5 things nobody told me about changing my last name

Guest post by Nicole

Hello, my name is DIFFERENT! © by quinn.anya, used under Creative Commons license.
Hello, my name is DIFFERENT! © by quinn.anya, used under Creative Commons license.
I’ve been married for two months. Woot! It seems like I’ve been through so much since then, but the biggest issue has been changing my name. I had a really difficult time with it.

I was not prepared for having a new name. I love my husband, and I love being married, but I had no idea what sharing a name with someone really meant. I won’t get into the arguments for changing or not changing your name when you get married. We could debate that forever. But I will say that it was a very difficult decision for me, and though I chose to give up my last name in favor of his, I had a full blown identity crisis in the months after the wedding. I found myself constantly saying, “Nobody told me about this.” Here are a few things that I discovered, just to further inform those of you who are contemplating the “big switch.”

1. You will have to relearn your signature

Seems obvious, right? I had never even thought of that. You spend years learning how to sign your name until it becomes a reflex, and suddenly you have to think about how to write your letters. It’s not easy.

2. It’s okay to ask people to call you by your first name

A lot of people embrace their married names. I cringed at mine. It didn’t feel like me. Every time somebody delightedly addressed me as “Mrs. Fox,” I wanted to go hide somewhere. But it’s ok to say, “Please, [First Name] is fine.” You have every right to be called by a name you’re comfortable with, and you deserve some time to get used to this adjustment before diving in headfirst. Just be polite about it — people are generally happy for you and don’t mean any harm.

3. This is frustrating as hell

I have never heard anyone speak about the myriad pains-in-the-ass of changing your name. It’s “just something you do.” But you will wait in long lines at government offices, you will pay money, you will make a dozen phone calls to credit card and insurance companies, you will mess up checks because you signed your old name, you will introduce yourself incorrectly multiple times. You may curse your decision to change your name (more than once, in my case). You might feel a sense of loss for your family and your heritage. You may wonder “Who am I?” If only one of you is changing your name, you might cry about how it’s so unfair that you have to do all of this and your partner doesn’t. All of this is normal, and you’re not alone.

4. You need to talk to your significant other

If they’re not also taking a different name, they won’t truly understand what you’re going through. It’s a major thing. Your name is WHO YOU ARE, and you just up and made it something else. But you can’t bottle that up! It only leads to resentment. Talk to your partner about how you’re feeling, but don’t be surprised if they’re initially a little hurt. They may take it as a rejection of their name, and possibly a rejection of them. Be reassuring, and let them know you need some support during this process, and your spouse will have your back. You’re in this together, after all.

5. It gets easier

Seriously, it does. The more you say and write your new name, the more natural it becomes. If you’re having trouble, remember why you chose to change your name in the first place. Remember all of the love and happiness of your wedding day, and remind yourself that this experience is, in a way, a form of expression for those emotions.

These were the experiences of a woman taking her husband’s name — for those of you in different situations, we’d love to hear the lessons YOU learned. What’s it like when both partners change their names? What are the challenges when your partner takes YOUR name?

Comments on 5 things nobody told me about changing my last name

  1. I knew that post wedding we would be dealing with unemployment, moving, school, family drama and a whole lot more BS. Tacking a massive identity crisis on top of all that just felt like a BAD PLAN. (Even with the grief I get for not changing.)

    Glad to know I might have been on to something. I’m going to show this to my sister the next time she gets on my case about “not being a real family” because our monograms don’t match. It’s not rainbows and unicorn farts on the other side either.

  2. Accepting my new name was not a linear process for me. Leading up to the wedding I was so excited to change my name. My maiden name was German and a little hard to pronounce, and my husband’s last name is a classic, easily spelled, prestigious-sounding name. We talked about hyphenating or combining our last names, but my husband’s was clearly “better.” I changed my name on Facebook the day of our wedding.

