If you weren’t already aware, I recently got married. As a part of that process, I decided to perform a name change. In this article, I want to share why I chose to change my last name and how you can go about the process as well.
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Naming Customs Around the World
Perhaps every country is like this, but I find that Americans are particularly ignorant to the world around them. In other words, I’ve noticed that a lot of Americans don’t really pay attention to global news or cultures.
If you asked the average American about Brexit, they probably couldn’t tell you anything. At the same time, you could ask that same American about Spanish naming customs, and the result is likely to be the same.
Now, I don’t mean to slander the United States, but I do find that breaking American traditions can be really hard despite America’s relatively short existence.
As a result, I want to take a moment to just inform my readers of the various naming customs around the world. That way, my last name change doesn’t seem so foreign.
Spanish Naming Conventions
In Spain and much of Latin America, people typically have two surnames: one paternal and one maternal. For example, let’s say Juan Cabrera Lopez and Maria Rodriquez Iglesias have a son named Pepe. Pepe’s full name would be Pepe Cabrera Rodriguez where Cabrera is his father’s first surname and Rodriguez is his mother’s first surname.
Of course, that’s just one simple tradition. If the law permits, families can specify the surname order for their children. In some circumstances, the child can even reorder their surnames in adulthood.
That said, women don’t typically change their last names after marriage. As a result, the husband, wife, and children will all have different surnames.
However, in some cases, Spanish cultures have even taken a more possessive approach. For example, women may be expected to append their husband’s first surname to their name using the preposition de—meaning “of.” Using our previous example, Maria might go by Maria Rodriguez Iglesias de Cabrera.
If you’re curious about Spanish surnames, check out the Spanish Naming Conventions article on the MyHeritage blog.
Korean Naming Conventions
In Korea, it is typical for women to keep their surname after marriage.
While this may seem bizarre in the United States, sharing a surname can be seen as taboo in Korea. That’s because many surnames are linked to clans or family lines, so a married couple sharing a last name could seem a bit incestuous. In fact, there used to be a law that forbade couples from marrying if they shared the same last name.
Since 2005, this law has be relaxed, but the stigma is still a part of the culture. As a result, Korean women tend to keep their surname after marriage.
If you’re interested in learning more about Korean naming conventions, check out 6 Things You Need to Understand About Korean Names.
Indian Naming Conventions
I hesitate to cover Indian naming conventions because the topic is quite verbose, and I don’t fully understand everything. That said, why not dive into it anyway?
In general, Indian names can be complex. In addition to a given name—what Americans might call a first name—Indians may have any number of additional names including a surname, a caste, a village, a patronym, etc.
While that alone is pretty complex, the convention for changing names after marriage is even less concrete. From what I understand, it’s typical for a woman to pick up their husband’s surname or given name. In addition, it’s even possible for a woman to get a new first name after marriage. As a result, it’s possible for married women in Indian to have a maiden first name.
As for their children, they are typically given their father’s family name or given name as their surname.
For more information on Indian naming conventions, check Behind the Name: Indian Names.
American Naming Conventions
At this point, it probably seems odd to introduce the United States to this list, but I think there’s still an important point to make regarding American history. After all, the United States is roughly 250 years old. And in that time, we’ve played around quite a lot with our last names.
Since the Ellis Island immigration policy, the United States has been a home to immigrants. For whatever reason, however, we settled on English as the unofficial language of the country. As a result, many people continue to be forced to change their last names.
For example, here are several Polish names that would have to be adapted to English:
Not only would the spellings have to change but in many cases the pronunciation would also have to change. In other words, many Polish people have had to adopt completely new names since moving to the United States.
Likewise, many countries use languages which contain sounds that simply do not exist in English. As a result, their names have had to change as well.
So, does it really make sense to get bent out of shape over an arbitrarily inherited set of characters? We’ve been changing last names for ages in the United States. What is all the fuss now?
As we can see, surnames are handled in various ways around the world.
In some cultures, it’s normal for women to keep their surname after marriage. In fact, this isn’t unique to Korea. According to Time, married women are required to keep their maiden name in Quebec, Greece, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and even Belgium.
Of course, it’s often important to note that the these laws are typically patriarchal in nature. Yes, both being forced to take your husband’s surname and being forced not to are both signs of patriarchy.
In the latter case, these cultures often force women to maintain their father’s surname. Even worse, sometimes these cultures reinforce the idea that a woman’s only purpose is to reproduce. As a result, they are outsiders to their own nuclear family—an idea commonly perpetuated in China.
