How do I change my name?

I’m getting married next month and have decided to take on his last name. I’ve looked around online to see what I would have to do to legally change my name, but I haven’t seen a clear answer.

Does my marriage certificate automatically change my name? If not, where do I have to go to do it?

In the US you do not have to go through any formal procedure to change your name; you are legally entitled to use whatever name you wish as long as it’s not for the purpose of comitting fraud or engaging in otherwise nefarious activities.

However, it’s a good idea to have your name change on record, which is usually accomplished through your local county court. Call up the county courthouse, and they should be able to tell you what you need to do. Usually it involves filling out a form and talking to a judge for a few minutes.

Women don’t usually have to go to court to change their name after marriage.

You can change your various IDs to your husband’s name merely by writing in the correction, and most authorities will accept it with, at most, an explanation. You may need to bring your marriage license to the Social Security Administration to get a new card, but the request is routine.

The issue will not be the name change with the county; the marriage license and certificate handle that.

Once you are married, however, you have to notify the Social Security Adminstration (otherwise, the IRS will come looking to know why the name on your 1040 differs from the records in your SSA file).

From the Social Security Adminstration website:

(The hyperlink takes you to the page that identifies the requisite form and a phone number to call for assistance.) The actual card change page is located here and includes a link to download the SS-5 name change form.

If you do not make the change before you file your taxes, you will get a nasty letter from the IRS saying that your name does not match the one that is on file with the SSA and that you are liable to be penalized for fraud if the issue is not resolved. (OTOH, if you forget to notify the SSA and you get the nasty note from the IRS, all you need to do is get the name change from the SSA and send in a form verifying that change to the IRS. I have not heard of anyone doing hard time for forgetting the paperwork.)

As the SSA page notes, you need to notify your employer so that they issue your W-2 under the correct name. (You should also notify any employer that you left during the year that you got married so that they will update their files before they cut you a W-2, but the IRS can probably figure that out if the SSA has the name change on file.)

The IRS and SSA are totally separate agencies, but they do share information.

The two biggies I remember were the Social Security and my Driver’s License. I took my Marriage License down there pretty fast (which ended up causing a minor problem at the airport a few weeks after I was married, since the name on my ID didn’t match the name on my ticket --and this was pre-9/11!). I did take to carrying around copies of my marriage license, so every time I ran into something that needed changed I could prove my new name. (That’s how I got allowed on the plane.)
I had to fill out a form at work, and everything else was pretty much just a quick form or just writing in my new name as well (credit cards, library card, etc.)