Justine was married for 20 years and is going through the process of changing her name back to her maiden name.
Should you go back to using your maiden name after you separate or get a divorce? It's not an easy choice to make. I want to share with you some of my thoughts, as well as what I learned while trying to decide whether to keep my married name or restore my maiden name.
Does It Really Matter What Your Last Name Is?
Yes! It does matter. Your name is your brand.
If you love your married name and it represents you, your personality, your message to the world, then keep it! That would be the simple and easier way to go. You would not have to track down every place your married name is listed and change it. And if you have children, like I do, then you all have the same name and that feels good.
But if giving up your name when you got married was difficult and seemed a strange tradition to you (but you did it anyway), and now you want to go back to your maiden name, then it is not hard. Here are the steps you have to take:
How to Restore Your Maiden Name
- Write your entire name exactly how you want it on the Petition form in your divorce. If you are not the one who filed the Petition, you can put it on your Response or ensure it's included in the marital settlement agreement or final divorce judgment paperwork that's filed at the end of your case. Each state has different protocols for filing and finalizing a divorce; check with a local attorney or your court's family law department.
- With your legal order, notify Social Security, the DMV, employers, banks, mortgage companies, insurance companies, credit cards, the passport agency . . . or have an online service do this all for you for a fee.
- Enjoy your new brand—your name!
Is Changing Your Name Tradition or Law?
It seems a strange tradition in this country that many brides change their last name to their husband's name when they get married. In fact, 60–80% of brides change their name when they get married in this country. This custom goes back to an English tradition, and it had to do with common law of transferring property.
However, worldwide, it turns out that many countries either have a custom of the woman not changing her last name, or they have passed legislation forbidding women to change their name when they get married.
Countries Where Taking Your Husband's Name Is Forbidden
Law passed in 1981 for gender equality of name
Law passed in 1983 for feminist legislation
Law passed in 1789 for equality
Law passed in 1975, but you can tack your husband's name onto yours
Documents must state your maiden name
Law requires you not to change your name after marriage
Branding Is Important
The reason I ask you this is that, in this day in age, in social media, in business, in dating, we are constantly asked to brand ourselves. We have to set up profiles, choose photos, and capture our entire essence into a slick phrase . . .
So for me, one way I am branding myself is through my name.
I really liked the name that my parents gave me. They chose French names for my first and middle names, and my last name was Italian. My major in college was Italian, and I work in an Italian school. So it was not easy to change my name to an English last name, but my husband wanted me, to so I did it for him at the time. But now it is time for me to restore my former name, and I'm doing it for myself.
Can You Use the Name You Want Without Legally Changing It?
Yes. This country is a common law country, and the procedures are loose. In California, the usage method is sufficient to change your name, and you don't have to use the new name exclusively. Also, you can just use a "preferred name" at many universities, hospitals, and other institutions. And you can just use any name you want on your social media. However, officially registering your name change after divorce can be liberating and therapeutic.
Why Restoring Your Name Can Be Liberating
Going through a legal separation or divorce is a very stressful and overwhelming time. Filling out the forms can be a daunting task that can take months. It can seem overwhelming to add yet another tedious burden to this already emotionally packed situation. Yet restoring the name that you grew up with can also be liberating and return you to your former self when you had goals that you put aside or new goals now that you are single again.
What Women Say About Changing Their Names Back
I asked all the women I know for a week these questions:
- Did you change your name or will you when you get married? Why? Why not?
- Did you or would you restore your maiden name after divorce?
What They Said
I started talking to an Italian woman who was divorced a long time ago and is now about to get married again. She told me, "Yes, it's true, in Italy, by law you have to keep your maiden name. You can attach your husband's name but only socially. And you have to add the small preposition "in" after your name and before his. For example, Francesca Bianchi could become Francesca Bianchi in Smith."
She started laughing when she described the list of names on the front door to represent her family consisting of herself, her fiancé, her daughter by her first marriage, and her children from her second marriage to be. Even though it is the law that the woman has to keep her maiden name, the children still receive the name of their father.
Another woman I talked to said, "I've changed my name multiple times. Now I'm back to my maiden name. Well, it's actually my mom's maiden name because it is such a pretty name, and I didn't like the one I grew up with. Also, it has meaning for me because, otherwise, the name would have died out. Now my children can continue it."
I asked her if she did it through common law usage or preferred name or legal, and she said, "I changed it legally. I mean, you might as well; otherwise, you can end up using your married name still since it's on all your financial documents." She said it wasn't hard, and she just did it over time.
A young woman who just got engaged told me she is going to take her husband's last name but is also going to keep her name perhaps as a middle name or by hyphenating.
These days there are many options. One couple I met didn't like either of their last names, so they invented a new name based on their original names. And another couple I talked to said that if they had male children, they would give them the father's last name, and if they had female children, they would give them the mother's last name.
Another mother I talked to has two daughters, and she said they decided to give one daughter the mother's last name and the other the father's last name. So these days in this country there are many possibilities when choosing names for yourself and for your children.
It's Your Choice
As you can see, choosing a name and restoring a name are both very personal decisions and have a lot of ramifications. There are many methods you can use, from just calling yourself your new name and telling people, to changing it on all your social media accounts, personal and work emails, and company website to getting a court order and changing it officially with every legal and financial organization.
For years I have sort of done the usage method, and now I am continuing that, but I'm raising it a step by notifying my employer of my preferred name. I will change it officially with all the legal and financial institutions once I have a court order. And now I am using it as my author name. Let me know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.