Name change game


I recently went to the county courthouse to get a marriage license with my fiance. After filling it out, I asked about changing my name because my fiance and I are choosing our own, new name — we don’t want the names of either of our fathers. I had read online that for women, there is a place on a marriage license to change your name, but there is no such place for men. So we figured that I would change my name easily by writing in my new name, while my fiance would have to go through the longer process of a name change.

However, there was no place to change my name and when I asked the clerk she said that “when you marry [the woman’s] name automatically changes to [the man’s].” If you want to keep your own name, you just never file Social Security changes or inform anyone of the (apparently automatic) name change.

I was so shocked and outraged to hear this. Why is it still assumed that women want to automatically take the names of their partners? Why can’t my male partner take my name automatically by filing our marriage certificate with Social Security? I am so grateful to be marrying a strongly feminist individual who never assumed that I would take his name; there was never a discussion of having only me change my name. We talked about both hyphenating our names, him taking my name, and each of us keeping our names before deciding that we wanted to choose our own name.

The government, of course, hardly holds the same radical ideas about equality between people of differing reproductive abilities! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that marriage, as the government sees it at least, is still an absurdly patriarchal and sexist institution, but I guess it’s MFIF.

Keeping her name, Southern Ohio

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4 Responses to “Name change game”

  1. Zippa Says:

    The woman was remarkably misinformed. Even as a woman you would have to go through several steps to change your name legally. I’m assuming you’re in the US because you mention Social Security. It is NOT automatic, and if she said it was, she was either just wrong or trying to manipulate you.

  2. jesurgislac Says:

    There’s no place to change your name because in Ohio (I looked this up on eHow a woman must formally decide by sending a certified copy of her marriage certificate to the Social Security office, if she’s going to change her surname to her husband’s. If you don’t do that, no matter what people call you, your surname does not change.

    As neither you nor your husband plan to change to each other’s surname, I would guess you both have to go through the process described as “For Men” on the eHow page – the quick’n’easy process “For Women” would probably apply only if you were changing your surname to your husband’s as it appears on the marriage certificate. The judge who is empowered to approve or disapprove the application for a name change is only supposed to refuse if they think it’s being entered into for fraudulent purposes, which a newly-married couple adopting a new shared surname unquestionably is not.

    The government, of course, hardly holds the same radical ideas about equality between people of differing reproductive abilities! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that marriage, as the government sees it at least, is still an absurdly patriarchal and sexist institution, but I guess it’s MFIF.

    That’s not quite fair (I hate to say this, but it’s not).

    The official governmental legal view of civil marriage in the US, as in Canada and in most of the EU, is that it is an equal relationship between two partners, each of whom has identical rights, responsibilities, and obligations towards each other. Legally, when two people marry, neither one automatically takes the other’s surname.

    But: because of the strong social expectation that a woman will take a man’s surname when she marries him, and that all their children will carry his surname, where a shortcut is provided for name change after marriage, it is invariably provided to the woman, it is rarely if ever provided to the man. The government might do more to block this short-cut, or they could provide a short-cut for both spouses if desired (a window of opportunity for mutual or cooperative surname-changing which could close a year after marriage) but the government did not originate the patriarchal social expectation: at worst, by providing a short-cut for women but not men, they enable the kind of nasty powerplays that often force a surname-change on women who would prefer to retain their own name.

  3. temp1234567 Says:

    Unless Ohio has massively different laws from all the other states in the US, the clerk was outright lying. I live in neighboring Indiana and had to go through sending copies of my marriage certificate to about 50 different people in order to get my last name changed to my husband’s name, and I still get things addressed to me with my maiden name all the time. It is far from automatic even for those of us who do want to take our husbands’ names.

  4. dangrayson Says:

    A friend of mine who is a law professor at Columbia once told me that your name is what you say it is, not what is recorded about you by the government. You can change your name instantly whenever you want to, just by deciding to do it; notification of government agencies is not required. You can even have multiple names simultaneously. (Think of stage names adopted by actresses.)

    So, forget about the lack of a new name blank spot on the marriage certificate, and, if you want to stop using the old name in your communications with the government, try writing a letter to all the government agencies and employers that record your name or print it on official documents or id cards, informing them what your new name is, and asking them to update their records and your id cards. Let us know if it works!

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