Once the honeymoon is over and life's administrative minutiae kick back in, the newly wedded woman may discover that streamers of white satin ribbon have turned into a whole lot of red tape. Taking your husband's surname means a trip to the Social Security office so that the name on your Social Security card reflects your identity as a married woman. If you decide not to change your name, however, this is one "to-do" that you can scratch off of your list: You're not legally required to get a new Social Security card when you get married.
Making a legal name change after you marry has a curious history that dates back to English common law. The doctrine of coverture, also known as the "unity principle," dictated that a married woman had no separate legal existence apart and aside from that of her husband. She could not enter into contracts, claim her own wages or income, or own her own land. During America's industrial revolution, a woman's legal and social status was redefined. Not only could the "modern woman" own, sell and bequeath real property; she could file for divorce, gain custody of her own children and aspire to professions typically dominated by men. However, the doctrine of coverture has some twenty-first-century holdovers. One is that a woman traditionally, if not legally, takes her husband's last name after she marries.
Your Social Security number remains the same throughout your lifetime. The name attached to your Social Security number can change, however, if you go follow the right procedures. Jane Smith can take on her new husband's last name and become Jane Brown; or, as a nod to the name she was born with, she can use a hyphenated last name on her Social Security card: Jane Smith-Brown. Far less commonly, a married man may even choose to take his wife's maiden name as his own.
If you wish to legally have your name changed after you get married, you'll need to fill out an Application for a Social Security card and take it to the nearest Social Security Administration center along with documents that prove your name change — in this case, an original or certified copy of your marriage certificate. Photocopies are unacceptable. You'll also need to present proof of your identity, such as a driver's license, state-issued identification card or United States passport.
Changing your last name to that of your husband's isn't mandated by law, making applying for a new Social Security card unnecessary unless you strongly feel that you should. Some women still adhere to tradition, while others feel that taking their husband's surname makes things easier once children come along. Professional women who've built a reputation for themselves often view their name much as they would a brand name and refuse to change it after they marry. However, public opinion reflects more conservative views. According to a November 2011 ABC News report, results of a recent survey published in "Gender and Society" indicate that 50 percent of Americans polled believe states should pass laws that make women adopt their husbands' last name.
- Social Security Administration: Name Change (Marriage or Divorce) Documents Needed for a Social Security Card
- BankRate.com: Checklist for Name Change After Marriage; L. McFadden
- FindLaw.com: Changing Your Name After Marriage
- Virginia.Edu: When a Woman's Marital Status Determined Her Legal Status: A Research Guide on the Common Law Doctrine of Coverture
- ABC News: Law Should Require Bride to Take Groom's Name — Really?
- LiveScience.com: Women Still Prefer Taking Husband's Last Name; S. Pappas
Lisa Sefcik has been writing professionally since 1987. Her subject matter includes pet care, travel, consumer reviews, classical music and entertainment. She's worked as a policy analyst, news reporter and freelance writer/columnist for Cox Publications and numerous national print publications. Sefcik holds a paralegal certification as well as degrees in journalism and piano performance from the University of Texas at Austin.