Of course, as we’ve seen with the Indian and Spanish cultures, forcing women to keep their maiden name is not the only way to handle surnames. If you’re bored, there are even more naming trends than the ones I covered:
At any rate, it’s clear that there is no one right way to handle surnames around the world. Some cultures allow for name changes while others force names to stay constant. There’s really no universal rule despite what you may think.
Grifski: The Merging of Families
Now, normally this process wouldn’t be that crazy since the United States allows newlyweds to combine their last names. However, the law currently only allows for the hyphenation of last names. If you want anything more complicated than that, you’ll have to go through a formal legal process to change your name (more on that later).
In our case, we wanted to merge our last names. After some playing around, we decided that the best combination of Griffith and Popowski would be Grifski. Though, there were definitely a ton of hilarious runner-ups:
… you get the idea. It was like we were coming up with a name for a new Pokemon.
Anyway, we settled on Grifski, and that’s now our family name.
Tackling Everyone’s Questions
Of course, what should have been an easy change was met with a lot of pushback. As it turns out, even my relatively progressive family was very much against the idea of me abandoning the family name.
As a result, I’ve decided to put together a little FAQ to cover many of the topics Morgan and I have been asked repeatedly.
Whose Idea Was It?
Contrary to popular belief, merging our last names was my idea.
At the surface, I just didn’t like the idea of forcing my last name onto Morgan. That’s not the way our relationship has ever worked, so it didn’t make sense for her to start making unfair sacrifices as soon as we got married. If anyone was going to change their last name, we’d both have to do it.
In addition, I’m not a huge fan of my last name. Honestly, there’s not a lot of pride in it. In fact, it comes from a man who I’m not even related to by blood. Granted, I’m not sure I want to know what my real last name is supposed to be. However, changing my last name allows me to start fresh.
That said, my dad does own his own business which uses our last name, so I can understand why he’s frustrated.
Why Not Just Hyphenate?
I always find this question funny because it’s like the person asking the question is desperately trying to bargain with us.
Imagine a robber breaks into your house while your home. While you plead for your life, you offer the robber your most valuable possessions. After taking whatever they can get, the robber disappears.
Every time I hear this question, I picture Morgan and myself as the robbers. It’s like we’ve come up with this idea and everyone is pleading for a slightly better alternative. Sometimes I wonder how much pushback we would have gotten had we decided to simply hyphenate. My guess: the same exact amount.
At any rate, hyphenating just didn’t make sense to us. Both of our last names contain 8 characters. Do you think we want to force our future kids to write a 17 character last name on everything? What happens when they get married? Do they hyphenate an additional name, or do they drop one of them?
In addition, Morgan brought up a couple other great points. For one, she’s an elementary school teacher, and Mrs. Popowski-Griffith doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
On top of that, Morgan mentioned that she doesn’t think of herself as Mrs. Griffith—that would be my mother. And, I have to agree with her there. The new name eliminates the conflicting identities.
At this point, I think it’s clear that hyphenating is about as impractical as it gets.
Do People Do That?
Yes, anyone can change their name. They just have to go through the formal legal process for their state.
In fact, I believe I listed several articles in the proposal article which share some examples. I’ll copy them here as well:
- My Husband and I Made Up a New Last Name When We Got Married Despite His Family’s Disapproval
- Married Couples Who Made Up Their Own Last Name And Are Better Off For It
- More Couples Are Combining Their Last Names and Creating New Family Identities
Also, here’s a few more I found since then:
- 5 Reasons to Merge Last Names When You Marry
- Combining Names After Marriage
- My Husband and I Combined Last Names
To be completely honest, I don’t think this whole name change business is as big of a deal as many of the other marriage-related tropes that have gone by the wayside: sex before marriage, living together while dating, etc.
Anyway, I hope that answers some of the common questions we get asked. Feel free to ask your own in the comments.
How to Change Your Last Name
If you’ve come this far, I figured I might as well share how Morgan and I changed our last names. After all, it’s a pretty complex and outdated process. The following steps provide an overview:
- Decide on a Name
- Petition to Change Your Name
- Obtain all New Documents
- Inform Everyone of the New Name
What appears to be four simple steps is actually an insane process that requires several months of time. Oh, and it ain’t cheap!
Decide on a Name
First, you have to decide on a name. This stage is absolutely crucial because you can eliminate step two if you’re careful. In other words, if all you want to do is take your partner’s last name or hyphenate, then you can skip right to step three. Otherwise, you’ll likely have to petition for a new name.
