5 Choices for Changing Your Name After Marriage

Since a lot's in a name, make your move wisely.

Especially now, when it can be socially acceptable to change your name to whatever you'd like — I'm looking at you, Mr. Ron Artest, er, I mean, Mr. Metta World Peace — whether or not you take your beloved's surname, in full or in part, can be a challenging issue.

Here are five paths you might consider when it comes to changing your name after marriage:

1. Keep your given name.

Your easiest option is to do nothing at all. I have chosen to abide by the law of inertia and keep the last name given to me at birth. And my post-wedding days blissfully lacked name-changing paperwork and fees and trips to the local DMV and Social Security offices.

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Another benefit: If you've built a name for yourself professionally, you'll want to maintain that "brand name." As a writer, my byline is crucial to my career. A potential new employer can easily Google "Stacy Rapacon" and find an index of my past work. But if I were to apply for a new job as "Stacy Hodas," taking my husband's last name, an online search would not yield the same portfolio of results. My colleague Kim Lankford, author of the popular Ask Kim column, had similar reasons for keeping her name after marriage: "I was in the midst of establishing myself professionally and didn't want to start all over again with a new byline and new identity for work," she says. "I couldn't imagine having everything I'd done to that point kind of disappear because I had a new name."

So it goes with any job hinging on a bit of name recognition. Genevieve Gramatica, a tennis instructor from Columbia, Md., is following in her father's footsteps. Mr. Gramatica has established a well-reputed, eponymous tennis academy in New Jersey, and Genevieve is "continuing the Gramatica name tennis-wise here in Maryland," she says. "I can't do that with a sudden name change just because I got married."

2. Take your spouse's name.

The most traditional name-game routine is for a newlywed wife to take her husband's last name. To follow this path, you should first request a certified copy of your marriage certificate from your state's Department of Health. Danielle Tate, founder of MissNowMrs.com — a Web site that assists people who'd like to change their names after marriage — recommends obtaining two or three certified copies so you can process different forms simultaneously, if possible. But keep in mind, you'll pay a fee, which varies by state, for each copy that you request. For example, in New York state, you'll pay $30 per copy (plus another $15 per copy for priority handling or if you pay online); in Maryland and Virginia, you'll pay $12 per copy (members of the armed forces are exempt from this fee).

Next, you'll need to apply for a new Social Security card, which is free (yay!). To do so, fill out Form SS-5 and mail it or bring it to any Social Security office, along with certified copies of your ID and marriage certificate. If your wedding was more than two years ago, you may need to provide additional documents. The agency will return everything you give them. You can expect your new card in one to two weeks. For more information, call Social Security at 800-772-1213 or visit www.socialsecurity.gov.

Be sure to notify your employer about your name change so that your income is reported to your Social Security number and your tax refund will be on time.

Next up: get a new driver's license. Bonus: you can update your voter registration at the same time. But before you head to the DMV (I know, you're in such a rush to visit that glorious institution), check your state rules. Where you live will determine when exactly you can apply for a new license, as well as how much you'll pay for it. For example, in Alaska, a new license costs $15, and you'll need to get it done within 30 days of changing your name with your new Social Security in hand when you apply. In Florida, the cost is $25, and you have to wait at least 48 hours after filing for a new Social Security card before you can apply for a new license. In Maryland, you can apply for a new license, which will cost you $30, before or at the same time as applying for a new Social Security card.

If a newlywed husband wants to take his wife's name, Tate says, only eight states — California, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina and New York — will allow him to follow the standard married name-change procedures. Everywhere else, the man would have to undergo a legal name change, which requires petitioning for a court order and running ads in local papers notifying the public of the change, and can cost $100 to $400 total. Same-sex couples may be similarly put upon in states that do not allow or recognize gay marriages or civil unions.

Another document you'll want to update is your passport. But, says Tate, "keep your travel plans in mind." If you've already booked an upcoming trip — like, say, your honeymoon — under your maiden name, you'll need a matching ID to fly, so you may want to wait until you return to change your passport (or even your license). Once you're ready, you'll need to fill out the appropriate form and mail it to the address listed on the form, along with your current, valid U.S. passport, a certified copy of your marriage certificate and a new passport photo. If your current passport is less than a year old, complete Form DS-5504 and your new book will be free; otherwise, you'll need to submit Form DS-82 and pay $110. Your new passport should arrive in four to six weeks, unless you request expedited service, in which case it will arrive in two to three weeks and cost an extra $60.