    For a few months as I filled out all the forms and contacted all the companies I have ever had business with, I felt that my maiden name was “wrong” and my married name was “right.” But then about four or five months after we got married I started to miss my maiden name and that connection with my family and the person I used to be. For a while neither name felt right. Now I’ve mostly come to accept my married name, but there are still times that I introduce myself by my maiden name or feel more connected to it.

  3. I find that the only time I’m likely to have name confusion is if I have very early in the morning doctor’s appointments where they want me to fast for blood work. I’m Lisa OldName before coffee and Lisa NewName after coffee! But other than that, almost a year later, I’ve acclimated.

  4. I went from easiest name ever to Seay, but sounds like “see”.
    It’s annoying.
    I always knew I would be a Mrs.Somedude’slastname some day, and was quite cavalier about dropping Mitchell. My dad calls us “Mitchell kids” (Mitchell kids, get in the car!), I am the only daughter so I have always been Mitchell girl or girl kid. ALL of my friends call me firstnameMitchell (all one word). I felt the first pang of sadness when I ran into one of our wedding guests while taking pictures before the ceremony. He yelled across the street “FIRSTNAMEMITCHELL!….eeeeerrrrr…wait, who are you now?”I joked that I was still meMitchell until after the ceremony. I had a moment though.
    In Florida the name change process is super easy and free (if you’re changing due to marriage). I did the social security office and the DMV in the same day and then I became
    Firstname middlename-Mitchell Seay. I wasn’t ready to give up my middle name or my last name.
    I basically instantly regretted it.
    My husband was so jazzed to see my new DL with my fancy name on it and it’s a tiny four letter word, alone on a second line. It looks like an afterthought. Also, hyphenated middle name is dumb and hard to explain. It’s not worth the hassle to change it though.
    I changed my signature to first initial.Seay so that at least when I wrote my name my husband would know that he and our name is anything but an after thought.

  5. I did Marriage V.1.0 almost 15 years back (before 9/11), and it was actually very simple to get my name changed back then. It took me a bit of practice on the writing, and I was constantly correcting people on the pronunciation (it was one of those harsh German names that nobody bothers to read the middle letters, even though that’s where most of the pronunciation happens). But I got used to it. I had no real identity of my own, to be honest, so I never really angsted about giving up my birth name.

    When I divorced ten years after that, it was a pain in the ass to get it all changed back to my maiden name (which I always felt was my real name). I’ve kept it since then – I’ve gotten a degree with that name, and I’m feeling comfortable with myself for the first time in my life. I had firmly decided that if Iever got married again, I’m keeping my maiden name.

    Now I’m engaged and going to be doing Marriage V2.0, and I’m having mixed feelings about changing my name. I really don’t want to, but it would make things so much easier when we have a child for all of us to have the same name. At least his is pronounceable compared to my first husband’s, but I’m still uneasy about giving up my name this time. We have a year, and I already know the drill of getting used to it …

    I might just replace my middle name with my maiden name since I was never attached to my middle name. Or even just have two last names like others here have done. 🙂

  6. One of the things that I like about hyphenating is that I didn’t really have to relearn my signature; I just have to remember to keep going. Plus, my initials didn’t change. Informally, sometimes I use the whole thing and sometimes I only use half of it. If I’m making reservations for dinner with my husband, I just use his name since it applies to both of the people who will be showing up. Likewise I use my maiden name if I’m going out with my parents. It doesn’t bother me particularly if people only use one half or the other of my hyphenated name, but I knew it would drive me *insane* if I kept my maiden name and people insisted on calling me Mrs. Husbandsname. [Ok, it bothers me a little when my mother-in-law addresses something only to me and calls me Kristen (Husbandsname), because I don’t know if she’s doing it because it’s shorter or because she rejects the idea that I didn’t just take her son’s name.]

    We’ve been married not quite four months and I didn’t even start changing my name until almost the two month point because I didn’t want my name to be in limbo on the honeymoon when I was going to have to be showing IDs for planes and such things, and that was a month after the wedding. I have almost everything done now. I hope to go change my name on my third library card that I rarely use after work tomorrow. After that, I’ll have a few doctor’s offices left, which I don’t plan to bother with until the next time I go see them.

