Can I change my name now, but start using it later?
January 30, 2008 5:45 AM   Subscribe

Complicated name-change issues. I am changing my last name, but not due to a legal marriage. Can I get my name changed now, but start using it for everything later?

My (same-sex) partner and I live in Texas; thus, we can't get legally married. However, we share finances (including several joint accounts) and have lived at the same address for over two years, as evidenced by our driver's licenses and growing amount of mass mailings. Now we are "lawyering up" in order to make a will, take care of powers of attorney, and do other assorted health/property-related paperwork.

We are having a wedding in October; however, all of this official stuff will be done before then. I want to change my name by adding her last name after my current last name, but it would be best to do it now and have that name be correct on all the paperwork we are filing, and I need to apply for a passport, and I would want that to be in the new last name, too.

So: Can I change my last name legally right now, use it for this paperwork and maybe even the passport, and then start using it in October? Or can I go ahead and change it everywhere legally now, and just tell people in October? If my last name is still part of my name (I want to go by MyFirst MyLast HerLast), I shouldn't have any problems depositing checks or the like, right?
posted by fiercecupcake to Law & Government (11 answers total)
I truly don't mean this to be snarky or unhelpful... but changing your name (esp. outside of of a hetero wedding scenario) is a signifcant legal event -- if you're already "lawyering up" anyway, why not just ask your lawyer?

At any rate, I'll point out that women who do legally change their names after hetero weddings are free to use their maiden names professionally (or occasionally, switch up -- e.g., maiden name at work and married name at PTA meetings) with no repercussions, so that would suggest that what you tell people and when is your business.

And as a hetero who changed her name to Amy MyLast HisLast, no, depositing checks and other daily tasks won't be a problem. Just make sure that the name on any airline tickets is exactly the same as whatever is on your drivers license and/or passport. They do get tetchy about that.

And congrats on your upcoming wedding!
posted by somanyamys at 6:07 AM on January 30, 2008

Response by poster: Oops. I forgot to add (but will add now) that I'm going to ask the lawyer, but that's in a week and I am worrying and can't find the answer to this question anywhere online :]

And thank you. I don't really have a handle on how it would work if I had a marriage certificate, either, except that it seems it would be much easier. But I didn't know that you can use your maiden name basically at will, so thanks for that.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:14 AM on January 30, 2008

In the United States, it is completely legal to change your name for any reason from marriage, to disliking your given name, to just thinking a new name would be better. The only restrictions are that you may not do this for purposes of fraud or obscuring a criminal record. As you are not planning to commit fraud, this would be a perfectly legal name change.

Furthermore, name changes are essentially "common law", that is, if you go by "Pattie Selma", and your friends call you "Pattie Selma", and you have bank accounts and run a business in the name of "Pattie Selma", then your name legally is Pattie Selma, even if your birth name was "Lisa Marge". A so-called legal name change, one done in court, is a formality that aids the process and adds legitimacy to changing your records if the credit cards or DMV give you a hard time.

This is the case throughout the United States of America, and in many jurisdictions with legal traditions passed down from England. It is not the case in much of the rest of the world, however. I am not a lawyer, but I have investigated this for my own purposes and amusement.
posted by explosion at 6:22 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, I missed the part where you wanted to change it and then hold off on using it until later. This might be frowned upon by the authorities, but if you're only waiting to tell your friends the name change, it shouldn't be a big deal. On the other hand, the banks and DMV etc. won't want to deal with "I've changed my name but I'm not using it yet..."

Just like all other married people who change their name, you'll be called by your old name for years after accidentally anyway. Change your name now, get your accounts changed/created, and announce it to your friends in the fall. I can't remember the last time my friends used my last name anyway, so I doubt you'd really even run into the issue!
posted by explosion at 6:29 AM on January 30, 2008

Furthermore, name changes are essentially "common law", that is, if you go by "Pattie Selma", and your friends call you "Pattie Selma", and you have bank accounts and run a business in the name of "Pattie Selma", then your name legally is Pattie Selma, even if your birth name was "Lisa Marge". A so-called legal name change, one done in court, is a formality that aids the process and adds legitimacy to changing your records if the credit cards or DMV give you a hard time.

This is almost the exact explanation that was given to me when I asked a lawyer friend how (then) Gov. Jesse Ventura could have run for office, been elected, and even sworn in under that name, when the fact was, he had admittedly never had his name legally changed.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:08 AM on January 30, 2008

Best answer: Gotcha. Thanks for the clarification. If you had a marriage license, you would start with getting a new social security card. From there, you'd get a new driver's license. With a marriage license, SS card and driver's license all in your new name, everything else is relatively easy peasy -- just a matter of presenting some combo of those docs. Ironically, it was easier for me to change my name on some store credit cards than it was to change my name on my frequent flyer account. go figure.

So without a marriage license, I'm 99.99% sure you're instead presenting whatever doc the court gives you that proves you changed your name from First Mid MyLast to First MyLast HerLast. On that, a quick google and some clicky clicky got me here, but IANAL, and I have no idea how legit this site or info is.

Also, don't forget about wedding sites like for additional name change info. There should be plenty of articles and forum threads about name change issues -- just sub "alternate court-provided name change doc" for "marriage license." :-)
posted by somanyamys at 7:16 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Meaning, thanks to fiercecupcake for the clarification.

Just for clarification.

posted by somanyamys at 7:17 AM on January 30, 2008

I think explosion has covered the bases, but I'll just chime in. I changed my name for religious purposes years ago and went through a lot of the same issues. To emphasize explosion: you can change your name for any old reason. The form I filled out had like a one-line blank space for your explanation that I'm sure nobody even glanced at. I wrote "religion" or something similarly vague and brief. I never saw a judge, just dropped it off at the county building. I got my certificate in the mail, a very unimpressive xeroxed document with a stamp in the corner. In short: the legal name change is a cinch in the States.

Like you, I immediately used it for a marriage cert and a passport, but updated all the other stuff at my own pace. No hassles there. You can sign your checks Mickey Mouse and noone would be the wiser. I used to bank in checks for a job I had and there would routinely be people who forgot to sign their check. We would sign it to our amusement, unethical as that may be - never had a problem. Not that I'm recommending that but banks just don't check that stuff.

My biggest problem was remembering what my name was. On the first day of Grad School I introduced myself to a room full of professors and students with my old name.

Explosion is also right that all this only applies in the US. I'm in Malaysia now and the procedure for changing names is ridiculous - you basically can't lose your birth name, period.
posted by BinGregory at 7:22 AM on January 30, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all your input.

I think what I am going to do is:

* Get the name change paperwork taken care of before anything else
* Do the will and power of attorney and all that stuff with the new name
* Get my driver's license/SS card/passport all taken care of
* Get the bank stuff all changed over

and then I'm not going to worry about it, but just put my old name on the wedding invitations, announce my new name at the wedding ("I present to you HerFirst HerLast and MyFirst MyMaiden HerLast"), and not use the new name at work/with friends/in my personal life till then, in October.

This makes me feel a lot better. Thanks again, y'all.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:34 PM on January 30, 2008

Response by poster: I did the name change this morning and the lawyer is drawing up the paperwork in the new name. I'm going to change my name with all the places that really matter (bank, credit card, driver's license, SS, maybe payroll) and then just start using the new name socially and at work in October.

So exciting!
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:46 AM on February 13, 2008

Response by poster: Been operating under mostly my maiden name for 4 months now (changed only the DL so far) and had no issues whatsoever.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:19 AM on June 18, 2008

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