The pain that is changing a name (in the US)


After the ceremony is over, all of your friends have congratulated you, the last call has passed, and you’re safely encapsulated on an airplane to somewhere like Tahiti, it’s time to think about changing your name. You may want to become Mrs. Bride, Mrs. Groom, Mrs. Bride-Groom, Mrs. Groom-Bride, or something else, but Bankrate suggestions leaving the official change until after the ceremony. Why? Because apparently, many places will ask for a copy of the marriage certificate. They recommend starting this arduous process by ordering 25 copies of your marriage certificate…lest meddlesome officials fail to believe you’re actually hitched.

Next, request an updated Social Security card by calling (800) 772-1213 to get the necessary forms. Doing this first makes almost everything else easier. Your taxes will be more likely to stay straightened out because they notify the IRS for you, which is a huge plus.

To match your new name with your old number, file Form SS-5 with the Social Security Administration. For more details on the process, check out SSA Publication No. 05-10642 on the office’s Web site.

Then, call your local DMV (or RMV, for people who live in states like MA), and ask what forms (yes, more forms) you will need to change your name on your vehicle registration and license. Don’t forget to ask about which documents you’ll need to bring with you. Having a photo ID with your new name will help the rest of the process along.

Now, if you have a passport, you’ll need to fill out an Passport Amendment/Validation Application (hint: it’s a form) and send that off with a fee, your old passport, and your marriage certificate.

Once that’s taken care of, change your name with your bank and with your employer, so the paychecks you receive match the name on your account. While informing your employer of the change, remember to make sure they “update the beneficiaries on work-provided benefits, such as life insurance or your 401(k) plan, as well as look into whether you want to include your spouse under applicable company coverage.” If you’re a student, ask your school to change your name in their records.

Call your landlord, mortgage company, insurance company, utility providers, investment broker, credit card companies, department store account companies, local tax boards, and voter registration board and tell them the good news. Then visit the post office to inform them of the change and hope your mail is taken care of properly. Don’t forget to notify your doctor and dentist. You may have to fill out a few forms here, too.

Finally, consider all of the “miscellaneous accounts and memberships (Internet service provider, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, auto club, alumni association, etc.” that you hold and call them to determine how to get your name switched in their records.

Then, hold your breath and hope that it all happens as planned.

15 Responses to “The pain that is changing a name (in the US)”

  1. Anna says:

    Reason #1543 why I don’t want to change my name.

  2. Never teh Bride says:

    That’s a pretty good reason, Anna 🙂

  3. jenny says:

    Oy. Standing in line at the Social Security office and Department of Motor Vehicles are enough to drive anyone to madness. Don’t even get me started on the rest of this mess…

  4. Never teh Bride says:

    The worst part, jenny, is that doing everything by the book and to the letter is no guarantee of success! I’ve had plenty of minor difficulties with the passport office and the RMV – so can I really trust them with my name? At least with some of these steps, the worst you’ll end up with is two bills or two files at the dentist office. With others, you could end up with an IRS audit!

  5. Twistie says:

    I begin to think changing your name is more trouble than not changing your name. At least all I have to cope with are people who refuse to listen when I tell them I don’t have the same surname as my beloved. I once had a telephone salesman think he was really smart when he informed me that my name couldn’t be different from my husband’s because we were married. I never hung up on someone faster in my life.

    The one that really honked me off, though, was a friend of mine got married and didn’t change her name. When she got her next paycheck, it was made out as if she had changed her name to her husband’s! When she complained that she couldn’t deposite her check, she was informed she would have to submit name change paperwork, despite the fact she hand’t asked them to make the change in the first place. Annoying as hell.

    I’m about ready to go with the Medieval way of doing things where you have your given name and then an identifier (blank of place, so-and-so the dithering, etc.). No matter what you choose as things stand, you’re bound for a ridiculous amount of unneccessary trouble.

  6. Gigolo Kitty says:

    No way am I changing my name! If my husband wants to resolve the matter, he can always switch to mine:)

  7. Down in Oz you can’t change your name until after you’re married anyway as you have to have your (fake) marriage certificate that you “sign” on the day to apply for your real Certificate which then takes 31 days. After you get that but, its smooth sailing and you take a copy of it to the RTA (Aussie DMV) and change your license to your married name.
    When my brother got married a few weeks ago a friend gave them a gift of all the places to remember to contact about her name change. I thought that was a great idea!

  8. Never teh Bride says:

    Definitely a great idea, Dataceptionist! I’m going to have to remember that one!

  9. La BellaDonna says:

    Back in the Jurassic, when I got married, I went off to stand in lines at Social Security to change my name like a good little bride (my choice to change). After a couple of DAYS of standing in lines, only to be told I was in the wrong line, I merely started signing myself as La BellaDonna Ex-Husband’sLastName. Up until about five years ago, when the IRS sent some papers saying they were confused, so I signed my income tax forms as La BellaDonna Maidenname.

    And then I left. In theory (and in Social Security), I am and always have been La BellaDonna Maidenname, but socially, here I am, still La BellaDonna Ex-Husband’sLastName. Aaargh.

  10. Lori says:

    Really, it shouldn’t be an easy process to change your name (although having to stand for hours in line is ridiculous). Identity theft is already a big problem; being able to change your name by phoning it in would, I think, make it worse.

  11. Amandine says:

    Thank you so much for this blog. I had no idea how much work was involved and would have missed soo many things.

  12. hilary says:

    ugh. i’m sorry for all of you. in Cda if you get married you can use whatever married name you want (yours, your husband’s, both…) but you don’t legally change it. the name you’re born with is the name you have, period. you *can* legally change it to your husband’s name, and stand in line and all of that business, but as long as you have a copy of your marriage certificate you can use whatever name suits you, so you can change your name for the banks and all that; your legal documentation doesn’t change. infinitely easier.

  13. Never teh Bride says:

    You’re welcome, Amandine!

  14. Laura says:

    One of the major reasons I never changed my name was that I looked at the pile of paperwork it involved and decided I had much better things to do with my time, like nap, or shop, or cook, or play Tetris. 🙂