  7. I’ve been married nearly 6 months now, and I’m experiencing some of the annoyances of *not* changing my name. So many women change their names when they marry, especially in the midwest, that people always assume my last name is the same as my husband’s – always. So when we signed up for dance lessons, our instructor made a pretty binder with a giant monogrammed S – but my last name starts with an L. When we signed up for a mortgage, even though *I* make 10x as much money as my husband and I’m the primary borrower, all the paperwork was initally put with his last name and it all had to be edited. Our joint bank account has my name on it, but his name is first, so our first set of checks had only his name (if my name had been the same as his it would have said “Angela and Mike S” instead of our names on two different names, so mine wouldn’t have gotten cut off). At work, HR wanted to know my “new” name for tax purposes, and some of my coworkers found it hilarious when I stated my name wasn’t changing. The guy who sold us my new car remarked that I’d have to change my email address to reflect my new name, and acted disappointed and maybe even disgusted that I wasnt changing names!

    I’m really, really happy I stuck with my guns and didn’t name change – no double-barrelled last name, no hyphens, no changing at all. But gosh, it’s annoying to deal with no matter how you approach the name change issue!

    • That’s interesting, my partner and I are not married, we have a joint bank account, own a car together, rent a property together, all in our own seperate names. Mail either comes addressed as His Firstname Lastname & Lauren Lastname or Lauren Lastname & His Firstname Lastname or our first initial followed by the last name of each of us. I’ve never been called Mrs Hislastname, though whoever called me that would regret it so maybe I just give off that vibe, lol.

      • I’m in the same boat! My bf and I have been together for 10 years and have shared a home for 6 and haven’t really had any problems. We’re on the same insurance plan and get joint mail with his full name and then my full name. My car is also in both our names because he has fantastic credit and got a great deal because of it. I’m planning on keeping my name when we get married and I don’t really foresee too many problems because all my friends and family know how I feel about the issue. The only thing I’m confused about it when we do get married do I go by Ms or Mrs? Its very confusing.

    • Small upside:
      By not changing your name, you are making it easier for future women who don’t want to change theirs!

      There were other things about my wedding/marriage that weren’t normal that strangers and acquaintances felt the need to constantly comment on. When SO many people say something, it’s hard not to second-guess yourself after awhile. But, really, who cares what they think if you’re happy with your decision?

      • Exactly! The more women that keep their names, the easier it gets for everyone.

        Up here in Ontario, I never suffered the least inconvenience for keeping my name. Mortgage people, banks, hospital people when I was having my baby–everyone asked politely about our names. This will happen eventually everywhere.

  8. My fiancée and I are getting married in September and I’ve decided to have two last names, no hyphens, so it will read Samantha middle name maiden name married name. My middle name is my mother’s first name and I’m keeping it that way. My brother and I are the last in our generation with our last name (not entirely true, we have one first cousin with the same last name, but he and my uncle are deadbeats). My brother and sister inlaw have only one child, a little girl, so it’s very possible out last name could essentially die with us. The thought of that saddens me greatly. So, I’m having two last names a mine can live on, and when we have kids, they will have both names. Thankfully, the Mr. is cool with this. He’s actually adopted by his stepdad, so his last name, while very important to him, has no biological connection.

  9. A year ago I changed my name. Not just my surname, I changed the whole lot. I never identified with the name I had been given at birth, and cringed when people called me by it. Every time people called me by that name, or I saw it on a letter, or had to write it for a legal document… I had this overwhelming sense of sadness and I cringed with hatred. I hated my name, and I hated the signature that went with it.

    I’d been going by another name for years and years, but it wasn’t legal. And it was difficult to explain to people why I called myself a name but had to sign another one.

