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What’s in a Name?

by | Mar 29, 2016 | Divorce

As many of my friends and clients begin their process towards marriage or are reaching the tail end of their divorce the same question comes up. “Are you going to change your name?”

It is a question that many girls have been debating since their middle school days of doodling their first name merged with their crush’s last name on countless notebooks. I have heard the debate from all sides, and want to share some of the bigger thoughts that go into changing your name either going in, or coming out, of a marriage. I want to focus on three main areas of consideration when having your own personal name change debate: any potential minor children, the inconvenience, and the effects on your personal (or professional) brand.

The most “compelling” argument I generally see involves minor children. Parents who have different last names than their children can run into issues to schools, day-cares, doctors, and in traveling. It is not insurmountable as a copy of a birth certificate can usually fix the problem, so then the question is – which is more inconvenient? The name change process or ensuring you have a copy of your child’s birth certificate on you at all crucial identity moments.

Inconvenience is a large factor in making this decision for many women. Many women do not realize that getting a marriage license with a new last name, or a divorce decree with a new last name, does not officially change your legal name. You will need a certified copy of either an order on a name change petition, marriage license, or decree of divorce containing the name change. The next step is to take this document to the Social Security Administration, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and your bank. But the fun does not stop there! You also need to remember to notify Employers, the post office, electric and other utility companies, credit card companies, schools and alumni associations, landlord or mortgage company, insurance companies (auto, home, life), doctors’ offices, voter registration office, investment account providers, your attorney (to update legal documents, including your will), and the passport office. While completing this feat is no fun, it is certainly not impossible. And many businesses exist just to help you with this process for a small fee. You simply bring them your certified copy of the court document and let them take over the rest.

The final point to discuss when debating what your surname should be is the effect it may have on “your brand”. While we are not all E! TV stars, we do still have our own unique brand that comes with our name. By this I mean, what does your name mean to the community around you. I am remembered by my name in many of the circles I am in, and changing my name may cause some confusion. You lose the instant recognition that has come with your previous name, and while those around you will adapt, you have to decide if you are in a place where you can afford a few weeks of name-muddling. If you are in a profession where being recognized by your name is very important, than it may not be as good of an idea to legally change your name. For example, if you are a scientist who has researched several ground-breaking areas in your field and are well-published in your field, you have to remember the publications will likely not re-print all your articles under your new name. Similarly, your college will likely not re-print your diploma, and the award you received a few years ago will not engrave a new plaque for your office. These are all factors you need to consider before taking a new (or reverting back) to an older name.

Thousands of people (mostly women) change their name on a regular basis. The steps are in place, it is just a matter of asking how much effort you are willing to put in to the process. If you have more questions about the process, you should consult an attorney to discuss if changing your name is really the best step for you. And the nice part to remember – it is generally not a time sensitive issue. You can bring a petition to change your name at any time and start the process when you are ready to take it on. At some point you just need to ask yourself “What’s in a name?”


Savannah Steele