You did it. You got married (or divorced). You have a shiny new marriage license (or divorce decree), but your passport and driver's license are still in your old name. Indeed, not everyone interested in changing their name is doing so after a wedding or divorce. Some people, for a variety of reasons, may want to go before a judge for a new name. Fear not, for changing your name doesn't have to be a chore. But changing your name does require some legal steps on your part. FindLaw has tips on the legal procedure for name changes, FAQs on changing your name, and more.
Reasons to Change Your Name
There are no requirements to change your name following marriage, although many people do so for a number of reasons. The most obvious motivation is the merging of two individuals into a new family unit, which would then be symbolically represented in the shared name. But although it used to be the norm for women to adopt the name of their husbands, many women now choose to keep their original surname. Also, men sometimes adopt their wives' name or both spouses adopt a whole new name.
Similarly, not everyone who changes their name when they're married reverts back to their original surname following a divorce. Either they believe it would cause confusion or just don't have the desire to go through the process once again. But many of those who adopt their spouse's surname in marriage may decide to change it back as a symbolic act of "moving on" after a divorce.
The Basics of Changing Your Name
Courts generally will accept all petitions for name changes, but there are some exceptions. For example, you cannot change your name in order to escape civil or criminal liability; nor can you change your name with the intention to mislead. Additionally, you cannot choose an offensive, racist, obscene, or intimidating name.
Most states allow people to legally change their name without a court order, just by using one's chosen name regularly and consistently. However, government and financial agencies typically require a more formal process. For instance, having a new name associated with a Social Security card, birth certificate, or passport always requires the processing of legal name change documents.
Who to Notify
In addition to your state's DMV (driver's license) and the federal government (Social Security, passport), you also will want to notify a number of other institutions of your name change. These include employers, schools, financial institutions, utility companies, and others. This is more a matter of practicality than law.