    So I changed my name, and in the process I had a chat with my boyfriend (we weren’t yet engaged, though I had been planning to propose to him). He agreed for me to take his surname, so I dropped my entire name (first, middle, and hyphenated surname) in favour for the first name I loved, and the surname of the man I loved…

    Part of it was a pain in the ass. I STILL haven’t lodged all the “change of name” notifications I should have to some places (a bank account I never use, for example), and I had to get cards reissued. But the flutter in my heart as I looked at my brand new photo ID with my new name, and my new Medicare card… well, that was perfect.

    And funnily enough, as soon as I changed my name, I fell immediately in love with my new signature too.

    A year on, my dad still doesn’t know I changed my name. He would be disapproving, and I don’t know how long I can hide it.

    Another awful side effect… the dreaded “What was your name before?” question. Extremely rude, IMO. I don’t want to remember my name, I certainly don’t want to tell you what it was. Mind your own business, FFS… though this question is almost always following someone ELSE spilling the beans about how this name isn’t my “real” name, and I changed it. That’s my business… I wish people would stop speaking on my behalf.

  10. I’ve changed my name and changed it back. With the exception of a few minor annoyances, never figuring out how to sign a cursive z, and wishing that I hadn’t changed my email, it was really never an issue for me. Even the paperwork wasn’t that bad.

    I did occasionally think about having kids and how they wouldn’t have the same name as my brothers’ kids, and that made me slightly sad. But, it never actually came up, so I guess I’ll just figure that one out another day. I’m still not sure what I’ll do if I get married again in the future.

  11. I got used to my new signature super-fast, as I sign my name a bazillion times a day at work anyway. By the time I actually got around to changing my name on my credit card I was already a pro. 😛

  12. I had already legally changed my name a year before my marriage–first, middle, last. And whilst still reeling from the whole ordeal, I decided not to take my husband’s last name until after graduate school. Since then I’ve decided, fuck that, I’m keeping my name as it stands. If he or anyone else wants to share a name, he/she/ze can go on ahead and deal with the ensuing headaches themselves.

  13. I decided to not change my name when I got married, mostly because I like my name more than his and also because his name is King, and with my first name …..

    We have been discussing what to give our kids as a last name, when we have them. I’m leaning more towards two last names, not hyphenated, but I guess it will depend on what first names we end up choosing as well.

    One of the other reasons I decided to not change my name is because I just didn’t want to go through the hassle of changing it because it’s too much effort for lazy me when you still need to ‘claim’ your previous name anyway (eg. on forms it asks if you were ever known by another name). Though annoyingly, after I made that decision I found out that to change from “Miss” to “Mrs” at the same places (like the bank) you need to provide copies of your marriage certificate! I’m still “Miss” to my banking stuff because I never actually go to the bank and don’t want to cart around my marriage certificate. I can understand having to provide proof of a name change, but it annoys me I also need it to change just my title :/ but in the end I don’t want to be a Mrs either because Mrs My Lastname is my mum!! When I had spoken to the bank about how to change my title, I’d prefer to be a “Ms” but the rep I spoke to got a bit snarky, telling me that “Ms is only used for divorced women”. Yeah but um, “Miss” is usually for unmarried women, soo…..

    Sometimes I do regret not changing my name. I hate that it is assumed that I’m not married because my husband and I have different names. We recently bought a house and the lawyer and broker paperwork they generated always had me down as “miss” even when I’d specify to have me put down as “ms”. Not that being married is something that defines me or that I want to show off but just the overall assumption. When people realise I’m married, I can often feel a shift in their perception of me, like I’m more mature and serious because I have a “husband” and not a “boyfriend’ and now even doubly so because I have a mortgage and don’t rent; even though there’s no difference.

    • Haha- ‘joking’. Glad someone else is in my shoes. His last name Blough (like plow) is mispronounced by most people as ‘blow’. My first name is Anita. Say it a few times quickly with a dirty mind and you’ll see what I mean.

