Name That Bride!

Back in your grandmother's day, brides rarely kept their maiden names after the wedding. It was seen as a radical gesture and disrespectful to the groom if his wife clung to her old surname. Of course, these days, it's hardly surprising to hear that a woman is keeping her name in one form or another: by keeping it exactly as it's always been, using her maiden name as her middle name in all business transactions, or hyphenating both surnames and creating one larger name from the two.

A woman might choose to keep her name for all sorts of reasons. Most often, the reason is that she's worked long and hard to earn a place in her field of expertise, and she's not about to go messing with her identity now. (And since her husband is hardly expected to forge ahead in his line of work with a brand-new name, you can hardly argue with this logic.) Other women simply like their maiden names and want to keep them.

Is Change Good?

Whatever you decide about your name, make sure you're doing it for the right reasons: It's what you want and it's what's best for you. In other words, don't give in to pressure from your mother, your mother-in-law, or your friends on the name issue. More than at any other time in history, this particular issue has become a highly personal topic that each bride needs to work out for herself.

Keep in mind, though, that you really should let your husband (or fiancé) in on this discussion because it may affect him, too. If you decide to keep your maiden name, for example, and the two of you plan to have kids eventually, he may be wondering what their surnames will be.

E~Fact

When a woman keeps her own name in a marriage, the issue of which name to give to the children may come up eventually. Many couples choose to give the kids either a hyphenated surname or the father's surname.

If you're choosing to go with a hyphenated version of both names immediately after the wedding, do you also expect your new husband to adopt this new name? If his family isn't keen on you keeping your own name, why not?

Knowing the answer to these questions may not change your mind, but it may help you to dispel any misconceptions concerning the reasons you've chosen to keep your own name.

Go for It

If you have decided to take any surname that is different from your maiden name (this includes hyphenated combinations of your maiden name and your husband's surname), you need to notify the government — and the sooner the better. Sure, it seems like it's unnecessary to rush right out and change a name that you've been attached to for the past few decades, but it's really in your best interest to do so. When it comes time to file a joint tax return, your boss and your accountant will have some very unfriendly words for you if you've been receiving a paycheck under your maiden name and you've decided to sign your tax return in your married name. (Suffice it to say this will cause a lot of complications for everyone involved.)

So, when you start changing your name, start with the Social Security Administration (SSA) first. You can download a new application online at www.ssa.gov) — along with your marriage license, a valid photo ID, and your birth certificate. Other than possibly sitting for a long period of time in the waiting area (this is a government office, after all), this is a painless, easy process. You'll get your new Social Security card in the mail within a few weeks, and your new name will be official.

You needn't wait for this new card to notify other agencies and businesses of your name change. Here's who you'll need to contact:

  • Credit card companies

  • Utility companies

  • Department of motor vehicles

  • Doctors' offices

  • Banks

  • Anyone else you do business with

Getting the name change done and out of the way while you're still excited about it is wise. Again, this isn't a difficult task, but it may be time-consuming. The longer you put it off, the less you'll feel like making all of those calls, and the better the chance that your credit cards will still be in your maiden name ten years from today. You're just messing with and possibly complicating matters for yourself (especially when it comes time for tax returns and credit checks in the future), so be sure to get it done!

You've Changed — or Have You?

If you've decided against taking your husband's surname, then you obviously won't have to notify any companies of this. However, you'll probably be faced with someone calling you by the wrong name, because people still assume that every bride takes her husband's name. The best way to handle this is simply to be very nonchalant in saying, “Oh, no, I'm not Mrs. Smith. I kept my maiden name; it's Ms. Hill.” If you don't make a big deal out of someone else's goof, it's not a big deal. On the other hand, if you act offended by this natural mistake, you're just behaving badly, and there's no reason for it. Correct the person and move on with the conversation.

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