If you decide to change your name, be sure to notify your employer, clients, industry sources, vendors and other important professional contacts. You might also update your resume, CV and any online professional profiles, such as on LinkedIn, to include a "formerly known as" line with your past names (you know, like Prince, fka… a pretty drawing).

Others you'll want to notify about a name change:

• the U.S. Postal Service

• professional agencies with which you're affiliated or licensed (for example, my nurse practitioner friend had to get a new NP license and change her registration with the Drug Enforcement Agency after she got married and changed her name)

• your banks and other lenders

• utilities providers

• medical professionals

• insurers

• brokerages

Sound overwhelming? I agree (hence my inertia). But if you still want to go ahead with the change, you can get some help from Tate's MissNowMrs.com or similar services, such as BridalNameChange.com, NameChangeExpress.com and NameChangeKit.com. At MissNowMrs.com, name-change assistance costs $29.95 and, Tate says, can save you the 13 hours people spend on average completing this whole process.

3. Take your spouse's name legally, but keep your given name professionally.

A couple of female editors at Kiplinger's have followed this route for the best of both worlds — keeping with tradition in their personal lives and maintaining their professional brands. Still, "having dual names has led to some confusion over the years because I've always had dual identities," says Kiplinger's Personal Finance editor Janet Bodnar. "Even now, some of our friends who know my professional name aren't quite sure how to address me."

4. Make your given surname your middle name and take your spouse's last name.

Tate says this option is "a very popular trend right now." Guess my mom's a bit ahead of her time: In the Philippines, taking your husband's surname and replacing your middle name with your maiden name was common practice when she got married more than 40 years ago. She has since gone by Cynthia Salgado Rapacon.

Twenty years ago, another senior editor at Kiplinger's also became a trendsetter and took the name Anne Kates Smith. She had originally planned to keep her name, but an incident at her former company changed her mind: One day, the office received a call from a school seeking the mother of a child whose last name was unfamiliar to Smith's colleagues, and nobody could track down the appropriate parent to speak with the school. "I thought to myself, 'If I ever have kids, I want everyone in the family to have the same family name,' " says Smith. Of course, you'd have to drop your given middle name. Says Smith, "I've often wondered if my Mom is disappointed about that."

Keep in mind: changing your middle name may cost you extra. Some states — California, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington — will not recognize this change in the standard married name-change process. If you live in one of these states, you'll have to get a legal name change and pay those additional, associated expenses mentioned above in option two.

5. Create a new last name.

Hyphenating your last name with your spouse's last name is common. And, like options three and four here, it offers a happy compromise. For example, when Andrea Sittig-Rolf, author of Revolutionize, Revitalize & Rev Your Resume, got married, she had already started her business, Sittig Inc., so she couldn't very well drop her company's name. But her husband wanted her to take his name. So, they decided to meet in the middle — with a hyphen.

Another method: As is done to so many celebrity couples by the media, my husband and I have unofficially blended our names. He is David Hodas and I am Stacy Rapacon; together, we've dubbed ourselves the Hodacons. We've only jokingly discussed legally taking this moniker (though we seriously agree, it is awesome). But I was surprised to hear from a few friends and colleagues that they know people who did officially create some kind of hybrid name. I've even come across couples who came up with something even more original and totally unrelated to either of their given names. Of course, any new name would require a legal name change, along with all the associated trouble and costs.

Stacy Rapacon
Online Editor, Kiplinger.com

Rapacon joined Kiplinger in October 2007 as a reporter with Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and became an online editor for Kiplinger.com in June 2010. She previously served as editor of the "Starting Out" column, focusing on personal finance advice for people in their twenties and thirties.

Before joining Kiplinger, Rapacon worked as a senior research associate at b2b publishing house Judy Diamond Associates. She holds a B.A. degree in English from the George Washington University.