I’m changing my first AND last name after marriage

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After I got engaged, the name issue quickly became the most frustrating detail for me to figure out.

At first, the problem seemed to be around my last name. Should I keep it? I had already earned two degrees and published a few academic papers under my current name which was a significant amount of identity investment, as I saw it.

However, I have never been overly-fond of my last name, aesthetically speaking. And my husband-to-be has an awesome last name that I actually love. For a while, we decided to hyphenate both our last names. But something still didn't feel right about it. His name was certainly not improved by tacking my name to the front of it, but I felt kind of wrong just changing my last name — misplaced feminist pride, perhaps.

I genuinely believe that any partner should change their name if they so desire, but I couldn't seem to justify it to myself for some reason.

Then I had an epiphany. I wanted to take his last name — but I also wanted to legally change my first name.

WHY I changed my first and last name after I got married

My name dysphoria started a long time ago. I have a long, feminine, difficult, foreign-sounding name. My father is Hawaiian, and I was given the name to honor that heritage, though I was not raised in Hawaii. Everyone I introduce myself to immediately compliments me on what a beautiful name I have. After they mispronounce it twice.

For the past three years, I have gone by another name entirely. It worked well. Then I started my first full-time job, and was overwhelmed with my legal name on everything, including my provided work e-mail address. I reluctantly ordered business cards thinking “Well, maybe I can go by this name again.” But, in fact, I couldn't — I hated it. It was like an ill-fitting sweater that itched. So I started asking my coworkers to call me by my preferred name.

When I chose my new first name, I partly chose it because it is gender-neutral leaning toward masculine, which suits my genderqueer self far better than my given name ever did.

While my reasons for disliking my first name are many and varied, it's never been about my family — who I love dearly. After I told my wonderful mother that I wanted to change my first name, she said that, although she was sad, she realized “it isn't about you rejecting me; it's about you becoming you.” Just writing those words from her makes me weep with gratitude. She was completely correct.

Re-examining my values also helped a great deal here. Recently, when making big life decisions (quitting a miserable grad school program, quixotically looking for jobs near that fellow I am about to marry), I come back to a sentiment that is beautifully summed up by this A Softer World comic which says:

Please know that I am in no way trying to invalidate anyone else's experiences of feeling trapped. Sometimes we truly are constrained by circumstances far beyond our control. In this instance though, I have the ability to make a decision.

Did I want to keep having the same tiresome, negative conversation with every new person that I meet? Not really. Is changing my entire name going to be incredibly inconvenient? Most certainly, in terms of process, costs, and social confusion. Is my happiness worth the inconvenience? When I asked myself that question, the answer was a resounding YES.

I now have no problem taking my partner's (delightful) last name when I will also be taking my own first name, on my own terms. Though, I decided to keep my middle name for sentimental reasons — bracketing it between my chosen names.

I look forward to the person I am becoming, and the new name I will carry with pride. In the future, when someone compliments me on my name, I will be able to say: “Thank you, I chose it myself!”

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Comments on I’m changing my first AND last name after marriage

  1. Yes!! I’m doing this, too and no one ever talks about it. My reasons come from the gender neutrality of my name. I hated it when the same name was called for me and the quarterback of the football team. And then I meet the man I’m marrying and his father’s name is my name. So when we’re married, it would be even the same first and last names. No thanks.
    So I’ve been Lydia informally for three years. This spring, I’m doing the legal tapdance for the change. But, just like you, I’m keeping the middle name. And now no one will think I’m a boy on paper. Such a relief, as I’ve always been a cis lady.

    • Good for you! That would definitely be a frustrating situation. I wish you the best of luck in the legal intricacies- I will also be doing all of that in the spring (after we get back from the honeymoon, because there is zero time to change my passport and credit cards and such). Thank you for sharing your story!

      • Hi. How did you go about changing your first name? Can you do it when you change your last name when you get married?

    • Yes, that would be a little odd. I thought seeing a Chris(topher) and Chris(tine/a) last name or a Pat(rick) and Pat(trica) last name was funny/confusing. I can’t imagine having the same name as my father-in-law (Lets say Dana Lastname or Jamie Lastname).

    • Same! Originally, my dad wanted my first name to be Antonia, but my mom didn’t like it. She went behind his back and filled out Toni, which they would call me for short, on the birth certificate. I’ve hated my first name for which seems forever. I was teased for having a boy’s name. People constantly spell it with a Y instead of an I. It drives me insane. My father is Anthony. I have my mom’s middle name. Rightfully, I should be named after my father. And it’s much more feminine.