  14. Has anyone changed their first name when they got married too? I never use my first name, and my preferred name, Elyse, is not a natural nickname of my legal name and usually leads to confusion when starting new jobs – and with my boyfriend in the Navy, I get to look forward to that a lot. My boyfriend and I are talking seriously of marriage and one of the reasons he wants me to change it is because his sister has the same name, and she isn’t exactly the most honorable person, so we would risk identity theft from her if I took his last. But, I’m wondering how crazy of a process this will be.

  15. I am getting married on April 27th and am going to change my last name. I made this decision, eagerly. It may be difficult to learn to sign a new last name but I do not think that I will “cringe” when I hear someone address me as Mrs. Herbert. A last name does not identify who I am, as a person. It does not label me or mold my personality. I will be the exact same person, with my new last name, as I was with my maiden name. It’s just a cluster of letters – not a death sentence.

    • Ironically, hearing people refer to me as “Miss Herbert” is exactly why I’m so excited to be changing my name! My last name (Hebert) is French pronounced roughly like “A bear”. The verbal and literal typo happens so often that I have it listed as an a.k.a. on my credit report!

      • I have an Americanized French name and it gets mispronounced (and misspelled) all the time! It’s Rongey (originally Ranger) and pronounced Ron-jee (originally Ron-zhay). I’m keeping it in addition to my middle name, and adding my husband’s last name. I get tired of hearing it pronounced with a hard g, or as Rogney, but it’s my name and it is unique. I couldn’t part with it totally.

  16. i’ve been wondering whether or not i should change my name, and i think this entry helped me decide i’m going to keep it. thanks for helping me finally pick a side of the fence!

  17. When I upgraded husbands, I wasn’t sure what to do about my last name. I was eager to shed my first husbands last name (it was awful) but I wanted to have the same last name as my kids, especially while they were in school. However, our kids were all older and my daughter changed her last name to my maiden name, my son is planning on changing his name after graduation, and then I became pregnant. It was important to my upgraded hubs that the baby have his last name and it seemed like a good time to change mine as well. I love my new last name, it’s easily pronouncable, sounds pretty with my first name and there’s no leftover bad feelings over my first marriage. It was a hassle though, it’s been 5 years and I still get mail with my old surname. A good tip: I found printing labels with my new name was easier to stick on forms than filling out form after form by hand.

  18. Changing my name was very hard. I still struggle with it almost 2 years later. Part of me wishes I didn’t change it, but I know that would’ve hurt my husband’s feelings. I think the hardest part for me is that I’ve never met my husbands father or anyone on that side of the family, and I think their name is literally made up, so I feel like I’ve lost a huge sense of who I am. I was proud of my maiden name and the family attached to it, but now I don’t even know the family that is attached to my married name. We don’t even live in the same state (were the only people in the whole state, the whole east coast of the US with our last name). Our baby is due in 3 weeks, and I’ll never be able to tell him where his dad’s family came from or who they are.
    Interestingly enough, I changed my name from Fox (you mentioned Mrs. Fox in the post so I’m just assuming that’s your new name. If not then just don’t even listen to me right now)! I still think it’s the best last name ever. It’s very hard to make fun of (your kids will thank you). Good luck adjusting! 🙂

  19. I absolutely HATED my married name right before and right after changing it.
    I cried multiple times before the wedding feeling as though I was sacrificing my autonomy and dooming myself to being “B’s wife” instead of just myself.
    But you are absolutely right, it gets easier. After 9 months of marriage it feels weird to be called by my maiden name. My attitude has shifted completely. It now feels more like a fresh start and it is a reminder that my husband and I are a team more than anything else.

  20. Make sure that if you change your name before you go on your honeymoon, that you do it all! I ended up not having time to get a new debit card, and the name on the card didn’t match my new driver’s licence. ALL KINDS OF DRAMA! Also, TSA frowns upon a temporary licence without something else to prove you are who you are. Three pat-downs later, I wish I would have booked my flights in my “old” name and saved all the name-changing for after we got back.

    • A friend of mine warned me about this! I was so glad I waited until we got home to update my paperwork!

