When I got married, one of the first things I did was to change my last name. In fact, within a month of our wedding day, I had my new social security card, driver’s license, passport, and credit card in my wallet, all proudly bearing my married name – Balke – where my maiden name once stood; three months into our marriage, I’d changed my student loans to my married name, and even had my undergraduate university send me a new copy of my diploma with my married name emblazoned on it (yes, many universities do this for alumnae!).

Who’s Changing Their Married Name?

The history of women changing their name after marriage is as old as time, but the idea of a woman not taking her husband’s last name is a 19th century concoction. The trend peaked in the 1990s, when just shy of a quarter of American women chose not to abandon their maiden name after their wedding day. (For the record, I didn’t abandon my maiden name – my parents didn’t give me a middle name at birth, with the expressed desire that I would make my maiden name my middle name after marriage, which I did.) Today, according to a 2011 survey by The Knot, only eight percent of women hang on to their maiden name.

There are geographic disparities to this decision. Women on the coasts were more likely to keep their maiden names than women in the middle of the country; women in the south were also more likely to take on their husband’s last name.

2009 research shows that the issue of a woman changing (or not changing) her name after marriage is becoming a cultural divide, largely along the same red/blue boundary that seems to separate Americans on most issues. More than 50% of people surveyed for that 2009 study said they would support a law requiring a woman to take on her husband’s name; most of those individuals also self-identified themselves as conservatives, Evangelicals, or Republicans.

Reasons Not To Make The Switch

Admittedly, when I got married I had yet to begin my career; in hindsight, I can see that this played a huge role in determining whether or not I’d change my name. As I started my first job, and then my second, I started to see a pattern emerge among women who’d decided not to take on a married name:

  • In my experience, many of them were older – I don’t mean in their 40s or 50s, but I’d say married after their 30th birthday. One former supervisor explicitly told me that she’d kept her maiden name because she was worried that past employers and coworkers may not be as readily able to identify her with a new married name; she thought this might negatively impact her chances at moving up in the working world.
  • Many women in high-profile careers seem to keep their maiden names. For example, when I worked in TV news, not a single on-air personality used her married name; every one used her maiden name and, in some cases, not even that – one female anchor, in particular, used a completely made-up last name. The motivation here was to protect her identity, using a professional name to separate her working life from her personal one.
  • They didn’t do it immediately after their marriage, and don’t want to make the change after the fact. A colleague once lamented to me that she hadn’t changed her name when she had the chance, and now she felt like going through all the paperwork at this stage of the game wouldn’t be worth it.

Let’s Talk About The Paperwork

There is a lot of paperwork involved in changing from your maiden to married name, especially if you’ve always used your maiden name on the job. Here are just a sampling of the things you’ll have to – or should – change:

  • Social Security card (this is the first step – you’ll have trouble completing most of the others if you don’t start here)
  • Driver’s license, or other state-issued ID card
  • Passport
  • Voter registration
  • Any loans, including student loans, a mortgage, credit cards, or car loans
  • Any deeds or titles of ownership, whether on a vehicle, a house, or otherwise
  • Medical records, both with your insurer and at your doctors’ offices
  • Financial records, including your bank account, retirement accounts, investments, etc.
  • Your life insurance policy and even your car insurance may need updating.
  • Any living wills, power of attorney, trusts, or other end-of-life documents; you may also have to ask family members who have you listed as a beneficiary on their accounts to change your name as well

The list goes on, including everything from your gym membership to your children’s school records to your social networking accounts. All told, you could be looking at dozens of accounts in need of updating.

Reader, did you change your maiden name after marriage (or, if you’re a man, did your wife)? Why or why not? Do you think women should be required to do so?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke