• Peter Roehrich

Who Changes Their Name?



Who

Good news: in Maryland both members of the couple have the option (but never is it required) to take the other's surname, or to hyphenate. This option is available to opposite and same-sex couples.


According to an article by the BBC, about 70% of women and 3% of men in the US change their names (in this post, I'm referring to surname when I use the word 'name') after marrying. It varies slightly by age. I know same-sex couples who have done both.


When

Many times when someone changes their name after marriage, they do so promptly after. This can be a good time to do it, but make sure it is coordinated with any travel. Remember that travel documents (tickets) usually must bear that same name as traveler's identifying documents. If you change your driver's license, but have a plane ticket in your old name, you might run into trouble going through security, boarding, or going through customs and immigration.


Why

The decision to change one's name is personal and not to be taken lightly. Whatever the members of the couple decide, as long as the reasons and decisions are authentic to themselves, they are completely valid.


Here are only a few reasons people may, or may not, wish to change their names.


Tradition. It is no secret that traditionally women have taken their husbands' last names. But there's no reason to let that tradition force someone into changing a name, nor is it to say that a man cannot take his spouse's name. Someone for whom tradition is important may wish to make a name change to continue this. On the other hand, someone who likes to buck tradition may not change names specifically for this reason.


Signaling marital status. Some people may choose to take their partners' names as a means of signaling that they are a couple. This is a bit tricky, as it discounts the bond between partners in a serious and enduring, relationship who have not married. That said, when two people share the same last name, others are going to assume that they are together. Fun fact: when my husband and I were in a domestic partnership (we did and still do have different last names) people regularly thought we were business partners.


Identity. One reason people may not choose to change their name is to preserve a sense of individuality in the marriage. As you no doubt know, a marriage is a balance of two and one; two individuals who come together to form a team. Some people may feel that keeping their original surname will help them achieve the first of the two aims.


Kids. Both parents having the same surname makes choosing their kids' (should they have kids) last name easy. It also makes it easier to match kids with their parents!


History. An individual from a family with a unique name may wish to keep their surname as a means of carrying it forward. This might be particularly so when there are no other successors in the family.


Professional. A newly married spouse may decide to keep their original last name to make their professional record clear to associates and clients. For example, an architect with who has their last name as the firm's name may choose not to change names to make it clear that they are the principal.


How

Changing your name after marriage is an official (read: bureaucratic) process. This post will address the general steps in Maryland. The Maryland judiciary has a good video about this.


You can take the first step in changing your name as early as a few days after your union is solemnized. Your wedding Officiant will take the signed license after the ceremony to file with the court. I send signed licenses back to the court via Priority Mail and they are usually delivered within one or two business days. Once the court receives and processes the signed license, you can obtain a certified copy, usually for a few dollars. This is the only paperwork you need in Maryland; no court order is necessary.


Broadly speaking, you'll need several certified copies of your marriage license. Get more certified copies than you think you'll need as they may be necessary later for health insurance, real estate, etc. Then gather up your official documents (passport, ID, social security card, etc.) as you will need these as you go through the process (details below).


Where

With certified copy in hand, you can begin the process with government agencies.


Go over to your local MVA branch to receive a new driver's license or ID card. This is your best bet for starting the process, as this ID will be important in subsequent updates.


Changing your voter registration is super easy in Maryland. You simply make the update through the State Board of Elections website.


You also will need to submit a certified copy of your marriage license to the Social Security Administration to receive a card in your new name. Fill out the SS-5 form and submit with your license. I suggest doing this in person. If you do it by mail you'll need to file it along with your driver’s license. That's right, if you do it by mail you'll have to send in your license—yikes—no driving for weeks!


This next one is a little nebulous. Some sources say that it is not necessary to update your name with the IRS; they maintain that when you file with your new name, provided you've already updated it with SSA, all will be fine. To update your name with the IRS, which is not required but might make getting your refund easier, complete form IRS-8822 and submit another certified copy of your marriage license.


You might need to update your passport. Doing this is on the complicated side because the form and other documents required vary according to how old your passport is. Check with the State Department on the requirements.


What Else

This guide is limited in scope to helping Marylanders change their names with common state and federal agencies. Think about your own circumstances to evaluate whether there are other agencies with which you need to change your name, such as industry-specific entities (some transportation workers will need to update their TWIC cards).


Moreover, there are many private entities that have records you'll need to update. Bank accounts, frequent flyer programs, and ISPs may need your attention. And, don't forget about your employer.


If you are a member of the military, or are marrying into the military community, you will have more steps to take. I will not cover those here, as I will treat them in an upcoming post.


Did you change your name after marrying? What was the process like for you?


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