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. My husband hyphenated his name to Mike HisLast-MyLast. He still hasn’t changed it at work yet, but he went to social security and got it done. We didn’t have any credit cards or complicated documents when we got married. He is still adjusting to the new signature though, and the rare person that finds out it’s his wife’s name and decides to look at him like he has three heads.

  2. So my husband and I both kept our birth surnames. I have a somewhat common Anglo-surname, and he has a SUPER common Anglo-surname.

    I have absolutely no regrets. I keep a copy of my marriage certificate in my wallet, but you know? I’ve never needed to use it. We put both of our names on anything that is shared and it’s yet to be a problem.

    Yes, sometimes people do not realize we are married. I suspect this is as much a fact that we married young (23) as much as our surnames are different. Given how common his surname is, I am not certain people who have figured we were married anyway, or just presumed we were two people with coincidentally the same last name. People do not assume his brother and he are related for that reason.

    We both briefly worked at the same company, and I think it was really helpful that folks did not realize we were married immediately. He started after me and was not in my shadow – people looked at his work without having a reference category in their head. We weren’t hiding our marriage, it just didn’t come up (and surprised a few people when it did). He’s still there, several promotions later. I quit to go back to graduate school. We have very similar skill sets (our common interests were one of the things that attracted us to each other) and it’s nice that our careers aren’t webbed together too.

    I know folks sometimes mourn that their children may have different surnames than they do, but you know? Lots of kids have different surnames than their parents these days. Last names aren’t foolproof indicators of association courtesy of the commonness of divorce, children born to unwed parents, etc. Names are gifts, and when kids become adults they are going to do what they want with it regardless (as so many commentors here felt empowered to do) and that’s cool.

  3. I kept my name when I married four years ago.

    Even four years later, I am so damn happy to have my own name intact that sometimes I still smile about it. I have a long, cumbersome last name that I have to spell out to everyone all the time BUT IT’S MINE AND I LOVE IT.

  4. Last November I got married and immediately changed my name. Yes it was a pain to go through all the steps to get everything changed over but I am so glad I did it. My husband is transgender (FTM) and it meant so much to him for me to take his name. Also we are trying to have a baby now as well so it helps cement his connection to this future baby (since we are using donor sperm and their won’t be the bio connection).

    It has helped create family unity and since I am one of the lucky queer people to have been able to legalize my marriage (with a civil union, hoping IL makes it so we have to get married all over again!) I was all the more excited when I was given the opportunity to easily change my name without having to go to court etc.

  5. Before we were married, my husband and I decided we’d both hyphenated our names. When we went to get the marriage license, he changed his mind, but I put both names on the license for myself. Three years later, I still haven’t changed it. I keep meaning to, honestly, but I haven’t made the time to do it. It’s so much more than just a word. It’s me, it’s my identity, it’s who I’ve been, and it’s a rare name.

    He continuously brings it up as if I’m insulting him by not having changed it yet (in a joking way, but still…). I don’t think he gets what it really means to me, or to others who change their names.

  6. I can’t believe nobody else has commented that changing your signature can be AWESOME! I remember the moment I realised I would get to ditch the super boring signature I had made up in my early teens, which had degenerated into two initials and a scribble. Now I had the opportunity to design something to match my personality! I added like 3 flourishes! I practiced and refined!

    The name change decision itself was a total no-brainier for me. Long difficult Polish maiden name. Before hubby and I got together, people would ask how to pronounce it and I would say “it’s pronounced ‘looking for a man with a 5-letter last name.'” 7 is still a huge improvement, especially since there’s a better consonant-to-vowel ratio.

    The paperwork may have been a bit annoying, but it was totally worth it!

  7. I actually really looked forward to changing my name! I had to wait several months for our marriage to be registered but I found the process of changing my name easy. And I hated my maiden name (nobody can pronounce it, spell it or remember it). I love signing it and being introduced as Mrs Fleming.

  8. I just got married this past Saturday (4-20) ! Everyone keeps telling me about the exhausting process of changing ones name and I must it does truly sound like a pain in the ass! Of course the fact that my new name will end with “Villafranco” does not help!

  9. Well, I personally am glad to be changing my name! I have always hated it…. lol (My last name is Hair… -_- ) But yeah, I’m practicing my signature! It’ll take some getting used to, but I’m excited!

  10. 6) You will spend enormous amounts of time justifying your decision and getting frustrated when other feminists decide that you’re a terrible person for participating in the patriarchy despite it being a very thought-out decision. :-/ I caught an awful lot of flak for my choice to change my name, which took me completely by surprise.

