Family Law FAQ

When a Couple Marries, is One Spouse Required to Take the Other's Surname?

By law, women are entitled to their maiden name. Generally, taking a husband's surname is a custom and not a statutory requirement. Some states have statutory authority regarding name change upon marriage. In those states, a married person may use her birth-surname, the spouse's surname or a combination of the two names (generally hyphenated). However, there are still a few other states that have statutes to the contrary; upon marriage, a wife takes her husbands surname. Although, even in states where the wife is assumed to take her husband's surname, professional use of a woman's maiden name has been a longstanding use.

At common law, a man or a woman may change his or her name if it is not for a fraudulent purpose. Therefore, either would be able to adopt another name in a state that recognizes common law without a legal proceeding. However, most states have statutes that detail the procedures to legally change ones name. By following the state laws regarding name change, an individual will be able to change his or her name at common law and their legal identity.

Can my husband and I both change our names to a hyphenated version of our two names or to a new name?

Most jurisdictions have statutes that specify types of name changes available when two individuals marry. Most often, the couples are informed of their options in the marriage license application. It is important to check with the court, or an attorney, for the law in your jurisdiction. Commonly, most states have marital surname options such as:

  • The surname of the other spouse
  • The birth-surname of either spouse
  • A surname combining all or a portion of each party's birth-surname
  • A hyphenated surname combining the former name of each spouse

Many states also give the marrying couple the option to create a new surname for themselves in their license application. As a growing trend, most states will approve the name change of either gender in a married couple. The wife is not always the spouse that applies for a name change, nor must the married couple be of opposite sex.

If I do want to take my spouse's surname, how do I make the change?

If an individual would like to legally change his or her name, it is important to know the statutory requirements for a name change. The statutes in each state will lay out the name change procedure. Generally, there is an application or petition to file with the court of record and filing fees. The application will require specific information such as the legal name, the name the person wishes to adopt, date, age, birth date and, in some states, a reason for the name change. If the name change application is not approved, there may be a court hearing to produce evidence that the proposed name change is not fraudulent. Although name change applications are not approved automatically, it is rare that a court would deny an application, unless the proposed change would interfere with the rights of others or cause a substantial harm.

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