So you’re getting married – congrats! Have you decided if you’re going to change or hyphenate your last name (surname)? 

It’s an exciting time but also a stressful and confusing one. With all the energy, time and money spent on planning a wedding, now you also have to think about your name change.

To be honest, I didn’t think about what options I had when it came to changing my last name after I got married.

I just took my husband’s last name because it’s traditional and seemed like the best thing to do at the time.

I don’t regret my decision but I wish I read this post so I knew about all of the name change options available.

Do I have to take my spouse’s last name?

Absolutely not! Although >80% of spouses end up changing their last name after marriage, there has been a recent uptick of spouses choosing to keep their maiden name – either by not changing their last name at all or hyphenating.

Everyone has a different reason for choosing to or choosing not to take on a new last name. The good news it the choice is 100% up to you and your spouse!

What is a hyphenated last name?

A hyphenated last name is a combined last name of two spouses. A hyphenated last name my also be called a double surname or double-barrelled surname.

For example, Sarah Smith marries Adam Jones.

A hyphenated last name would be Smith-Jones or Jones-Smith. It’s your choice which name comes first.

Hyphenating your last name is considered a legal name change – meaning you can’t drop your spouse’s name or the hyphen in the future without having to go through a court-ordered name change.

There a lot of great reasons to hyphenate your last name – but also a few things to consider.

Pros of hyphenating

  1. You still keep your name! Hyphenating your last name allows you to maintain your identity while also accepting your spouse’s. Your friends, colleagues, and clients won’t lose track of you after your name change.
  2. Keeps your professional identity. Hyphenating can be great if you use your current last name for professional reasons. Are you a doctor, lawyer, business owner, or have an advanced degree/certification? If so, it may be in your best interest to keep your last name and hyphenation will allow you do to so.
  3. Honors your family legacy. Hyphenating is also a good option if you have a predominant last name or if you are the last one to carry on your family name.

Cons of hyphenating

  1. You’ll have a long name. Hyphenating means you’ll probably have a super long last name. It’s worth writing your hyphenated name out a few times and saying it aloud to make sure you like how it looks and sounds.
  2. Your last name may be too long. You likely find yourself in situations where you’re running out of space when typing in your last name on paper and online forms.
  3. It’ll probably confuse some people. You may end up confusing people if you hyphenate your last name but don’t end up sticking with it personal or professional settings. For example, you may tell people your last name is Sarah Smith but your legal name is Sarah Smith-Jones. People may not know what your legal last name is if you are inconsistent. 
  4. It won’t make your name change after marriage any easier. Hyphenating is considered a legal name change so you’ll still need to go through the process of updating all of your legal documents (social security card, driver’s license, passport, etc) and personal accounts (banks, credit cards, TSA Pre✓, etc.). If this seems like a huge pain to you may be better off keeping your current last name.
  5. Your spouse will have a different name unless they choose to change theirs too. It’s uncommon for both spouses to have hyphenated last names.
  6. People may simply ignore one of your last names. Some people just don’t care about your last name and will choose one of your last names when referring to you.
  7. You’ll probably have a different last name than your children. Another potential con is when it comes to your children. It’s not common to give a hyphenated last name to your children which means you’d likely have a different last name than your children.

Although there are more cons than pros listed, is hyphenating is still a great name change option.

How do I hyphenate my last name?

Ok, now that we talked about the pros and cons of hyphenating your last name it’s time to talk about how you go about a hyphenated name change.

The first thing to do is to check with your state to learn more about what your marriage name change surnames options are. Cornell keeps an updated marriage law database where you can select your state to learn more about its marriage laws.

If you are unsure, check with your county cleck offices (where you’ll apply for a marriage license) to see what last name change options are accepted in your state. Every state is different and the marriage name change options are constantly changing.

When you’re applying for your marriage license, tell the county clerk that you would like to hyphenate your last name. This way, your marriage license will be filled out properly if it asks for your desired post-marriage last name.

Once your wedding is complete, you will receive your marriage certificate which documents that you are your spouse are married.

Your marriage certificate serves as your legal name change document which you will use throughout your entire name change after marriage process.

If you’re already married and can’t find your marriage certificate, check out our guide on how to get a certified copy of your marriage certificate.

After you have your marriage certificate in hand, you can start your name change process by applying for a new Social Security card in your new name.

