Social Security Name Change: A Complete Guide

Social Security Card

You can legally change the name on your social security card after marriage, divorce, or court order through the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Getting a new social security card paves the way for other name changes, such as your driver's license and passport.

Your social security number (SSN) will stay the same after changing your name.

Name change requirements

Name change pillars of proof

You can change the name on your social security card by completing the SS-5 application and providing:

  1. Proof of name change
  2. Proof of age
  3. Proof of identity
  4. Proof of citizenship or lawful immigrant status

Any evidence you offer—ID, records, certificates—must be original or certified copies. Photocopies, notarized copies, photos, and receipts are unacceptable.

Does this mean you're obliged to mail your driver's license and unearth your birth certificate? Maybe not. You may only have to satisfy the first condition (explained later).

SSA name change limits. Letters, spaces, hyphens, apostrophes, and suffixes allowed. No titles, nicknames, or abbreviations.

Your legal name is your first and last name only. The SSA will still print your middle name and suffix on your social security card if enough space is available.

Your name may only contain letters, spaces, hyphens, and apostrophes. Suffixes are okay. Omit your personal title, such as Mr., Ms., Mrs., Dr., Esq., Sister, or Father.

Don't use a nickname or abbreviation, such as Liz for Elizabeth or Deb for Deborah, unless it's your actual legal name.

SS-5 social security name change form

SS-5 Form, Social Security Administration Application for a Social Security Card

Use Form SS-5 (Application for a Social Security Card) to:

  • Change your name.
  • Get a new social security number.
  • Correct a flawed social security record.
  • Request a replacement social security card.

The form will ask you to spell out your:

  • Birth name
  • Current name
  • Other names used
  • New name to be shown on card
  • Social security number
  • Date of birth
  • Birthplace
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Citizenship
  • Parents' names
  • Parents' social security numbers
  • Daytime phone number
  • Mailing address
  • Today's date
  • Signature

Sign your new name on the application. Make it legible. And no initials. You can omit your parent's social security number if you're 18 years old or older.

You can fill out the social security form using our name change kit. Be prepared to download, print, sign, and mail your auto-filled PDF form.

Proof of name change

Proof of name change

There are four unique name change events:

  1. Marriage
  2. Divorce
  3. Court order
  4. Naturalization

Proven by their respective name change documents:

  1. Marriage certificate
  2. Divorce decree
  3. Court order
  4. Certificate of naturalization

Let's unpack each event, starting with the most common…

Marriage name change

Marriage name change using your marriage certificate
Change your name after marriage via your marriage certificate.

Thirteen states will allow you to choose your new married name when applying for a marriage license, which shows up on your marriage certificate:

  • California
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon

The following map illustrates how most states (representing 70% of the U.S. population) won't ask that you pick out your new name when applying to get married.

U.S. map highlighting the twelve states whose marriage license application asks for your new married name
New name chosen on the marriage application in 13 states.

For the remaining 37 states and D.C., you can "derive" your new name in four ways:

  1. Full last name
  2. Partial last name
  3. Hyphenated last name
  4. Double-barreled last name

These rules apply to same-sex marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships too.

1. Full last name

Take your spouse's entire last name, as-is. This is the "traditional" approach.

2. Partial last name

Take one whole part of your spouse's hyphenated or space-separated last name. (Assuming such name exists.)

3. Hyphenated last name

Combine your and your spouse's last names with a hyphen (-), in either order.

4. Double-barreled last name

Join your and your spouse's last names, separated by a space, in either order. Space is mandatory; names can't be flush.

Married name change examples

The following exhibits your choices if your last name were Adams and spouse's Baker.

OptionNew last name
FullBaker
HyphenatedAdams-Baker
HyphenatedBaker-Adams
Double-barreledAdams Baker
Double-barreledBaker Adams

Here's an example using Adams and Baker-Smith

OptionNew last name
FullBaker-Smith
PartialBaker
PartialSmith
HyphenatedAdams-Baker-Smith
HyphenatedBaker-Smith-Adams
Double-barreledAdams Baker-Smith
Double-barreledBaker Smith-Adams

You can't change your first name through marriage; petition the court instead.

