An LGBTQ+ Couple's Guide to Marriage Name Changes

These married surname options and considerations are useful for LGBTQ+ couples and beyond.
by The Knot

Few questions can change your life like, "Will you marry me?" It leads to many decisions, like choosing between an extravagant affair or intimate event, a live band or DJ, and formal or casual attire. Still, none of these seem to compare to the ultimate question of whether you should change your name, which is a big decision for anyone, but in some ways, maybe even more complicated for LGBTQ+ couples getting married.

Whether you definitely want to change your last name or you're still weighing your options, we hope this guide will help make the process a little easier.

Do LGBTQ+ Couples Change Their Last Names Postwedding?

Yes—just as any couple can. Of the 821 LGBTQ+ respondents in The Knot and Q.Digital 2017 LGBTQ+ Weddings Study, 35 percent of men and 78 percent of women surveyed changed or altered their last name after marriage. Of course, whether you do depends on your specific situation.

Your name is more than a label your parents gave you—it's part of your identity. It tells the world who you are and where you come from, which is why marriage name changes can be complicated for many couples. Add in the fact that there's less of a precedent for LGBTQ+ couples and things can feel even trickier. Whatever the case, you have to weigh the cultural considerations and convenience of keeping your own names with that feeling of belonging you may find by sharing a family name and choosing the option that works best for you and your partner.

For some professionals—a writer, lawyer or entertainer—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 their 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—not to mention creating a new email address or online handle. (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 tradition 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. 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.

LGBTQ+ Marriage Name Change Options

Need more help choosing a LGBTQ+ marriage surname? Try turning to others for last name change inspiration. 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 deciding 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. It also establishes spouses as equal individuals.
  • Cons: If you choose this option, you must select which spouse's name to give your children. You may even decide to alternate last names. For example, the first child gets one parent's last name, while the second child shares the other parent's last name.

2. Hyphenate Both Names

A hyphenated last name is an egalitarian choice for LGBTQ+ 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.

  • 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.
  • 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. Create 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 or select one that represents the new 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 also may offend family members who view the new name as an abandonment of the original family.

LGBTQ+ 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 the services of HitchSwitch. Just choose one of the convenient packages, submit the necessary information and receive a fully usable name change packet with state-specific instructions for completing the switch. If you'd rather go the more manual route, check out our complete name change 101.

LGBTQ+ Marriage Name Change History

The discussion of LGBTQ+ marriage name change wouldn't be possible without the perseverance of people willing to challenge the definition of marriage and the law of the land. Cases like Baker v. Nelson (1971), Jones v. Hallahan (1973) and Singer v. Hara (1974) brought up the question of whether denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated due process and equal rights. Baker v. State (1999) resulted in Vermont's civil union law (2000), which extended the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. In 2003, Massachusetts became the first state to formally legalize same-sex marriage.

United States v. Windsor (2013) ended the federal definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. That same year, the US Department of Treasury decided to give same-sex couples the same tax benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples. Finally, Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) legalized same-sex marriages throughout the United States and brought to the forefront the question of how spouses define themselves as individuals and married couples.

With so many walls and barriers broken down, The Supreme Court's June 2015 ruling on same-sex marriage being a right nationwide concluded an epic battle for equality and acceptance.

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