I’m not sure I want to hyphenate yet. What are all my last name change options?

(For the examples below, suppose Sarah Ann Smith marries Adam Jones)

  1. Don’t change anything and keep your maiden name. Some common reasons spouses choose to keep maiden names are if it’s closely tied to their profession,  if they’re the last person in their family to carry the last name, or if you just love your last name. Regardless, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to keep your maiden name! Plus, it’s the easiest as it requires ZERO post-marriage name change paperwork.
    Example: Sarah Ann Smith
  2. Take your spouse’s last name. Not a lot to explain here. This option drops your maiden name entirely and replaces it with your spouse’s. It’s the most common and traditional marriage name change routine.
    Example: Sarah Ann Jones
  3. Move your maiden name to your middle name and take your spouse’s last name. This is an increasingly popular option if you’d like to keep your maiden name in your full name. You can also keep your middle name or drop it – it’s up to you. Note, each state has different laws about what is considered a marriage name change. You may need to go through a court-ordered name change to change your middle name.
    Example: Sarah (first) Ann Smith (middle) Jones (last) or Sarah (first) Smith (middle) Jones (last)
  4. Hyphenate your name with your spouse’s. As we discussed in length above, hyphenation will allow you to keep your maiden name while still adding your spouse’s. Many spouses choose hyphenation because they feel it’s the best of both worlds because they don’t lose their name and they’re able to take their spouses.
    Example: Sarah Smith-Jones Sarah Jones-Smith
  5. Two last names without the hyphen. Pretty self-explanatory as it’s like hyphenating but without the hyphen. This method will allow you to go by either last name interchangeably. You’ll still need to sign all paperwork with both last names since it’s considered your legal last name. Each state has different laws about what is considered a marriage name change so you may need to go through a court-ordered name change to have two last names without a hyphen.
    Example: Sarah Smith Jones
  6. If your spouse is male, have him take your name. Many states allow a male to change last names due to marriage. Before considering this option, make sure to research what’s legal in your state.
    Example: Sarah and Adam Smith-Jones or Sarah and Adam Jones-Smith
  7. Create a new last name. This requires you and your spouse to both go through court-ordered name changes. I’ve seen a few couples who’ve created new blended last names. Again, it’s your name so it’s to you! You can learn more about court-ordered name changes here.
    Example: Sarah Smithnes (combined Smith and Jones)

Frequently asked questions:

How do I hyphenate my last name after marriage?

  1.  Contact your country clerks office to make sure your state permits hyphenated last names after marriage.
  2. Apply for your marriage license and tell the county clerk that you would like to hyphenate you and your spouse’s last names. If your marriage license requires you to enter your post-marriage name, make sure to write in your desired hyphenated last name.
  3. After your marriage is over, visit your Social Security office with your marriage certificate and apply for a new Social Security card. Your name change is considered legal after your name has been updated with the Social Security Administration.
  4. Start changing your name everywhere else – driver’s license, passport, banks, credit cards, investment accounts, etc.

What’s the right hyphenated last name order? Which name goes first?
It’s totally up to you but it’s most common for your last name to be the first (the person hyphenating) and your spouse’s second (assuming your spouse isn’t hyphenating).

I’m choosing to hyphenate my last name. Does my spouse have to hyphenate too?
No, it’s your spouse’s choice too.

Can I hyphenate my child’s last name with my name?
No, your child will need to go through a court-ordered name change in order to hyphenate. If you’re expecting a child, you and your spouse must decide which last name you’d like the child to have. The child may carry the mother’s last name, father’s last name, or a hyphenated last name.

Can I hyphenate my last name without legally changing it?
Not really. You can use a hyphenated last name in informal social settings (on social media, amongst friends, etc.) but you will need to use your legal name everywhere else (at work, on your personal accounts, when signing your name, etc.)

Deciding which last name to take or not take is stressful enough. Then you have to go through the actual process of changing your last name on all of your state and federal identification, as well as all of your personal accounts.

Luckily, there are tools like NewlyNamed that can help make the rest of the name change process much easier. NewlyNamed provides personalized name change kits that provide all the forms and step-by-step instructions so you can easily change your name everywhere after your marriage.

Changing your last name is a big deal, so take your time to think about what’s best for you and your spouse!

I hope this is helpful. Thanks for reading!