    Also, anyone who thinks it’s easy to accidentally take your spouse’s name without thinking about it has clearly never had to change theirs. Social Security, DMV, sometimes the town hall, Voter Registration, Passport, bank, credit cards, anywhere you’re employed, freelance clients, family members, friends, post office (yep, sometimes even them!), and anyone you regularly do business with and have to be invoiced by – all of these folks have to be notified. Some of them require paperwork and fees. I got married in July 2012 and I am STILL discovering people I forgot to notify properly and need to send documents to. This is not the sort of thing I recommend anyone embark on if they’re not really sure they want to change it, simply because the effort is just not worth it if you’re not 100% determined :-p.

  11. I have struggled like mad! My job decided that I had been here too long to change everything; so they only changeme by email but the IT dept wont change anything else. I have begged! It took 3 pay periods to change my paycheck! The cable company will not change and the cell phone company is difficult to deal with. I found the the DOL and SS was the easiest. My Credit union was a joint account and would not change without his signature too… but I am also a signer on my parents account… they made my parents sign that it was OK for my name to change. This has been CRAZY!!!! My husband and I have been together for almost 5 years and now been married for 6 months of wedded Bliss…… however, changing from a pretty common Scottish name to VOWEL filled Samoan last name…… yeah, dont try signing the bar tab at the end of the night. 🙂

  12. This is EXACTLY how I feel. Got married in December and we had a couple of holidays booked so kept my name at first due to passport etc. Have just started to change a few names this fortnight and it’s a nightmare. I feel like I’m never going to get through all the calls & queues. I found the best way to try to embrace my new name was to start using it as soon as we got married for things that didn’t require legal documents (i.e online shopping postal addresses). I started having packages arrive in my new name and after 6 months it is finally starting to sink in. I still tell people the wrong name all the time though when asked. I think that’ll take years after having one name for 33 years!

    • Just realised I regustered the above comment in my maiden namw LOL. It is so hard to remember the new one!

  13. I have nearly finished changing my name, which probably means I am half way through :)>, to my husbands name.
    I found that although I have always planned to change my name it was still emotionally difficult when the time came, especially because it is a time consuming and frustrating thing to do. To make it a bit easier on me (and reduce resentment/make it fairer). We made a deal where by when I had to spend a significant amount of time lining up, or on the phone ect. changing my name he would do something nice for me…..make dinner, give me a massage ect. Just a little treat to take the sting out of it.

  14. The strangest moment was when I realized that I had had my husband’s last name for longer than my maiden name…really strange. I still don’t like to be called by Mrs… that’s my mother-in-laws name!

  15. My fiance really doesn’t like or identify with his family or his name (and I wasn’t such a huge fan of my last name either) but we desperately wanted a family name, so we spent months discussing and coming up with ideas until we found one that stuck. He is in the process of changing his middle and last name (we also chose his middle name ourselves).
    When we get married this year, I’ll take on his new name; the family name we came up with and chose together.
    This post reminded me of how lucky I am. And how grateful that I never felt that my own last name was my identity, either. I love my first name, and find it beautiful and fitting, but my last always felt like a strange mix of sounds to me. I want to add to my middle name (add Eva to Lorraine to make my final name Carissa Eva-Lorraine Cassiel) but instead of paying $500 and putting it in a newspaper for 4 weeks, I think I’ll just change my last name legally the easy way, with the marriage license routine, and represent the middle name however I want, except for legal documents.

    But I’m glad he’ll be stuck in the name change boat with me.

    Lucky for us we both really dislike our last names and are so excited to get and use our new names, so hopefully (especially if we can do most of it together and early before the excitement wears off!) it’ll be fun and not so painful!

    I can’t wait to sign a new name and tell every stupid, monotonous company that I got married and get to spell out my new last name for them and announce and solidify our new names and new life.

    (just to add for fun: he’s changing his middle name to Aedon (which is an alternate spelling of Adam, pronounced more like “Aiden” and my middle name “Eva” is an alternate spelling of Eve. His parents were highly religious, and kind of broke his world with crushing him when he started to investigate outside of Christianity, and it’s some what of a rebellion (being non religious at all, ourselves) to represent ourselves as the original “Adam and Eve” but representing them in ways that brings to attention that different culture tell similar and different stories with similar names and there isn’t just one “the earth just came to be out of no where when God said to” story that came from Jesus as a be-all, end-all, no-doubt-about-it answer to everything. We are our own “first humans”.

    And Cassiel:
    Cassiel (Hebrew קפציאל Qafsiel Kaziel) is the Latin name of an archangel in post-biblical Judeo-Christian religion, particularly that of the Kabbalah. Unlike many other angels, Cassiel is known for simply watching the events of the cosmos unfold with little interference. He is the angel of solitude and tears, and is said to preside over the deaths of kings.”

