An engaged woman has thousands of decisions to make before her wedding- at least five hundred about her dress alone! But amidst all the wedding details that seem so important at the time but will soon be reduced to photographs, the bride-to-be and her fiance are working through decisions that will shape their lives together.
The decision a woman makes of whether to take her husband’s last name or to keep the name she was born with is particularly loaded. Aside from the opinions of all the friends and family members who will want to weigh in, both options have advantages and disadvantages. The woman who does not change her name may run into roadblocks taking care of household business, and will not be listed in the telephone directory; if she has children with a different last name, people may assume that she is not married to their father. Women who do change their names escape these hurdles, but they pay for that convenience upfront when they put the time into a legal name change.
If you decide to change your name, it is important to do so promptly and thoroughly. A word of warning: until you get back from your honeymoon and start taking care of the paperwork, your legal name will still be your maiden name, and that name will be on your driver’s license when you get on the plan for your honeymoon. Make sure that you make your airline reservation in your maiden name! You must have a government picture ID showing the same name as is on the ticket.
After your wedding, your first step in changing your name is to obtain an official copy of your marriage license or certificate. The most crucial part of legally changing your name, which you should take care of first, is to obtain a new Social Security card. Your Social Security number will not change, but the new card will show your new name. You will need to fill out Form SS-5 from the Social Security Administration; you can obtain this form from their website or at your local Social Security office.
You can then either bring the form along with your proof of marriage (and, if born outside of the United States, proof of your U.S. citizenship or legal residency) to your local office or submit the form by mail. You must submit an original, not a photocopy, of your marriage license, but even if you submit the form by mail the SSA will return your documents promptly. Note that when you change your name with the SSA you have a choice of continuing to use your given middle name, or of changing your legal middle name to your maiden name. For instance, if you were born Jane Alice Doe and marry Mr. Jones, you may choose to be legally known as Jane Alice Jones or as Jane Doe Jones.
Show your new Social Security card to your workplace so that they can update your records, including your insurance and retirement benefits and any business cards or other materials. Your next stop is your state’s motor vehicle department to get a new driver’s license and to update your car’s registration with your new name. Make sure to call ahead or to visit the department’s web site so that can bring appropriate documentation- probably, your old driver’s license and either your marriage certificate, your new Social Security card, or both.
If you have a passport, you will need a new one. To order a new passport, download Form DS-19 from the State Department’s web site. Fill out this form and mail it along with your old passport and a certified copy of your marriage license to the address on the website.
The SSA, the DMV, your workplace, and the passport office are just the tip of the name change iceberg. You will also need to change your name with your bank, all your credit card companies, any utilities or other bills in your name, and any firms with which you have investments or other financial business.
Different companies will require different levels of proof, with some insisting on a certified copy of the marriage license and others contenting themselves with your say-so. If you’re frugal and don’t write a lot of checks at stores, there’s probably no need to order new checks; you can simply cross out your old name and write your new one in. Banks usually don’t require that the name and address information printed on the checks be correct.
A good rule of thumb: change your name everywhere you can think of, and after that, every time you receive something in the mail addressed to your old name, change the name with that institution. It’s a time-consuming process, but taking care of your name change properly will save you from major headaches down the road.