Engagement To-Dos: Name Change 101

What's in a name? Well, your identity, for starters. Here's a complete guide to choosing your new last name and making it happen.
To change your name or not to change your name, that is the question. Before you decide, read up on all of the options and learn what you need to do to make it legal.

Let's face it: The evolution of women's roles aside, many traditionalists still expect married couples to have the same last name. So, at least convenience-wise, taking his name will make your life easier, especially if you have children. You won't have to explain to that perfectly annoying stranger at the kids' school that you two really are Beth and Sam's parents -- and you are married -- even though your names are completely different. Another potential upside of taking his name: It might be better than yours. If your family stubbornly hung on to Skunkowitz for generations -- or your parents thought it would be cute to name you Jackie Mackey -- this is your opportunity for an upgrade. Other pluses: no arguments over painting the mailbox, easier monograms, and less complicated dinner reservations. Plus, it's kind of nice sharing a name with the man you love. There's something very "connecting" about it. Getting a marriage license with your new name on it does not mean your name has automatically changed.

These days it's perfectly acceptable for a woman to keep her own name. After all, you've had your name your whole life, and, if you're like most people, it's pretty much your identity. Taking his name may feel like you're losing you -- as well as perhaps being unnecessary, overly traditional, and even sexist. The change may also mean people you've known throughout your life won't recognize your name or know how to find you -- a good or bad thing, depending on who they are. Perhaps professionally you have made a name for yourself, and you sure do like the way it sounds when your assistant answers the phone "Ms. Schmidt's office."
Maybe you're the last of your breed, and there are no future generations to bear the family crest, so you want to ensure the family name lives on. And then, of course, the other factor is how his name sounds. Just as you may decide to ditch yours because his sounds better, you may want to keep yours if his doesn't suit. All the love in the world doesn't mean you have to be the butt of someone's jokes the rest of your life.
One word of warning: No matter how many people you inform that you are keeping your name, you will still be referred to as Mrs. Hislastname by some. Decide now how to handle this gracefully before you flip out at the first delivery of holiday cards addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Bob Hislastname. You can tell family and friends 'til you're blue in the face, but some traditionalists just won't oblige. Try not to let it get to you that they don't get it, or you'll spend the rest of your life correcting people.

If you've decided to change your name, after the wedding it's time to make it official. (Contrary to popular belief, obtaining a marriage license that uses your new last name does not automatically mean you've changed it.) Start with your Social Security card and driver's license: Without these, you won't get very far down the list of other important changes. Here's a list of four basic steps to new-name nirvana.
Arm yourself with a certified marriage license -- be sure it has a raised seal, which means it's authentic. Call the office where your license was filed to get copies if they aren't automatically sent to you.
Contact the Social Security Administration at (800) 772-1213; an automated system will talk you through the name change process. Your new card will be free -- if you're contacted by a company that claims to do this for a fee, don't buy it. These companies have nothing to do with the SSA and should be reported to authorities.
Visit the Department of Motor Vehicles, which requires you to make a personal appearance (read: wait in line). Bring a book to read and every form of identification you can lay your hands on. No matter what, do not forget your certified marriage license.
Once you have a social security card and driver's license in your married name, other changes should be fairly easy. Some institutions only require a phone call; others may ask for a copy of your marriage certificate or social security card. Be sure to notify:

Friends and family
Post office
Phone company and other utilities
Banks and other financial institutions
Credit card companies
Schools and alumni associations
Voter registration

And don't forget to get your new name on these documents as well:

Passport (Do not do this before the wedding -- your passport name must match the name on your ticket and all other travel documents! It's easier to take your honeymoon with your maiden name.)
Mortgages and leases
Insurance policies
Magazine subscriptions


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