That post-wedding question about name change is one that elicits passionate feelings on both sides.
Not only does the bride herself have the inner conflict...
-How do a stop using the name I've used my whole life? What if people don't know me by my new name? And by the way, why should I be the one to change my name? It's a barbaric practice!
The new husband may also feel conflicted...
-I really do want her to take my name, but I'm not sure why. Is it because I'll feel like less of a man if she doesn't? I'm a modern guy, I can handle if she doesn't want to take my name ... I think.
And, of course, many others weigh in:
-How dare she not take our name? Is our name not good enough for her?
-This is how it's been done for ages and should continue to be done this way!
-I didn't take my husband's last name, I'm an independent woman and shouldn't have to give up my name for a man!
-Dude, she's your wife, she has to have the same name as you, are you totally whipped?
And yes, gone are the days when the wife is expected to take her husband's surname when they get married -- there are other options and they are becoming more popular. Maybe this name change question is something you have been pondering since you played dress up bride-and-groom games with your dolls as a kid. Or maybe you never really thought about it until you met Mr. Right and now you have to actually make this important decision.
Let's walk through some of the options you might consider...
Keep Your Birth Name
Some feel very strongly that a name is who we are - it is our identity. Getting married does not mean changing your whole identity, but rather partnering with another person and living the rest of your lives together. So for these people it makes sense to keep their birth name. This can be especially true if you are an only child and changing your name would mean the end of that surname for your family. Or perhaps it's about the actual name - maybe you really like the name you were born into, and your husband has a strange sounding or complicated surname. If you chose this option, you would need to think about which surname your children would have.
Take Your Spouse's Name
This is the traditional way in most western cultures, and to a large extent it remains the general expectation that the wife will discard her birth name and take on her husband's name when they are married. This is a tangible way of expressing their union and becoming one family together. What is not so common however, but does indeed happen, is that sometimes the husband will choose to take on the wife's surname. This may be for any number of reasons, including those mentioned above (like the wife is an only child, or perhaps her name just sounds better.) Either way, for the wife or husband, it can be a joyful decision to give themselves completely to their beloved and identify with their family name by making it their own. And when you have children, you and your husband and kids all have them same name so people know that you are all connected. When you first get married, this may not sound like a big deal, but when you have children, you might crave a unified family name.
Have a Private and Professional Name
Another option is to adopt your husband's name legally for private purposes, but continue using your birth name in your career. Perhaps you became a doctor before marrying and your doctorate is registered in your maiden name. Or maybe you are a well known author, or have an extensive professional network, and you would hate to disrupt your career with another name and face the fallout and confusion of informing everyone of the change. This method works well for those who want to keep their private and professional lives separate. It does mean, however, that you may have somewhat of a dual identity, and some of your friends and acquaintances may be unsure how to address you.
Add Your Spouse's Name
This option means adding your husband's surname onto yours. You may choose to hyphenate it or not. If not, your birth surname becomes like your middle name. Some husbands also choose to do this so that you both have both names. This can be a truly fair way of blending both your families and passing on both of your names to your children.
Create a Brand New Combination
Another option which is becoming quite popular these days is sometimes called "meshing" in which part of each name is used to create a brand new name. For example if the woman's surname is Barrow and the man's surname is Clayton, they may decide to become the Barclays. This can be a happy compromise and the start of a whole new family line.
Legal procedures for changing your name
With all of the options, (except the first one where you retain your birth name) there will be certain legal procedures to follow in order to make it official. Depending on the country or state in which you live, the requirements as well as the costs may differ. In the United States, you need to record your name change with the Social Security Administration (SSA) office. This can only be done only after you have your marriage certificate in hand. The SS-5 Form can be obtained from your local office or you can access it online. Proof of identity needs to be provided along with support and reason for the requested change.
Once you have fulfilled the legal requirements of changing your name, don't forget to notify all the relevant entities in your life which may include the following: your employer, Social Security Administration, Department of Motor Vehicles, Post Office, banks and other financial institutions, telephone and utility companies, credit card companies and insurance agencies.
Ultimately, this decision is yours and your husband's, and together you can make the decision that works for both of you.
Malini Bhatia is the founder and CEO of marriage.com, a website dedicated to providing value in every marriage, including resources, information and a community that supports healthy, happy marriages. Bhatia has global experience in international management and communications. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband of 11 years and two daughters.