The name game

You’re married. Do you change your name?

Linda Fine Conaboy chose not to hyphenate her old and new last names—even this will change in a year.

Linda Fine Conaboy chose not to hyphenate her old and new last names—even this will change in a year.

Photo By Todd Upton

Groach. Try growing up with that name.

It felt important to take my husband’s name to reflect our new partnership. But my awful maiden name—the reason I was called “grouch” all my life—factored heavily into my becoming a Santina.

According to Reuters, roughly 80 percent of American women make the switch to their husbands’ last names.

But changing your name can be quite an undertaking, so be sure it’s right for you. Ask yourself:

How do you feel about your maiden name?

Is it an important part of your identity—personally or professionally? Are you the last in your family to bear it? You might hyphenate, keep your maiden name as a middle name, or make no change at all.

If this isn’t your first marriage, or if you already have kids, you have other considerations. As Brooke Keast, who married her second husband, Sean Keast, in May 2006, puts it, “Hyphenating was not an option; it’s weird to hyphenate two husbands’ names together—like starting a collection or something.” She felt that keeping her first husband’s name would imply that she felt unsure about this new relationship’s stability.

Linda Fine Conaboy had adult children and a writing career built on her first married name, Fine, when she married Frank Conaboy last summer. She’s keeping both names, unhyphenated, for a year or so, and then she’ll drop Fine. “I feel that sharing my husband’s name is an important part of the process.”

Do you, or will you, have kids?

Saddling your kids with a hyphenated name or repeated name changes might create problems.

Kerry Sutherland dropped her maiden name, Colburn, after marrying in December. Kerry’s parents divorced when she was 1, but her mother remarried, leaving her with two last names and a lot of “confusing name juggling.”

“I feel like Sutherland is the first name that’s truly my name,” she says.

What does it say about your relationship?

How does your groom feel about it? Will you feel “less married” without the change? Kristi Young of Reno got married in December after building her reputation as a fitness trainer with her maiden name, Arthur. “Changing my name represents a commitment and an expansion of who and what I can become,” she says. “It’s kind of like being on a team— it’s not just about me, it’s about us.”

Have you considered the options?

You might retain both names, hyphenated or not, as the family name. Or, skip the change altogether. Some couples go by her name. Others make up a new name to share. There are no rules.

The government gets a say

To change your name, you must officially change it with the Social Security Administration (SSA), or else your jointly filed taxes could contain errors. If you’re not up for that battle, skip the change altogether.

Changing your name

This can take anywhere from an intense couple of weeks to a couple of years. Here’s a basic checklist:

• Request a Certified Abstract of Marriage ($7) when you get your marriage license.

• Plan to be at the SSA office at 1170 Harvard Way for several hours. Get there early. A name change is free. Bring your Certified Abstract and an additional photo I.D., such as a current passport or driver’s license.

• Take that Certified Abstract and your old driver’s license to the DMV, and get a new license for $7.25.

• Fax or mail copies of the Certified Abstract to: the post office, credit card companies, insurers, employers, 401(k)/retirement plans, banks, mortgage companies (name changes on a title can only be done through a re-fi), voter registrars, doctors/dentists, clubs, utility companies, legal contract holders, attorneys handling wills, passport agency, etc.