How to navigate through the name change maze

12 Apr 2017

If you're confused by the complexities of changing your name, here's how to tackle the process head on

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The vast majority (80%) of modern brides will uphold tradition and assume their husband's name upon marriage – but an increasing number want to consider their options and weigh things up before deciding what they’ll be called after the big day.

Brides-to-be (or grooms, for that matter) considering the ‘name change after marriage’ topic can find themselves torn with conflicting rationale and emotions when deciding whether to stick or twist. NameSwitch offers its expert advice.

What’s in a name?

While strong attachment to your first name is naturally assumed – and many continental countries celebrate an individual’s ‘Name Day’ as voraciously as they celebrate a birthday - your first name is used mostly by your friends and family, whereas your surname serves a broader purpose.

Your title and surname declares who you are to the wider world, encapsulating part of your identity and how you choose to present yourself to those outside your immediate social circle. In many situations, the people you interact with in more formal situations may not even know your first name, but call you entirely by your second.

For some women, the thought of changing their name feels a lot like losing touch with part of their identity. The phrase ‘Who am I?’ becomes as pertinent a part of the marriage process as ‘I do’ and the decision of which name to use becomes a difficult one.

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Links to past, present and future

One of the major factors that makes a surname change emotional, is what the name connects you to. Your maiden name provides a link to your family, your heritage, your career and life to date – undoubtedly difficult things to lose touch with. A lot of women take pride in their family history and have a strong desire to honour their birth family by keeping their name.

The average age of a bride is also increasing – from 23-years-old in 1981 to 30-years-old in 2011 – which means you have a longer history and connection to your birth name by the time you walk down the aisle.

In practice, it also means that most brides have built a career reputation using their maiden name and don’t want to lose the kudos they have accrued. Some may be inclined to keep their professional name for continuity, but be known by their married surname at the weekend and in formal or social settings.

Meanwhile, the argument for the other side of the debate is equally as reasoned - your married name often represents a link to your future: your new family unit, the life you’ll create as a couple and ties to any potential future children.

Taking your husband’s (or wife’s) name is a way to create a new family united by one surname and many couples see it as their ‘team name’, especially if they plan to add mini-team members further down the line.

It can also be a link to tradition, the age-old practice of taking a new surname - like wearing a wedding band - bears a symbol of your commitment to one another to the outside world. For others, it’s simply seen as an exciting and natural thing to do – to have a new title, name and signature that ties together the new you.

Consider alternatives

Increasingly, brides are coming to realise that it doesn’t have to be a matter of either/or. The last decade has seen rise in a number of alternative approaches that for many offer a perfect compromise and can seem more in-keeping with the balanced equality we expect in our marriages today.

The double-barrel has become more popular than you might think. It symbolises equality, yet also respects tradition – favoured by those who have a deep-rooted heritage that they want to preserve, particularly if they represent the end of a family line.

An increasing trend amongst modern newlyweds is the creation of their very own new name by either fusing their surnames (known as meshing) or choosing a new moniker that they identify with as a couple - effectively co-creating 'part two' of their life story.

For same-sex couples, where tradition has yet to dictate how things are ‘expected’ to be done, there are no societal norms to conform to. The vast array of aforementioned possibilities are open to being explored and considered.

While these name options do require a little more planning as the change needs to be formalised by deed poll (rather than the marriage certificate), the ease of using deed poll makes things quick and straightforward. A record 85,000 people changed their name by deed poll in 2015, more than twice as many as a decade ago, demonstrating just how appealing and easy it is to create a name for yourself that fits you entirely.

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The right decision – for the right reasons

Ultimately, what your name connects you to is a personal perception and will be different for each and every bride. The reasons for keeping or changing your name are as varied as brides themselves, and all are equally valid. At the end of the day, it’s a personal decision and one that you need to feel comfortable holding for the rest of your life as the coming chapters unfold. 

The one person you do need to include in your decision is your partner. It’s an important decision for both of you, so make sure you include him/her in your deliberations - pour a glass (not a bottle) of wine or pop the kettle on and settle down with your partner for a proper discussion at a time when both of you are relaxed, open to talking and not in a rush.

The decision of what you’ll be called for the rest of your life is a monumental one, and undoubtedly one that should be very carefully considered. Whether you choose to keep your maiden name, take your husband’s name, double-barrel both names or create a new surname altogether, the decision should be based on what feels right for you and not based on how you feel about paperwork.

Get organised

Cécile Mazuet, founder of NameSwitch, shares her top tips to tackle the name change maze:

  1. Do your research. Get together a list of all the companies you need to notify of your name change and research their processes and supporting documentation required.
  2. Get copies. Some companies accept copies of marriage certificates which means you can get multiple switching going on in parallel. We recommend having 2-3 copies available.
  3. Invest in stamps and envelopes. Some companies will accept electronic submissions but the vast majority are still old school and need to see original copies. As a general rule of thumb, we recommend you include a SAE (A5, large stamp) to enable speedy return of your documentation. Original certificates are really quite precious, so consider recorded delivery if you want extra assurance.
  4. Plan it out. Think of lead times, travel or important events to plan out so you can work out what to initiate and when – prioritise photo ID (driving license and passport). Keep a note of your sent/notified date and return due dates to keep you on track.
  5. Set yourself a target. It’s not possible to update your name everywhere in an instant, but you don’t want it to drag on through the seasons either. Set yourself a realistic goal to work through your list.  

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