Divorce name change

Divorce name change using your divorce decree
Change your name after divorce via your divorce decree.

You can return to your maiden name using your divorce decree. Or any prior legal name. Men and women. Just ask the judge to include the written order.

If your decree has a name restoration order:

  • You can only return to that name.
  • It will be accepted by all government agencies.

If your decree is missing a name restoration order:

  • The SSA can restore your maiden name.
  • The SSA can restore any prior name on file.
  • It might be accepted by other government agencies.

Divorce name change rules apply to similar legal break-ups:

  • Annulment
  • Civil union dissolution
  • Domestic partnership dissolution

You can skip your divorce name change if you plan to switch it later after getting married again. This avoids a redundant, back-to-back name swap.

Court order name change

Court-petitioned name change using your court order

For a court-petitioned name change, you can only transition to the judge-approved name shown on your court order.

A court order is the most powerful name change instrument, permitting unbounded first, middle, and last name revisions. Reach for this tool if all else fails.

Naturalization name change

Naturalization name change using your certificate of naturalization

You can ask the court for a new name during naturalization, then use your certificate of naturalization as proof.

Proof of age

Proof of age

False assumptions on name change and birth certificates merits mentioning that you don't have to prove age to:

  • Change your name.
  • Obtain a duplicate card.
  • Replace a lost or stolen card.

But you must show evidence of age to:

  • Apply for your first card.
  • Correct your date of birth on file.
  • Get a brand new social security number.
  • Make up for forgetting your social security number.

You can confirm your age using a:

Proof of identity

Proof of identity

You must show one form of "primary" photo ID to change your name. If mailing identification alarms you, there may be a surprising workaround. Let's cover this rule first…

U.S. citizens, show your American:

  • Driver's license
  • State-issued ID card, or
  • Passport book or passport card

U.S. lawful immigrants, show your foreign passport and:

  • Green card
  • Arrival/departure record
  • Machine-readable immigrant visa, or
  • Employment authorization document (EAD)

Alternative, secondary ID

Secondary ID options, when primary ID is unavailable

You can show secondary ID if primary ID is unavailable. Unavailable means you can't "easily" access or replace it within ten business days.

The following table shows acceptable alternative IDs, which must contain your photograph, age, or date of birth:

DocumentU.S. citizensNon-citizensAge
U.S. military ID cardYesYesAll
U.S. official passportYesNoAll
U.S. diplomatic passportYesNoAll
U.S. certificate of citizenshipYesNoAll
U.S. certificate of naturalizationYesNoAll
U.S. Indian tribal cardYesNoAll
School record (current year)YesYesAll
Medical recordYesYesAll
Religious recordYesYesBirth to 17
Life insurance policyYesYes6+
Final adoption decreeYesYesBirth to 17
Employee ID card or badgeYesNo18+
Health insurance cardYesYesAll
Medicaid cardYesYesAll
Non-citizen state-issued ID cardNoYesAll
Non-citizen state-issued driver's licenseNoYesAll

The agency that issues your medical, religious, or school records must certify them. Insurance policies and medical cards must be current and active.

To reduce the chance of your paperwork returned asking for nonexistent primary ID, take preemptive action by attaching a note explaining your plight…

Please accept this secondary ID, as I cannot access or obtain primary evidence of ID within 10 business days.

Statement complying with SSA POMS RM 10210.420

Maybe you don't need ID

You may not need ID, use your name change document
You can avoid relinquishing your ID under key criteria.

It may be possible to use your name change document as ID. This offers the convenience of mailing your application without surrendering your driver's license, passport, etc.

This works by making sure your document:

  1. Is recently established
  2. Shows biographical information
  3. Matches your current name on file

Review the primary ID options if your name change document doesn't qualify as ID.

1. Is recently established

You've crossed the biggest hurdle if your name change event took place within the past two years. (It extends to four years if you're below the age of 18.)

There's no name change deadline. But waiting too long increases your burden—mailing ID and awaiting its return. Even then, alternative ID options exist.

2. Shows biographical information

Your name change document must—and should—show biographical data matching your current social security record:

  • Age
  • Date of birth, or
  • Parents' names (one or both)

Any of the above three details work, but nothing else.

