The Ultimate Guide to Changing Your Last Name
In less than a month I will be celebrating my first wedding anniversary. And, I'm embarrassed to publicly admit, that even after nearly 12 months, I STILL have not finalized changing my last name. Don't judge me.
I've told several of my friends that I literally think the name changing process might be more difficult than the wedding planning process. (It's certainly less fun… especially with no DIY projects involved!) Even still, nearly 90% of brides today give up their maiden names after getting married and must go through this hell.
The one positive thing about going through this process is learning how it works — though I (hopefully) will never have to do it again, at least I can pass on my learnings to you guys! I pray the tidbits of advice below will make this process at least 10x smoother for you than it was for me. And, in the meantime, perhaps we here at Brit & Co. will have to think about building an automated name changing feature as an add-on service to Weduary ;)
Okay, so before I get started, here's the summary: this process sucks. Changing your name in the US involves sending a certified copy of your marriage certificate and showing up in-person to a lot of places that make you wait in long lines. Beyond this, you've got to keep in mind that you'll likely need to change your name and/or username on nearly all of the websites you've ever logged into.
All of this being said, here's the best order of steps to take once you're ready to change your name:
When you get your marriage certificate, make sure you order about 6 certified copies. You can pay the county clerk when you register for the certificate. They will send the certified copies to you in ~2 weeks after it is signed by the official who marries the two of you.
After receiving certified copies, take your passport, driver's license and marriage certificate copy to your nearest Social Security Office. You have to do this in person unless, of course, you have a body double. You can print and fill out the name change form ahead of time. Pro tip: look up the hours of your Social Security Office online before you go. I showed up around 4pm on a day when they closed at 3pm and had to come back the next week. #fail
Wait for your new social security card to appear in the mail. This takes about 2 weeks.
Once you receive your new social security card, go to your HR manager at work and get your name changed on everything: payroll, 401k, health, stock benefits, etc. You are now officially a Mrs. to the US government based on your SSN.
With your new social security card, current driver's license and marriage certificate copy, you can now go to the DMV. If you have a good grip on your schedule, I'd recommend making your DMV appointment ahead of time so that you don't have to wait in line as long. The DMV might be the worst possible place to wait in line on the planet.
Note: It's important to go to the DMV *after* you get your new social security card, as the DMV will change your name based on the Social Security Number database.
Also important to do *after* your social security card is changed is to change your passport. This is where I made a big mistake. I actually neglected changing my passport this entire year and just kept booking flights under my maiden name. (Keep your old driver's license and passport on you if you, like me, decide to be lazy about your passport.) This got awkward if I ever forgot to book under my maiden name. Ultimately, this past Monday, my beloved adolescent puppy, Pixel, found and shredded my passport one night while I wasn't home. I think this was God's way of telling me I needed to stop being lazy and change my passport :)
Get your passport photos taken ahead of time, fill out and print the form online, then send in your current passport, marriage certificate copy, and fees. This will take 1-6 weeks, depending on whether you order expedited service or not.
Speaking of passports and travel, keep in mind that you'll likely have to submit a name change request to any airline of which you have a rewards account. Each one differs in their rules for changing names on mileage accounts. On Virgin America, I could change it with no questions asked. On United, I had to submit a copy of my marriage certificate online. Yep, it's a cluster.
Once you get your new driver's license, call your credit card companies. Many of them, scarily enough, will change your name over the phone and send a new card, no questions asked. Some more secure companies like American Express will require you to send a copy of your marriage certificate to verify your identity. Do this *after* you receive your driver's license, otherwise you will not have a matching driver's license and credit card to show at the store. Don't be a criminal!
You may also now update your banks. This is the other major fail for me. It took me several months to get to this, which got really dicey around tax time, when the IRS couldn't match my bank account name with a valid social security card name (because I had only changed my SS, not my bank accounts). Moral of the story? Try to do this quickly! Keep in mind you should update your checking account (remember to order new checks, too!), savings account, IRA (roth), money markets, roll-over 401ks from old employers, stock accounts, car insurance, cell phone, rewards programs, etc.
Throughout this entire process, take the extra time to update your name and/or username across the web. I did all of the big sites early one (Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, etc), but am still finding I have accounts on more niche sites across the web that still need to be updated. This is an ongoing process that will likely last you 1-2 years. Because of this, you may continue receiving packages and mail to your maiden name. Give your mail man a heads up in advance if you know him well ;)
One big bummer: if you have to create a new Gmail/Google account username, there's no way to merge your old account with your new one. This has been the bane of my existence. Your best bet is to go cold turkey. Lifehacker has a great guide to migrating your account on each Google service. As for Gmail, here's my advice: put up a vacation response message on your old account telling people that you no longer use it and to forward their mail to your new account. In the meantime, either use multiple account sign-in (where you can sign into multiple email accounts at once) to keep an eye on any mail that doesn't get forwarded; or, if you're super anal about missing critical email, set up account forwarding from your old account to your new one. You can do this in your Gmail settings. You might get duplicate emails if you go this route, but at least you won't miss one! Be patient — one day, everyone will know to email your new account… even if that day is a minimum of 365 days from now.
As you can see, this process is long and seemingly complex. It's no wonder why many women opt not to change their name just to skip this chaos. But, I can assure you, it's not really as bad as it seems once you get the main pieces of information (your social security card, passport and driver's license) taken care of… and if you make sure to keep your passport away from your new puppy at all times ;)
Have you had to change your name before? What was your process like? Let us know in the comments below or find us on Twitter.
**Special thanks to Wendy, a very kind reader, who helped mentor me through this process early on!