32 Comments

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.

32 Comments

  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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
    1. Valera

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

      Reply
  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

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
  6. Sara E Brown

    When the judge asked me if I wanted to restored to my maiden name. I told her no, and my spouse was OK with me keeping his last name. On the paperwork that I received she marked that I needed to restore to my former name. How do I go about keeping my spouse's last name?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Sara. Restoration lines provide you an option to switch back, but it doesn't force you to do so.

      Reply
  7. Stanley Erickson

    My wife is Russian, and is applying for her pension there. We were married 20 years ago in Nevada, and Nevada then did not show the new name of a wife. The Russian Embassy says they have no proof they can accept that my wife changed her surname to my surname and we will have to get a Change of Name Certificate from some court for them. We live in Florida. Where and how can we obtain such a certificate?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Staneley. They wouldn't accept any identity document or a certified copy of your marriage certificate? If you do need a court document, you'll have to contact the circuit court.

      Reply
      1. Stanley Erickson

        We got married shortly after she arrived from Russia, before she got a SSN or a DL, so there was no name change recorded in either of them, and the embassy might not accept those either. The certified copy of our marriage certificate does not have her married name, only her maiden name, so it does not show anything that proves she changed her name. Do I need to go to the Nevada circuit court (far away) or can a Florida circuit court grant me a Change of Name Certificate?

        Reply
        1. Valera

          Hi Stanley. If the Russian embassy is of no help and they won't accept any of the identity documents in her new name (e.g., social security card, driver's license, state-issued ID), then she'll have to petition a Florida circuit court for a name change. The judge would provide her a court document confirming her changed name which should satisfy the embassy.

          Reply
          1. Stanley Erickson

            I contacted the Family Court deputy clerk in the county in which I live, and he informed me there was absolutely no way that a judge would provide me with such a court document. If we petitioned for a name change, he said it would be a waste of $401 as the judge would refuse a name change request as there was no change of name desired. The Certificates of Name Change are only issued when the name is changed, and my wife wants to keep her name.

          2. Valera

            The Certificates of Name Change are only issued when the name is changed, and my wife wants to keep her name.

            You may want to get this in writing to present to the embassy. If the document they're requesting cannot be obtained, what will they accept in its place? An affidavit? If all else fails, you may have to contact an attorney.

  8. ursula

    Husband and I combined our last names on our marriage certificate into a new last name. We took the CIA from his and the AL from mine. This is an option now in California at the time of applying for a marriage licenese. At the SS office however, we were told we needed a court order to get a new card even though the new last name is on the marriage certificate in the new name section. Were they wrong?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      At the SS office however, we were told we needed a court order to get a new card even though the new last name is on the marriage certificate in the new name section.

      It appears you encountered a clerk who's not well-versed in the Name Equality Act of 2007. California law allows merging of last names (within acceptable parameters), and the SSA should accept that as valid.

      Reply
  9. Maggie

    Hello,

    I got married about 8 years ago in CA and only now do I need to officially change my name. There was no ‘married name’ indicated on my marriage certificate. I was able to change my name at the social security office and get a new card, but it seems to be unclear about how to go about getting a new drivers license. I spent 5 hours in line at the DMV, but they would not allow it. It seems that it can vary as I cannot find any info online other than “they may make you get a court order”, which is an unbelievable hassle and a huge delay.

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Maggie. California DMVs are aware that the California Name Equality Act was enacted in 2007. Marriage license applications since then should have long since been modified to ask what your preferred name after marriage would be.

      Are you suggesting your marriage application from eight years ago didn't provide you a spot to specify a new name? If so, you may be able to get an amendment to your marriage certificate after the fact.

      You'll have to head to the county clerk's office that issued your license and recorded your certificate to confirm if the application copy they have on file did provide you an opportunity to specify a new name. If it did not, inquire as to why not? Was it standard procedure to omit this field with the understanding that state DMVs would accept certified marriage certificates missing this information for purposes of name changes?

      Having said all that, if the application did actually contain an area for you to choose a new name and you overlooked it, you'll have to go to court to either demand your marriage certificate be amended or just straight up petition for a court ordered name change.

      Reply
  10. Patti

    My divorce decree in NV states I will retain my married name ,but I now want
    to change my name back to my previous married name, as it is the surname of my children and grandchildren. I have a marriage license and marriage certificate from NV with this name on it. Do I need a court order for a name change I now live in CO?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Patti. You can throw a Hail Mary by contacting the divorce court and asking if your divorce decree can be amended after the fact.

      I don't know how long ago your divorce was finalized, but some judges and courts are willing to modify a divorce decree if the request is minor and the finalization took place a reasonably short time ago.

      If that doesn't work, you'll have to go to court to change your name. You can get it done in your Colorado court.

      Reply
  11. Erica Reyvas

    Hello,
    I legally changed my name after getting married, combining my last name with my spouse’s last name. However, my spouse is unable to take my new last name now because it is different on the marriage license. Is it possible to amend a court order to include her taking my new last name? My confusion is if I am her spouse, she should be able to take my new last name. Right? Please help.

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Erica. Since your court-ordered name change took place after you were married, the change wouldn't extend to your spouse. If it took place prior to marriage, your spouse would be able to take your name.

      Reply
  12. Olena

    Hello Sir/Madam,
    I have New Zealand Married certificate. I would like to take my husband's last name.
    Can Australia recognise marriage certificate from New Zealand? how can i change it?
    thank you

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Can Australia recognise marriage certificate from New Zealand?

      As long as your marriage was valid by New Zealand law and could have taken place under Australian law, your marriage would be recognized in Australia.

      how can i change it?

      Although your overseas marriage certificate will likely be recognized, it's possible some institutions won't recognize it as sufficient to process a name change the same way an Australian marriage certificate would be.

      In that were to happen, you may have to register for a name change with the appropriate BDM (births, deaths and marriages registry).

      Reply
  13. Ruth Malloy

    Hi. My birth certificate does not include my middle name of Ann. This is my "Proof of Lawful Presence and Proof of Date of Birth", one of 2 required by the Massachusetts DMV to get a "Real ID License/ /ID.

    The second document, my marriage certificate, does include my middle name, Ann. So, my only "Name Must Match" document, which is also required to get my "Real ID License" doesn't match my required Lawful Presence document.

    Since the two do not match it appears I have to file for and obtain a Court Document to legally confirm the middle name I've been using for years. Am I correct about this or is there something else I can do? (My Social Security card does include my middle name, but that seems to be of no help.)

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Ruth. You should be fine with just your marriage certificate. If your name doesn't match what's on your lawful presence document, you'll need another document to justify your name change. That's the purpose of your marriage certificate. BTW, the RMV will perform a name lookup against the SSA database and will see your middle name there.

      Reply
  14. Miranda

    Hello, I have a question. My husband was born in the UK, and is now a permanent legal resident of the US where we both reside. He wishes to revert to his birth surname, which was changed after being adopted by his stepfather. We have gone through the deed poll process to change his name overseas, and will be petitioning for a court order here in Kentucky to change his name here. Do I need a court order of my own to change my name to match his, or would showing his court order to the SS office be sufficient? Thank you very much.

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Miranda. You'd need your own court-approved court order to change your name to match.

      Reply

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