Traditionally, the bride changes her last name once the two of you are married. But this is the 21st century, so to hell with that. If she doesn’t want to change her name, you can change yours. Read on before you Google specific instructions: You need a little background information before you take this particular plunge.
First, let’s talk about why women are expected to change their name in the first place. This tradition comes from an old legal doctrine called “coverture.” Coverture held that once a woman got married, all her legal rights and obligations transferred to her husband. She was, in effect, his property. If that sounds like something from an era when everyone wore belt-buckle hats and shot at turkeys with blunderbusses, that’s because it is.
You, however, do not shoot at turkeys with a blunderbuss. You are a modern man, and your fiancée is a modern woman. If you decide the two of you are going to buck this name-taking tradition, you have three main options.
Option #1: You Take Her Name
You could be ballsy and take your wife’s name. Done with the proper air of confidence, that can be like John Cena walking around in a pencil skirt and heels, daring the world to say anything about it.
Also, your wife’s maiden name might be better than your last name anyway. If you were born Nathaniel Schnerpus, and you’re marrying a woman named Eleanor De Pre, you’d be a fool not to take her last name.
Option #2: You Hyphenate Your Last Names
The second option is you and your wife could both hyphenate your last names. A common enough tactic, but there’s the risk you’ll sound pretentious, like you’re aspiring to the English aristocracy. “William and Pamela Sanford-Drinkwater invite you to an afternoon of lawn tennis and cucumber finger-sandwiches.” That kind of thing.
Option #3: You Create A New Last Name
The third option is for the two of you to jointly adopt a new name. That’s cool because you are both moving into neutral territory. There is no baggage associated with your new name. And “Mr. and Mrs. Baron Von Knighthawk” does have a nice ring to it.
Non-Optional: The Paperwork
As exciting as it is to come up with something new, there is also a more pedestrian aspect to changing your name. Paperwork. Lots of it.
That traditional way is still the easiest: your bride takes your last name. All she needs to provide to the various government agencies, banks, credit card companies, etc. is a certified copy of the marriage certificate. The process is free (though the certified copies can cost a bit). There are even online services like Hitchswitch who will do all the paperwork work for you.
It’s not so easy for a husband to take his wife’s last name. At the time of writing, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina and New York are the only states that allow husbands to follow the same procedure as their wives.
In most states in the U.S., a husband taking his wife’s name (or both adapting a hyphenated name, or even making up an entirely new last name) is treated the same as a non-marriage related name change. You’ll have go through the red tape of petitioning the court, placing a legal announcement in the newspaper, then getting in touch with all the various agencies.
It will cost you several hundred dollars, at least. Legalzoom offers a service to take care of it all that starts at $139, but doesn’t include any court filing costs (which can be as much as $500) or the amount the newspaper charges you for the announcement.
If you decide to take care of everything yourself, you’ll probably have to visit a bunch of different institutions. Let’s do a breakdown:
The Social Security Office
You can visit your local social security office to get a new social security card (Otherwise, when you get old, your social security checks will be made out to Irwin Gottstein–and how will you be able to convince them that was your name before you changed it to Captain Horatio Pantsman?)
When you visit social security office in person, you will need to bring proof of citizenship, which can either be your valid passport or a certified copy of your birth certificate. Or you could just tell them you like bacon on donuts and have a BMI of 56 and they will probably know you are American.
You will also need proof of name change–a certified copy of the court order approving your change–and I.D. (a valid driver’s license, passport, a valid state-issued identification card, or a U.S. Military identification card).
After you leave the Social Security office, wait at least 24 hours before going to the DMV, so they have time to process the change.
The DMV is a dangerous place, and you will certainly be killed by something, at which point your name change really only matters for your gravestone. But if you somehow do survive, you still need to get a new passport. This will cost about $110, assuming you’ve had your current passport for over a year. You’ll also have to pay an expedite fee if you just realized you need a new passport for your honeymoon: a good reason to wait until you return before changing everything.
Now you change the name on all your bank accounts. This is particularly important, since once you change your name to “Han Sumstud,” you will probably begin earning a lot of extra money on the side (though your wife may not appreciate the parade of lonely older men and women visiting your home at all hours of the night).
The rest of the paperwork can probably be handled from the comfort of your couch.
Don’t forget to order a new set of business cards, new checkbooks, and new monogrammed towels. Remember you need to call your credit card companies and have them issue new cards.
Don’t forget to change the name on your insurance, your mortgage, your utility bills and your LinkedIn profile page.
All of this is a pain in the ass, and we understand if the enormous amount of boring bureaucratic red tape makes you think, “Fuck it, I’ll stick with Jeremy Goldfarb.” On the other hand, if you have an American Express card that says, “Holdin McGroin, Member since 2017,” you’ve clearly won the game of life.
Lastly, you’ll have to let your employer know you have a new last name. If you’re worried they won’t like the one you’ve chosen, just remind them that this is America, and in America anything is possible. Even (and this is true) a guy named “Deez Nutz” coming in 3rd in a state primary for President of the United States.