  2. I actually choose to change my full name after my mom remarried. My given name she had admitted to me was nothing she would have ever choosen, but rather decided while she was unconscious after delivery. Needless to say, I never was addressed by that name save for the random distant relative and strict teachers. It was something that always bugged me. So when my mother remarried when I was 20, I changed my name with her. It has been the best thing ever. It’s funny how a word can change the way you carry yourself. My fiance actually laughed when she heard my birth name because to him it doesn’t explain me and he asked to take my name because he felt the same way about his last name.

    • That’s really great! I’m excited to hear from people who have already done this- thank you for sharing! Also, I think it’s great that your fiance wants to take your name for that reason, it’s cool that you can both connect on that level.

  3. YESSS!!!! I did this too and it was the second best decision I’ve ever made (first being picking and marrying my husband, natch)

  4. THANK YOU for this! My given first name (Kellyn) is slaughtered on a daily basis and by people I’ve tried to help with pronunciation (to no avail). My French mother says she made it up and that it’s properly pronounced Kelleen, but try telling the average American this after they’ve read it on my business card. 9 times out of 10 it’s not pronounced correctly. I’ve heard so many variations, it’s nuts – from Kayleen to Kelly-Lynn and while I don’t think it’s really that difficult, when I hear someone butchering my name (be it unintentional), it’s literally like nails on a chalkboard! My mom, however, decided that my name was too good for a middle name so it’s not as if she gave me any other options. About 7 years ago, some friends started referring to me as Pepper (an Iron Man reference) and I really loved it. Easy to pronounce and sassy – like me! I’m getting married in April and am thinking about making Pepper my official middle name. I’m so glad you wrote this… Makes me somehow feel ok about not wanting to spend the rest of my natural life trying to get people to pronounce my name correctly. 🙂

    • Hi Pepper! I’m so glad my story was helpful to you in some way. Interestingly, as I move to change my birth name, I don’t mind as much if my family and older friends call me by it. Instead of it being a burden to drag through the process of introducing myself, it becomes something fond and intimate- a sign of long term connection. Turning my birth name into a nickname I suppose! I really love the name Pepper, especially with awesome Iron Man origins! It is wonderfully sassy, and also she is such a smart, competent and gorgeous namesake! My inner geek is so pleased. It’s definitely a big decision, but if it would make you happier it is worth considering- and you can always bump your first name to a middle name if you would like to keep it around in that capacity.

  5. I really liked reading this- it put the “hassle” of changing names into perspective. Sometimes it totally is worth it.

    My fiance is a bit worried that changing his middle name (that’s the current plan, we both add new middle names) will get his security clearance messed up- he works for a federal contractor. Anyone know if he’s just worrying needlessly, or if it actually could be an issue? I mean, a *man* changing his name is clearly suspicious :P, he could be a terrorist! But given bureaucracy, who knows? I generally think he’s worrying over nothing, since he tends that way, but I don’t actually know for sure. Anyone out there from the DC area?

    • It isn’t hard but it can be pricey. It was around $300 to change and it took awhile but since you are getting married the process should be smoother.

    • Hi Persephone 🙂 I don’t have an answer for you but I’m also in the DC area! Just wanted to say hi.

    • I don’t have an answer, but a question: Do you mean that you’re both planning to take each other’s last names as your middle names? That’s what my fiance & I are planning to do, but I’ve never heard of anyone else doing that.

  6. Oh my glory, I am so glad someone else understands this problem!! My legal first name has NEVER felt right and no one (including my parents) has ever used it with the exception of a brief retail job stint. We’re still debating the last name situation, but I KNOW I want to change my first name to my actual name.

    One question for folks who have accomplished this already or are just more informed than I am: I know that the last name can be changed for free with the signing of the marriage certificate, but does the same apply for the first name? If I can do both in one, fell swoop, that would be awesome, but I don’t know if that’s okay or not. Anyone have any ideas on this?? We’re in Chicago if that helps at all…

    • Changing your first name usually requires more effort, unfortunately. Often you’ll have to attend a short hearing, and some states require you to post a notice in the paper for a certain number of weeks that you’re changing your name. Requirements vary state by state, though.

