An LGBTQ+ Couple's Guide to Name Changes After Marriage

Should you swap your surname postwedding? How do you decide whose to take? Every couple has options, and we've outlined them below.
by The Knot

Should you change your name after marriage? And if so, to what? It's a pretty big decision for anyone, but in some ways, it may be even more complicated for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Whether you're already leaning toward swapping surnames or you want to weigh your options, we've put together these guides to help:

Marriage Name Change Laws

Can you get your name changed after a same-sex marriage? Yes, and many people do. But despite the fact that same-sex marriage is now legal nationwide, the postwedding name change process for same-sex couples can look different from state to state (and even county to county).

Thanks to the perseverance of many, many people who fought to challenge the definition of marriage, the Supreme Court finally ruled in 2015 that same-sex couples have the right to marry. And in most cases, a certified marriage license is the ticket to a postwedding name change. That said, inequality still rears its ugly head.

In Madison County, Alabama, for example, a same-sex marriage certificate can't be used to update your name on your driver's license. Instead, you'll need a court order. And a same-sex name change isn't the only one that could be treated differently depending on your location. In some places, a man who wants to take his wife's last name may need a court order too. 

If you're confused about the laws where you live or you think you're facing discrimination, we recommend consulting a legal professional. Know that there are name change services that can also help. One, called HitchSwitch, welcomes emailed photos of couples' marriage certificates. From there, the team can help you determine if you can use yours for your desired name change.

Marriage Name Change Considerations

Nowadays, weddings are less about "tradition" and way more about each individual couple, their unique love story and their personalized vision. (We'll raise a glass to that!) That means it's less about what you "should" do and more about what you want to do. Can you change your name after marriage? Totally—same-sex relationship or otherwise. Does either partner have to? Nope, and again, that goes for all couples. 

Of course, a lack of precedent for LGBTQ+ couples may make choosing a newlywed last name trickier. Your name is more than a label given to you—it's part of your identity. In turn, you have to weigh the cultural considerations and convenience of keeping your own name(s) with that feeling of belonging you may find by sharing a family name. 

Some professionals—like a writer, lawyer or entertainer—worry that changing their name could have a negative impact on their career, since it requires more than updating business cards; it means reaching out to clients and fans to let them know about the new title. Others take great pride in their ancestry and feel that their last name keeps them connected to the family history they may want to pass on to their children. Furthermore, the marriage name change process takes time, and some couples decide that sharing the same last name isn't worth the hassle of gathering documents, filling out forms and calling creditors. (That being said, if that's all that's holding you back, a name change service might change your mind. HitchSwitch simplifies the process by completing most of the paperwork for you.)

On the other hand, some couples feel that sharing a last name is a public declaration of their commitment to each other and their families. In those cases, they either follow the "norm" of selecting one spouse's name or create a modified surname for the family. If you and your partner plan to have children and want each member of the family to have the same last name, this might appeal to you. (It's a good way to help ensure that no matter where you are, you'll be recognized as kin.) 

All in all, there are emotional and practical reasons behind any choice. Ultimately, the decision is personal and should be made based on what feels right for your family situation.

Marriage Name Change Options

Need more help choosing a married surname? Try turning to others for last name change inspiration. According to company data, 49% of LGBTQ+ couples go the route of choosing one partner's last name. But that's definitely not the only option.

For newlywed couple Melinda and Patricia McCallinhart, from Columbus, Ohio, their decision to combine their last names to create a new surname made the most sense. "We wanted something that would sound natural, and it was important to us that we didn't hyphenate our names," says Melinda of the choice. "We wanted to be unified as a family and we wanted it to represent both of us. A new name is about a new future together. We love our new last name. It's a reminder that we share everything now—a house, finances, our cats, our dreams—all aspects of our lives."

When choosing which you'll take, weigh the benefits and disadvantages of each option and select what works best for your family. These options include:

1. Not Changing Your Name

Skipping the postnuptial name change is still a popular choice for many LGBTQ+ couples.

  • Pros: This eliminates the need to update documents or acclimate to a new name. Some couples also feel that it establishes each spouse as equals. 
  • Cons: If you choose this option, you must select which spouse's name to give any future children. 

2. Hyphenating Both Names

A hyphenated last name is an egalitarian choice for couples who want to share a last name while retaining their family surnames. With this option, each spouse goes through the name change process.

  • Pros: The hyphenated surname lets you share your family name with your spouse and is a popular option for couples who want their children to have both last names.
  • Cons: A hyphenated last name is sometimes long, and people tend to drop the second last name when space is an issue. This typically gives the first last name precedence over the second one.

3. Taking Your Spouse's Name

In some cases, one spouse chooses to take the other spouse's name. This is common when that spouse has a name that's more recognizable or easier to pronounce—or simply if one spouse feels strongly about their last name and the other doesn't! 

  • Pros: Taking one last name is often a good choice for kids, especially when the single last name is shorter than a hyphenated one. This is also a well-established choice for married couples, so financial institutions and government agencies have a clearly defined process for making the swap.
  • Cons: One spouse has to go through the name change process while the other doesn't, and deciding who changes their name in any marriage can prove difficult.

4. Creating a New Name

Some couples decide that both partners will give up their names and take a completely new one. You may create an entirely new surname that combines elements of your original names (for example, Sam Brown and Alex Smith becoming the Brownsmiths). Or, you can select one that's totally novel, so long as you like how it represents your family.

  • Pros: By creating a new name, you establish a new tradition for the family and each partner is treated equally. Both you and your spouse will have to update all of your documents and accounts.
  • Cons: This option requires more legal work, as you'll have to request the name change through the court system. You may have to hire an attorney to complete the process. It could also offend family members who view the new name as an abandonment of the original family.

Marriage Name Change Process

All newlyweds ready to change their last name need to update their identification, financial and legal documents. We recommend simplifying the name change process with a service like HitchSwitch. Just choose one of the convenient packages, submit the necessary information and receive a fully customized name change packet with instructions for completing the switch. If you'd rather go the more manual route, check out our complete name change 101 guide, which walks you through all the basics. Or, reference our detailed how-tos for name changes by state.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, some of which may be sponsored by paying vendors.

Updated April 2020

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