In some case, you may not need to petition because you’re state includes the new name on the marriage certificate. However, in most cases, you won’t be so fortunate (see: Pennsylvania).
If you’re not taking your partner’s name or hyphenating, then you’ll need to decide on a new name. At this point, you have a couple options:
- Merge the last names
- Come up with a new last name
In either case, you’ll have to petition for a new name.
Petition to Change Your Name
Petitioning is the longest and most painful part of the process, but there’s no way around it currently. If you must petition for a name change, make sure you know all of your state’s rules.
At this point, I would share the process we went through, but I prefer to be more candid. So, here’s an anecdote.
The Courthouse Blues
Before we knew that we had to petition for a name change, Morgan and I went to the social security office thinking we could just present our marriage certificate to get a new social security card. After sitting around for about two hours, we were met with blank stares and a lot of confusion.
The next day we went down to the courthouse with all the same documents. After we got through security, we found out that we both needed to get a $60 money order to pay for the newspaper publication (more on that later).
So, we left, purchased our money orders, and returned to the same room. At that point, they told us that we needed to fill out some paperwork. Since we hadn’t already done that, we had to go to another room to get some printed out. From there, they directed us to a library where we could fill it out.
With our completed paperwork in hand, we returned to the previous room to have it notarized. Once notarized, we were able to complete our journey by returning to the original person who sent us out to get our money orders.
At long last, we just had to hand over the paperwork and drop another $220 each. Yeah, so we paid $560 just to petition to change our names. This is not how quests work in video games…
The Waiting Game
Once all the paperwork was filed, we had to wait about two months before we could move on to the next step. That’s because the name change process is quite antiquated.
Apparently, after all the paperwork is filed, a publication has to go into the newspaper which states our intent to change our name. Unfortunately, the publication has to go out once a week for four weeks. Even worse still, the publication doesn’t begin right away. In our case, we had to wait a couple weeks before our new names were published.
After the publication finished, we had to wait another couple of weeks to finally receive the official proof of the name change. In other words, we couldn’t get our social security cards for about two months. I guess judges have to make sure we’re not trying to commit fraud with our new names.
Obtain All New Documents
Once you’re legally ready to start obtaining new documents, I recommend purchasing HitchSwitch. Essentially, it’s a service which provides all the paperwork you’ll need to fill out for things like social security cards, driver’s licenses, and passports. Oh, and they fill it out for you.
Alternatively, you can always obtain your legal documents yourself. To help you out, here’s a checklist:
- Social Security Card
- Driver’s License
- Car Registration
- Insurance Cards
- Voter Registration
Your top priority will be the social security card followed by some for of photo identification such as a driver’s license. After that, everything should be relatively easy.
Inform Everyone of the New Name
Congratulations! You’ve covered all of the legal bases. At this point, you’ll want to fill in the cracks. Don’t forget to inform the following people and places:
- Investment Companies
In addition, don’t forget to update the following:
- Social Media
- Business Cards
- Check Books
- School Records
At this point, try not to feel too overwhelmed. After all, the hard part is over! However, you’ll probably stumbled across a few issues over time. However, that shouldn’t make you think this was a mistake. In my opinion, the name change process should be a lot easier.
An Honest Timeline
If you’re wondering how long it takes to complete this process, here was our timeline for the entire process:
|April 5th, 2018||Attempt to Apply for New Social Security Card|
|April 6th, 2018||Begin Courthouse Paperwork|
|April 19th, 2018||Begin Newspaper Publication|
|May, 10th, 2018||Finish Newspaper Publication|
|June 11th, 2018||Receive Final Court Order for Name Change (Courtesy Copy)|
|June 20th, 2018||Obtain Official Final Court Order for Name Change Apply for Social Security Card|
As you can see, the process takes an incredibly long time to finish. As a result, I’d recommend blocking out at least three months of your life in preparation.
To be honest, I’m of the belief that anyone should be able to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else. However, if that pain is misguided, I won’t be persuaded to change my mind.
In other words, I am committed to changing my last name despite the frustrations of my friends and family. After all, it doesn’t affect them. How could it?
However, the name change does affect my wife and that’s why I chose to make it fair. If that is going to rub anyone the wrong way, then I don’t know what to tell them. This article was my best attempt.
Anyway, thanks for sticking around. I appreciate the support. If you enjoyed this article, please give it a share. I think it will go a long way to help others in the same situation.