  7. I really love this. I have a very unusual first name that people generally have to ask me about. It’s only one syllable though and I’ve never thought of changing it, but I think too often people hate their names and feel bound to stick with them for a variety of reasons. My father, for example, hates his first name but would never change it because it would hurt his parents, who named him after his father. I don’t think they would understand that it’s not a slight against their choice, it’s about him being comfortable with his name. No one chooses to be born and no one gets to choose their original name. I think it’s great to see someone taking charge of that choice and not just accepting being stuck with a name that doesn’t fit right.

    • Thank you! Having finally made the decision, it seems almost strange to me that more people don’t do it, given the number of people I know who don’t go by their own birth names. That being said, the amount of social conditioning around your name- responding to it, life-long recognition of you by most people you’ve ever met, and family-related sentiment/guilt/inertia is really profound. In respect to some of that, I’m timing my name change with a big work change- our grant-based cycle is about to end, and another will begin in the summer. All that means is that I will get a lot of new people to work with who can know me right away as my new name, and not my previous one. I’m very excited for the business cards!

  8. I have seriously considered submitting a guest post with this very topic being addressed but you nailed it better than I ever could!

    I’ve been having a hard time getting family to understand that it’s not about them in any way, it’s about being the me that’s inside. I’m a powerful personality and my names never fit that, but who would ever guess that while I was a baby? I’m changing all my names but honouring important people in my life with my middle name, making my first a name for me, and my last well that’s kinda obvious.

    I’m hoping with time that my family will come to understand. Until then I suppose they’ll have to deal.

    • Thank you kindly! Though I’m sure you could have done an excellent job of covering the topic. Dealing with familial expectations can be rough! As I mentioned above, my Mom was really awesome about it. My sister said “Isn’t that disrespectful to our parents?” Honestly, I always thought that changing my last name was more problematic in terms of family respect, since I am the last one with the name. But, as you said- how do we pick names for children that will fit them as they become themselves? It seems to work often enough, but wouldn’t it be an interesting “coming of age tradition” to pick our own names after a certain point? The word everyone uses to address you has some serious social significance, and I feel that it should be a personal choice for everyone whether or not they want to keep their given name.

  9. I plan on doing the same! I kind of want to change my entire name though, including my middle name. I’m not sure if I want to do that yet for sure, but I really like the idea of changing my name to something I actually like and is more gender neutral (I identify as agender/genderless). I find it weird that people don’t chose their own names anyways, don’t you think? I mean I guess it’s more strange if you really don’t identify with your given name or have a less than good relationship with your name givers…
    The bigger problem though seems with his family; we want to both change our last names to a new last name that’s a combination of both of our current last names. He thinks his family may be offended by this when really it’s him wanting to participate in the name changing process with me and also him not feeling really comfortable with me simply taking his last name for feminist issues.
    But yeah, I’m glad to see I’m not the only person wanting to change their whole name when they get married. Nice read!

    • That’s awesome- good for you! I agree that it’s strange for people not to be able to choose their own names, though socially it makes some level of sense- having a name before you are old enough to speak is pretty helpful for the family in terms of reference, and by the time you can speak that’s just what you learn to respond to. Then it gets stuck in the inertia of convenience and (presently) bureaucratic paper trails…

      It’s fantastic that your fiance wants to participate in the name changing process with you. I really appreciated that about my fellow- we talked about hyphenating or taking a combination name that we do use casually, though our particular combination ended up being too… playful? for me to be really comfortable taking. Also, his original last name is *still* cooler. Serious aesthetic considerations were involved. I think it’s wonderful that it works for you two. If this feels like the most authentic choice for you, and for you both, it may be worth sticking out. I wish you all the luck with the process, and the family dynamics!

  10. I changed every single one of my names given to me at birth. I still paid some homage to my family in one of my middle names, but the whole damn name felt like it belonged to an image of what my mother wanted me to be and not who I was.

    I always hated my full name, I always hated that no one called me nicknames. I always hated that I couldn’t get people to call me by something I didn’t hate.

    And then someone dubbed me Kat when I was 15. And it stuck. It REALLY stuck. When I was 18, I gave myself a full name (I’d experimented with a couple, and was almost Katia). I’d gone by my chosen name for 5 years before one manic sleep deprived morning I marched down to Births Deaths and Marriages and changed it for realsies.

    Best decision ever.

    Recently I actually had a date ask me if I would change it when I got married. My immediate and unapologetic ‘no’ seemed to confront him a little.

    But it was such a battle to establish my identity, my name is who I am.

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