my last name to follow his but never changed over any other documents like Social security or anything else. I decided i don't want to follow his last name, how can i revert the marriage certificate last name? do i go to the city hall i went to get married and ask them to revert it or its more complicated?

    1. Valera

      how can i revert the marriage certificate last name? do i go to the city hall i went to get married and ask them to revert it or its more complicated?

      Such a change wouldn't be approved unless they're forced to by a court order. Marriage certificates are historical documents that aren't meant to be altered. Modifications are typically performed for typographic errors, but even in those cases the original document is usually left alone while an addendum citing the update is attached.

      Having said all that, if you've only changed your name on your marriage certificate and no other document, then there's nothing for you to really change that would affect you in any real-world circumstance.

      The certificate merely provides you the option to change your name, but doesn't have any legal significance unless you take the action to formally change it on your identity documents.

  5. Theresa

    I got married 6 years ago and did not take my husbands last name on my marriage certificate. I was told that i may need a court order to now change my name since many years have passed and the marriage certificate and license doesn't show that I took his last name. Is a court order needed? I live on CA and got married in Nevada.

    1. Valera

      Hi Theresa. You shouldn't have to obtain a court order as Nevada marriage applications and certificates do not provide spaces for a new name after marriage. Many states do not provide such spaces.


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