3. Matches your current name on file

Your name change document must mention the name on your current social security card. So, were your name Jane Doe before changing, your document must show likewise.

Proof of citizenship

Proof of citizenship

In the unlikely event that the Social Security Administration is unaware of your U.S. citizenship, show your:

  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. birth certificate
  • KIC-class American Indian card
  • Consular report of birth abroad (CRBA), or
  • U.S. certificate of citizenship or naturalization

The bottom line is that you can skip this step if the SSA issued you a social security card in the past with your citizenship status marked as U.S. citizen.

Proof of lawful immigrant status

Proof of immigrant status

If you're a U.S. lawful immigrant (non-citizen), verify your immigration status with your:

  1. Foreign passport
  2. Work authorization (if applicable), and
  3. Unexpired U.S.-issued immigration document

Student visa holders (F-1 or M-1), show Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status). If employed, show a pay stub or employer letter listing your:

  1. Job
  2. Hours
  3. Start date
  4. Supervisor's name
  5. Supervisor's phone number

Exchange visitor visa holders (J-1 or J-2), show Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status). If employed, your sponsor must write a letter that's:

  1. Signed
  2. On their letterhead
  3. Authorizing you to work

Submitting your paperwork

By mail or in person

You'd normally have a big decision to make after preparing your paperwork—submit your application by mail or in person? The in-person experience is was clear-cut:

  1. Visit your local social security office.
  2. Submit your paperwork for review and scanning.
  3. Retrieve your documents: identification, certificates, etc.
  4. Exit with your receipt of services rendered.
  5. Await your new card by mail.

Alas, you must now apply by mail since COVID-19's impact on social security has closed field offices to the public…

SSA prerecorded notice on Coronavirus office closings.

The Social Security Administration is taking steps to protect the public and our employees during the Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.

Until further notice, offices are open to provide limited, dire need, in person services by appointment only. We will continue offering services by phone and online.

Transcription of prerecorded notice on office closures.

You can't schedule an appointment to change your name; it's not a "dire need" service.

Receiving your new card by mail

Social security name change turnaround time
Real-world name change turnaround times in 2021.

It should take 7 to 14 days to receive your new social security card by mail. But COVID-19-related delays have stretched it out to 2 to 4 weeks. Eight weeks at worst.

Expect two deliveries

Supporting documents you send with your application will arrive earlier from your local office. The "Central Office" near DC and Baltimore will mail your card last.

For instance, if your mailed packet includes your:

  1. Completed SS-5 form
  2. Driver's license (proof of identity)
  3. Marriage certificate (proof of name change)

You'll get mailed two envelopes:

  1. One returning your license and certificate.
  2. Another containing your updated social security card.

It's normal for your card to arrive several weeks after your personal documents.

Securing your social security card

When your new social security card arrives by mail:

  • Sign it in ink.
  • Avoid making photocopies.
  • Seal it in a plastic bag or container.
  • Store it at home instead of your wallet or purse.

Don't laminate your card; it blocks built-in anti-counterfeiting security features.

Changing your name on other credentials

Updating other ID beyond social security

How should you order and space out your name change to-dos beyond social security? Here's the proper sequence:

  1. Green card
  2. Social security card
  3. Driver's license or Real ID
  4. Military ID card
  5. Passport
  6. IRS
  7. Employers
  8. Everything else

Let's explain each in quick succession…

1. Green card

Use Form I-90 to change your green card name. This precedes social security.

2. Social security card

Social security name change makes your new name legal.

3. Driver's license or Real ID

Wait at least 24 hours between your social security and driver's license name change; enough time for the SSA database to refresh before it's queried.

4. Military ID card

Update your military ID via DEERS or an ID card center.

5. Passport

Renew or change your passport name any time.

6. IRS

The SSA will alert the IRS that you've changed your name.

7. Employers

The name on your W-2s must match IRS records for proper social security benefits recording.

