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  • Writer's pictureMaria Karagiannis

What's in a name? Changing your name (or not) after marriage.

For some, the decision to change one's name after getting married is easy. Some are happy and willing to assume their partner's surname, while others adamantly keep the name they were given at birth.

But what if you're unsure?

Many people have a hard time when deciding if or how to change their name after marriage, myself included. I was raised with the traditional mindset of "a woman get's married and takes her husband's name" and never really gave it much thought... least until I became engaged. Suddenly it felt like I was losing something. It felt like I was shedding a piece of my identity. Of course, not everyone will feel this way - some are more than happy to take on a new name, and that's great! For me, I think a lot of it had to do with cultural identity - both my maiden name and my husband's last name are very ethnic. My name always made me feel more connected to my roots: when one sees the name Cusumano, there's little need for clarification that it is an Italian name, just as Karagiannis is clearly Greek.

While I was excited to embrace my husband's heritage and culture (fun fact: I've taken it upon myself to start learning Greek), I didn't want to feel like I was losing part of mine either. I never really imagined NOT taking my husband's last name, but I didn't necessarily want to abandon mine either. The reality suddenly hit me that Cusumano would disappear from all of my records, destined to be reduced to the answer to a password recovery question for my future offspring.

So what were my options?

1. take your spouse's surname and drop your family name entirely

e.g. Maria Rose Karagiannis

This is the most common and traditional route for women, and it is a great option if it's what you want to do! The biggest benefit to this option is that, should you and your spouse have children, you will all collectively share the same family name. A couple of things to consider if thinking of dropping your family name entirely is how strongly you feel it is connected to your identity, and whether or not you have relatives who will continue to pass the name down.

2. keep your family name and do not take your spouse's surname

e.g. Maria Rose Cusumano

This is traditionally common for men, but has become more common amongst women who do not wish to take their spouse's surname, or wish to keep their name for professional reasons. A drawback to this option is that many people may assume you have taken your spouse's name and refer to you as such, and should you have children it may pose a point of confusion with school administration and other parents (neither of which are significant factors, but may be worth considering).

3. hyphenate both surnames

e.g. Maria Rose Cusumano-Karagiannis

Another common option is to hyphenate both names. The benefit to this option is getting to have your cake and eat it too - you get both names! Should you and your spouse have children, you may decide to pass along either or both names. In some cases, though, length may be a drawback.

4. make your family name a middle name

e.g. Maria Rose Cusumano Karagiannis OR Maria Cusumano Karagiannis

A less common option is to keep your family name as a middle name and assume your spouse's surname, and there are a few different ways you can do it! This seems to be preferred by those who do not already have a middle name, but if you have a middle name it can still be just as simple. You can either change your middle name entirely (e.g. my middle name is Rose, I could forgo Rose and become Maria Cusumano Karagiannis) or you can add a second middle name if you do not already have one (e.g. Rose Cusumano)! A benefit to the latter is that it kind of becomes an optional name - you'll only be required to use it on certain legal documents that ask for your full name, but since many documents just ask for a first middle initial, the second middle name can essentially be invisible if you want it to be. The ease of making your family name a middle name does depend on your state, so be sure to check your local laws and procedures, but in North Carolina the process is extremely simple!

5. create a whole new name that both partners will change to

You can even get creative and come up with a whole new family name together with your spouse! It can be a combination of both of your family names, or something entirely new. This may be a bit harder in terms of legal process and not necessarily permitted in all states, but if it's something you would both like to do, it's worth looking into!


Ultimately, I went with option 4 and turned my maiden name into a second middle name. Yes, my name is very long (though surprisingly, still not longer than my husband's entire name), but I don't have to include my second middle name on most things, and it's still there, still on my license and all of my legal documents , and still the same name on my college degree! You may have completely different reasons than I did for wanting to or not wanting to change your name or how you go about it, but at the end of the day, it's your name and your decision!

What was most important to you in deciding whether or not, or how to, change your name after marriage? Let me know in the comments!

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