  16. I’m just about to get married. For some odd reason, when my fiancé says my name & his last name or Mrs. His last name, it’s a real turn on for him. Which is being a turn on for me. Him saying my new name is really helping me too. I’m hearing it multiple times. My friends/ family are testing it out.
    I’ve been reading how difficult it can be and trying to be prepared & what not. The fiancé’s family tells me how difficult it is to pronounce for people at first, so I’m preparing myself with little stories to help remember the pronunciation. I test the story out to friends and they seem to remember how to pronounce it rather quickly.
    Okay, so here’s the story. Fiancé’s name is Kotlarich. One day I slept on a weird cot, it was weird cause it started with a K…..K-O-T. I started singing. “La la la la!” Then a man came & liked my song so he gave me a bag of money & I became rich. I then became a Kot – la – rich or just Kotlarich.
    My sis-in-law, who is a elementary teacher, is even using this story for her students on their first day of school.

  17. This is a new twist on an age old question. Very interesting to hear everyone’s take on it.

    Here’s my take–I worked for a large agency when I got married 20 years ago. I watched several coworkers get married, change their names, update their ID and then not be able to get their paycheck because payroll was slow to update the change and the paycheck no longer matched the ID. (gotta love being a public servant!) I went the “two last names” track, in part to head off this type of trouble. Legally I have and use both last names but now that we have a few kids I tend to just use our family last name in public and social situations for ease and clarity.

    I might start using the “silent hyphen” line though. That sums it up perfectly!

  18. We got married six years ago and both kept our surnames. I got SO MUCH MORE FLACK from our friends than any family. We are finally pregnant and baby will have my husband’s middle name (passed down through the generations) and my surname. I have been at my current job nearly a year now and people just now realized we have different last names, even though he’s been here 2 years longer than I have. So many indignant women! Seriously, I work in an office populated mostly by white, middle class women and half of them act I like just poked them in the eye. So, that’s fun

  19. Mine was a breeze… Got it all registered in one day, and everything else within a week of getting my new SS card. Maybe it depends where you live? Also, it may be very school-girl-crush of me, but I’d been practicing my new signature. It’s really not a big deal. And no one has called me Mrs. Malin yet except to playfully tease me about being married. I would love if people did it more!

  20. I agree with this 100%. It has been a year and a half since we got married and I am still struggling in some ways to get things changed (mostly minor stuff, but I am also in college and that whole process has been a nightmare). It took me months to get all my documents changed over.

    But yeah, nobody ever told me what a pain the butt the whole process would be and like you I went through this whole identify thing. But I still wouldn’t take it back, because my husband is the last in his family that will carry his family name and for some stupid reason I feel like I am helping to keep his family name alive (where in my family there are so many of us that will carry on our family name).

    But seriously, you would think that for as long as women have been getting married and changing their names this process would be a lot easier!

  21. This is amazing!!! Thankfully, I have been having all of these thoughts before we get married. For the longest time I knew I was going to keep my name. It is who I am, I am really proud of my heritage and my parents didn’t have a son (to pass on the name). And from a professional stand point it just made sense to keep it. (I have my own business) But when my Fiance and I got engaged and started talking about it, he felt strongly that I should have his name. And our names would not hyphen, or mashup well in any way, so that was out of the question. So for a few months I was gung-ho but we are coming up on the wedding and all those things in the article have been running through my head. So I just decided to do the double last name! Which I had no idea was an option. So relieved I figured it out ahead of time!!! Sorry for a book….

  22. Soooooo surreal – I’m going through changing my name at the moment…. my partners name is Rob and my new surname is Fox!!! So I am going through this EXACT process!! haha
    The hardest part is waiting on things to come back and remembering all the things I have to change.

  23. This was SO GOOD to read!!
    I am getting married next year and am debilitating how to go about this. In a cute, doodle-on-your-notepad kinda way, I’ve fantasied about being Mrs. Marriedname for so long (I’ve been in my friend’s phone under that name for two years now haha) and now that its going to be reality, I’m lamenting my identity.
    I can’t hyphenate as mine is 10 letters and his is 9, so I’ll pass on that haha. On the plus side, having his name gives me an alliterated name (MMM) which makes me sound like a super adorable princess/badass comic book character. But it feels weird to abandon my name that I love as its so unique – its English, but unusual, which also means I get TONNES of incorrect variations of my name, which sounds annoying (my dad changed his surname as a result!) but I think its hilarious and fun. So to swap it to something (whilst its a pleasant name!) slightly more common feels just so…ordinary.
    Then there’s work! I’m an academic so having publications in your name is kind of your whole reputation. I think what I’ll do is retain my maiden name for publications and work (maybe hyphenate emails) and for the legal stuff and a few newsletters, change it to my married name.

    But I don’t know.

    How can you just give up your identity?

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