8. Everything else

Notify or update the leftovers:

  • Banks
  • Business cards
  • Car title and registration
  • Clubs
  • Credit cards
  • Doctor's offices
  • Government tax assessors
  • Insurance companies (auto, life, health, homeowners)
  • Internet properties (email and website)
  • Landlord
  • Memberships
  • Mortgage company
  • Pharmacists
  • Property deeds, titles, and trusts
  • Retirement plans (401k and IRA)
  • Shopping accounts (Amazon, eBay, PayPal)
  • Social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
  • Utilities (water, electric, cable, phone, internet)
  • Voter registration

Conclusion

Whether you use this guide or our online name change kit to change your name, everything starts with updating your social security card. Good luck to you.

Your questions and comments are welcome below.

Do you plan to change your name?

Our online name change kit makes it easy.

Get Started

911 Comments

  1. Terri

    When I went to the SSA it wasn't "that bad" a wait. I had to wait but it was less than I thought. Had I thought about it I should have tried to make an appointment first but I have a feeling it's one of those things where it probably wouldn't matter if I had an appointment or not. I have a feeling I was gonna end up waiting anyway.

    By the way where I went there wasn't a line of folks standing around. They had chairs so you're not on your feet the whole time. But they were pretty filled up.

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Terri. Thanks for sharing your experience. You're right, the SSA isn't quite the slog many folks make it out to be. If you get there at a good time, you can be in and out relatively quickly.

      Reply
  2. Deanna

    When I got married I put the name I wanted to change to on my marriage license. I havent changed it yet and now I'm having second thoughts. Am I required to change my name now?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Deanna. No, you're not required to change your name. You can wait to do it later, or not at all. Just because you specified the intent to change your name when you applied for your marriage license doesn't obligate you to follow through. Simply doing nothing will keep your current name as-is, and unchanged.

      Reply
  3. Gregory Cupoli

    While at the Social Security office, we tried to change my spouse's name on his newly issued Social Security card. We had our certified marriage certificate but were told that they don't except marriage certificates from LA county (the county we were married in and where this Social Security office was) and that we'd have to get remarried in another county, like Orange County, in order to have the name change processed. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

    Reply
    1. Valera

      Hi Gregory. Did your spouse specify the "change to" name on the marriage license application, prior to getting married?

      Reply
      1. Gregory

        Yes, we did the name change on the marriage application. We ended up going to a different Social Security office who put the name change through no problem. Apparently the initial office had the procedure wrong. Thanks for responding!

        Reply
  4. Kg

    I married in 2013 – I have changed my name from

    Married to maiden on both my SS card and with the dmv. I am now entering into a personal business and using my maiden name. My concern and question is – if I can legally do this ? Or how will I file taxes? Under maiden or married?

    In addition I'm Now worried that although I was married in 2013 – I did not alert the IRS in my taxes of the marriage or the name change. I just changed name with as and dmv in 2015. What should I do? And my last question is about Social Security benefits obtained under my maiden name. Will they carryover to my married name in order that I may use them when necessary?

    Reply
    1. Kg

      Correction to my first sentence above …. I meant to say I changed my Social Security card and DMV name from "Maiden to married"

      Reply
    2. Valera

      My concern and question is – if I can legally do this ? Or how will I file taxes? Under maiden or married?

      Look into registering your maiden name as a DBA.

      In addition I'm Now worried that although I was married in 2013 – I did not alert the IRS in my taxes of the marriage or the name change. I just changed name with as and dmv in 2015. What should I do?

      When you change your name with the SSA the IRS is notified of it. If there were name mismatch problems, you should have been alerted of it. When you file your taxes, you'll need to use the name that matches your social security record.

      And my last question is about Social Security benefits obtained under my maiden name. Will they carryover to my married name in order that I may use them when necessary?

      Yes.

      Reply
  5. Mackenzie

    After scouring boards and websites and blogs, I feel like I have finally found the right place to ask this question!!

    My fiancé and I are getting married in a few weeks in Maine. We currently live in Chicago. When we get married we are hoping to change our last name to his current middle name. Do we need to put this new name on the marriage license to have it be valid at the social security office? Will there be an issue because it's not his current surname? I guess we could just attempt to send in the documents and hope for the best? Or would you recommend going into a SS office?

    Any guidance would be grand!!

    Reply
    1. Valera

      When we get married we are hoping to change our last name to his current middle name.

      This wouldn't be possible without a court order document.

      Reply

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