  21. My wife still doesn’t have a credit card with her legal name on it and its been over three years since our marriage and her name change. She’s called and complained several times but they just send a new one with a different version of her name that isn’t actually correct. But really, no one cares. She also hasn’t changed her name on several accounts (like her mortgage on the house she bought before we met). They get paid so they don’t care. So don’t stress a out how long it takes you to get accounts and such changed over. The DL and SSN are the important ones.

  22. I was super excited to change my last name. Until I remembered that it took more than just “oh hi my name changed” Even if I want to change my name on my World of Warcraft account I have to send them a copy of my marriage license and valid ID with the new last name. When I changed my name at work all my log ins had to be changed and the whole process for all my programs took about a week to finally start working properly. even still when i try to log in there are some programs that automatically bring up my old username.
    I also just started saying both my last names “hi my name is keli X, or maybe I’m under Keli Y…” because I forget what records use which name…

    I am still glad I changed it though. my last name is super japanese, and I look super japanese. so when people see a very spanish last name they’re like ???? Also, I get to stop hearing people mispronounce my japanese last name, and instead mispronounce my spanish last name. I thought FOR SURE once my name changed people would be able to say it (its pretty common). Nope.

    • I’m going from an always-mispronounced French name to a Spanish name. My first name could just as easily be a Spanish name, so I’m kind of looking forward to people expecting me to be hispanic and then seeing that I’m very, very Celtic/Scandinavian-looking white. My husband-to-be’s name is very Spanish, and he looks very Mexican (that was his argument against taking my last name, he thought it would look dumb if he had super-Spanish FirstName super-Spanish MiddleName whacked-out-french LastName).

      Unfortunately, he says people mispronounce his name too. No escape.

  23. It`s a bit surreal to read all this. Here in french Quebec it is expected that women simply keep their maiden names. By law since 1981 you must use your maiden name in all official documents. The vast majority of women don`t change their names. The exceptions are typically first generation immigrants and they have to go through a separate legal process to change their names. There is no automatic shortcut through mariage.

    I know it`s tradition in the US but I’m still surprised from reading the responses to see how little that has changed. I thought it was more balanced now, but I see now it`s still the exception. I`ve seen many offbeat, feminist friends really struggle with the change. Often because (as some have said here) they`re afraid of hurting their husband`s feelings. Here often men shrug because there`s no such expectation.

    I`ve heard the argument that I’m just keeping my father`s name instead of my husband`s – but the difference is my father passed away when I was young and my mother eventually reverted back to her maiden name, because all of her sisters and parents have that name. Sometimes I’m tempted to switch to her maiden name too because I identify strongly to that name, not my own since I`ve had no contact with my father`s family in 25+ years.

    To resume: this is a highly personal topic and we each have different validations to our decision. But here in Quebec the very idea of changing your name is weird and old-fashioned. No one I know changed their names. In fact my husband suggested switching to my name (because he dislikes his and doesn`t get along with his family) but I was afraid of backlack from them, didn`t want to make matters worse so we decided against it.

    Just across the river in (english, more conversative) Ontario it`s about half and half.

  24. Does anyone have any experience to share about one of those online name changing services? I’m actually pretty stoked to take future hubby’s last name… and he grouponed me the name change thing as a gift! Since I’ve always heard what a huge pain in the ass it is, hopefully that will make it easier.
    I’ve already started practicing my new signature…although I’m not quite happy with it yet, honestly… it feels so unnatural! My signature has always been my first two initials and a last name shaped squiggle… so really I’m just designing a new squiggle… But the thing that I haven’t really considered until reading this post is the future of my middle name! I’ve always kinda liked it… but do I like it more than my current last name? Do I legally go First Middle Newlastname but in my work signature leave my current last name to avoid confusion? Do I save the middle name and abandon the last name? Do I keep ALL THE NAMES!? gah. confused… at least I have 5 months to decide…

  25. All of this stuff just adds to the fact that I am so, so, so happy that I kept my own name. I mean, despite the fact that it’s an archaic, sexist tradition. Why would I want to be exposed to that much red tape? Yuck.

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