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Taking Your Wife's Last Name

By Vaidehi Mehta, Esq. | Legally reviewed by Joseph Fawbush, Esq. | Last updated on

While more women are keeping their maiden names after they get married, it’s still the norm for a wife to take her husband's last name. Fifty years ago, only 14% of women kept their last names; By 2010, that number has risen to 22%. A recent study found that even today, for American women in heterosexual marriages, 8 in 10 still take their husband’s last name.

It's less common for a husband to change his last name to his wife's. A man in Florida once even famously got accused of fraud for adopting his wife's last name, though the state's DMV later apologized and allowed him to obtain a new driver's license.

Although changing a husband’s name to his wife’s shouldn’t, in theory, be any different than a wife changing it to her husband's, it can actually be a little more difficult, legally. Here's what you need to know about taking your wife's last name.

Options for New Names

Know your options before you decide to change your name. It’s perfectly legal and often logistically the simplest to keep the name you were born with. This is because any time you change your name — whether or not due to marriage — you will have some degree of administrative headache to deal with. You will often need to notify various relevant parties of your name change, which may include employers, banks, government bodies, and other institutions where you have accounts or official dealings.

Marriage does not require a name change, nor are there legal rules about what you can change your name to. You could hyphenate the names, or even make up a completely new name that didn’t belong to either of you.

Changing Name Via Marriage

A marriage certificate can used to facilitate a last name change after marriage. When a person chooses to switch to their spouse's last name or decides on a new last name, the marriage certificate is commonly used as legal proof that the name change is connected to the marriage event.

After the marriage ceremony, the officiant files the marriage license with the local government, and the couple receives a marriage certificate. This certificate often serves as the primary document needed to change your last name. The county registrar will often issue copies of a valid marriage license for a small fee, allowing couples to protect their original license as a keepsake.

Then, with the marriage certificate in hand, you can update your name on various forms of identification and with many institutions. This might include your driver's license, social security card, passport, bank accounts, and certain licenses (like a bar or medical license).

You can read more about the details and process of changing your name via marriage on our Learn About the Law page. It's worth noting that the specific process and requirements can vary by country and by jurisdiction within a country. Some places might require additional forms or steps to complete the name change process. It is always a good idea to check the local regulations and possibly consult with a legal professional if you are unsure of the requirements.

Laws Aren’t Equal for Husbands and Wives

A woman taking her husband's name when she marries is hardly news, and most states have made it easy for a woman to do so. All states allow a woman to change her last name to her husband’s through a marriage certificate without a court order. However, using your marriage license for a name change is mostly available for women; less than half of states will allow men to do the same.

Only the following 17 states allow a man to use a marriage certificate to take his wife’s last name without an additional court order: California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon. South Dakota. All other states and D.C. require you to get a separate court order for this.

The bottom line is that men in most states have to go through an extra step — getting a court order — instead of simply relying on the marriage certificate.

Name Change via Court Petition

You can also change your last name (or first) without getting married. Whether your state requires you to get a separate court order, or if you simply want to change your name to your partner’s without getting married at all, you can still do this through a court order.

The downsides of this method is that it involves more steps (beyond just getting married) and it’s also more expensive due to the additional filing fees required. The fees will depend on which state or jurisdiction you’re in but can range anywhere from about $20 to over $400. That can add up. If you qualify, you can file for a waiver of that fee — just ask the court when you go to gather your paperwork. Note that whether you qualify will be based largely on your income. You may qualify for a fee waiver if you receive public benefits, for example.

Like with any name change, the court may ask for a reason for your name change (i.e., you're getting married) or question whether the old name is associated with any debt or criminal liability. Some states also require publication in a newspaper of your intent to change your name. Read more about the process of changing your name through a court order on our Learn About the Law page.

Steps to Take After a Name Change

Once you have legally changed your last name to your wife's, you'll need to contact the following agencies:

  • Social Security Administration. Obtain a Social Security Card with your correct name to obtain most other forms of ID. It's also free.
  • DMV. Some states prefer you to notify the DMV within a month of a legal name change.
  • Passport office. You'll need a new passport too, which will serve as sufficient identification for most employers, banks, schools, post offices, and utility companies.

Need More Help?

Taking your wife's last name may be a little more difficult than the other way around, but it is certainly legal and available wherever you live. If you're facing problems with your name change, or if you'd rather have a professional handle the matter for you, contact an experienced family law attorney near you.

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