Wait, what's my name again?
June 13, 2016 11:48 AM   Subscribe

I changed my name on my marriage license (years ago, in California) but nowhere else. What's my legal name?

I was going to change my name, but then just never got around to it. It was a sweet romantic gesture at the time, but neither of us care if we have the same last name, and I think it would be a lot easier to just keep my maiden name. It just occurred to me recently that if I did change my name legally, and am using a different name on all my important legal stuff (wills, life insurance, health insurance, taxes etc.) that could maybe cause a problem.

So, what is my legal name, Married Name or Maiden Name?

And if it's Married Name, what's the easiest way to get it changed (since EVERYTHING else in my life is already Maiden Name)?
posted by pennypiper to Law & Government (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
what do you file your taxes as? What is on your driver's license/government ID? Whatever is attached to your social security card, i will assume, is your legal name. Same for your drivers/ID.
posted by INFJ at 11:59 AM on June 13, 2016

Best answer: You never changed your name. The closest thing to a canonical source of your name, is whatever the Social Security Administration thinks it is. If you never changed it there, you never changed it.
posted by so fucking future at 11:59 AM on June 13, 2016 [10 favorites]

Best answer: It is my understanding that your legal name is still your maiden name, since you never changed it with Social Security and the DMV. The marriage license just gives you the legal backing to change it at those places, whereas if you did not have a marriage license with the new name on it, you would have to have a court order for the name change.

If you do want to change it, start with the Social Security office, then DMV, then credit cards and everything else. Bring the marriage license.
posted by bedhead at 12:01 PM on June 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: IAAL, IANYL.

Answering your question directly is a bit too close to practicing law for my comfort as you're asking people to apply the law to a set of facts, which is pretty much the definition.

That being said I think you could look at this page, read the attached forms, and figure it out for yourself.
posted by bswinburn at 12:04 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I started to answer and I realized I was doing legal analysis about a particular set of facts, for a particular person, and even trying to apply laws from a state in which I don't practice. So, I stepped back. Sorry. You aren't my client and I can't provide you with legal advice. I will say that Nolo press is a good source for free legal information and you can find their page on name changes here.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 12:10 PM on June 13, 2016

There are competing agencies. It might take a lawyer.

1. The name you use, get paychecks in, pay bills in, especially taxes.
2. The name at the DMV, especially if in the Real ID program.
3. The name on your passport.
4. The name at the Social Security Adminstration.

If you want to use your married name, the your marriage certificate also p!ays a role. But if the first four are the same, that's probably going to be it.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:12 PM on June 13, 2016

I will second bedhead, exactly. I'm in the same situation and remember at the time we got the marriage license the clerk encouraged me to add my husbands name onto mine, because it would make it possible to change my name officially, without a court order, if I ever decided to do that. I haven't, and since then I have filed many years worth of taxes, renewed my passport and driver license, and was just approved for TSA precheck, all while using my maiden name.
I don't believe a name can change itself, but IANAL, this is not legal advice, etc.
posted by Jemstar at 12:14 PM on June 13, 2016

To complicate matters, marriage licenses are treated differently county-by-county in California, so you probably need to provide the county of your marriage to enable people to give you informed feedback. Or at least browse the specific county website yourself, as I agree with others about how this is getting too close to offering legal advice.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 12:15 PM on June 13, 2016

Best answer: This is a simple question that doesn't require a lawyer.

Simple answer: If you didn't go to the Social Security Office to change your name, it hasn't been changed despite what you wrote on the license.

Detailed answer: In California, if you want to change your name after marriage, it is highly recommended that you write your intended new name on the license so that you have minimal hoops to jump through when you actually go through with changing your name. If you did not go to the Social Security Office after your marriage to file a name change, your name has NOT been changed. You can go change it at any time now that you're married, provided you filled out the license with the new name. If you want to change your name to something other than what you wrote on the marriage license, it requires all the court appearances and expensive fees that go along with a non-marital name change in the state. Also, that new name that you wrote down on the form has to accord with the Name Equality Act of 2007 (i.e., it must be one of the following: current last name of spouse; last name of either spouse given at birth; name combining into a single last name all or a segment of the current last name or last name of either spouse given at birth; or hyphenated combination of last name).

The space on the license that my California county issued me three years ago says at the bottom "State of California, Department of Public Health, Office of Vital Records" so it's valid for the whole state. Toward the bottom, the space where I filled out the name I never changed my name to says: "New middle and last name of person listed in 12A-12D (if any) for use upon solemnization of the marriage (see reverse for information)." The reverse actually says nothing, but the rest of the docs I got include a sheet with other relevant info including "Changing your name" with a list of the offices you have to contact to change your name, with the Social Security Office listed first.

Source: Me and my license forms, after lots of research into this and deliberating over what my married name would be in California, and 3 years into no legal name change despite what I wrote on the license. I am still going by my pre-marriage name.

Additional source: A coworker who got married at the same time as me thought that writing her new name on the marriage license and changing her outgoing e-mail name was all she had to do. I heard stories about all the legwork actually involved in making the legal change.
posted by phatkitten at 12:26 PM on June 13, 2016

Best answer: You still have your maiden name. You would have to go to the social security office with a signed copy of your marriage licence and birth certificate for them to legally change it. Then once thats been changed, you'd have to have your licence changed next.

Short story: You still have your maiden name.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 12:31 PM on June 13, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks all! Didn't mean to ask for legal advice, and I understand that nothing said here is such. From the comments and linked resources, it seems pretty likely that my name is still Maiden Name, since that only exists on the marriage certificate, but I'll do a little more research for my county.
posted by pennypiper at 1:52 PM on June 13, 2016

Terrible advice in this thread. The Social Security Administration is not a body which grants legal name changes. You get a new Social Security card as the first step in giving effect to a legal name change which has been achieved by other means -- and failure to get a new Social Security card doesn't invalidate the change of name. The means of changing your name vary from state to state, and include the solemnization of a marriage on the strength of a license in which you opted into a name change, judicial action on a name change, or common law name change –– simply using a new name for a long enough and consistently enough with no intent to defraud.

If California is a state with a check the box rule, then the solemnization of your marriage did legally change your name, but your failure to use it consistently thereafter may have changed it back by common law.

The problem we have now is that common law name changes simply aren't respected by many information gatherers. If you have a legal name change on record there's a risk of confusion that you might want to correct.
posted by MattD at 3:53 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

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