Name Changing Options for Same-Sex Couples After Marriage

A pink wedding cake with two hearts on top and the words "mrs" and "mrs" signifying a same-sex wedding.

Weddings are full of decisions: the venue, the officiant, the food—and whether you’ll allow Post Malone songs to be played during the reception. But one of the most personal decisions during wedding planning is whether or not you’ll change your last name after the ceremony. While this is certainly a decision most brides need to make when they’re about to get married, it can sometimes be more complicated for same-sex couples who are tying the knot.

The landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 allows same-sex couples in the United States the right to marry in the way that heterosexual couples have always had, which includes the right to change their last names. In “Equally Wed: The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your LGBTQ+ Wedding” by Kirsten Palladino, she writes, “If you, your partner, or both of you are changing your name, you don’t need to go through the hoops that your predecessors did just a few years ago: petitioning the court for permission to take your spouse’s last name, running an advertisement in the newspaper about your plans to change your name, and sometimes paying thousands in lawyer’s fees.”

Although it’s less common for married same-sex couples to change their last name, there are many reasons why you might want to consider it. Sharing a last name can be convenient when you’re traveling together abroad, make it easier for you to visit your spouse should they get sick and be in the hospital, and ease the ability to make healthcare decisions on behalf of your spouse.

The right to change your last name is legal and available, should you choose to do so, but it is certainly not a requirement. Because most wedding traditions are based on heterosexual norms and traditions (like changing the bride’s surname to match the groom’s), LGBTQ+ couples are coming up with creative approaches to fit what’s best for them.

If you’re thinking about changing your last name, here are a few options that are common for same-sex couples.

Choosing an Entirely New Last Name

You’re starting a new family unit, so why not take on an entirely new last name? Whether this is a combination of your current last names, an old family name, or maybe just a name you’ve long admired, this approach to changing your last name might be the easiest way to go about it (once, of course, the two of you can settle on a name). This might be a good option for couples who place heavy importance on their children having the same last name as both of their parents—or those who want to signify a new family to those outside the marriage.

Hyphenating a Current Last Name with the New One

Two moms and their baby and dog on a couch in a living room.

A good compromise to changing last names is to become a hyphenated family. Although both of you will have to go through the legal name changing process, you’ll still have a piece of your last name. This is a popular choice for couples who want their children to share both of their last names. The only snags you can run into with a hyphenated last name are deciding on what to do if your partner already has a hyphenated name from their parents and choosing which last name is going to come first.

Choosing to take a Spouse’s Name

Choosing one spouse’s name over the other’s is also a choice that’s on the table for same-sex couples. There are many reasons why one partner would want to take another partner’s last name, such as shortening their name, getting away from a family name that has caused them pain, disassociating themselves from an unsupportive family or simply wanting to choose one partner’s name as a symbol of commitment. Should you choose to take on your spouse’s last name, you also have the option of moving your current last name to become your middle name. This is a symbolic way to keep a piece of your old last name while still celebrating the new.

Remember, You Don’t Have to Change Your Last Name at All

Two men holding hands outside the door of an old building.

Just because it’s a tradition for couples to change their last name after the wedding doesn’t mean that you have to follow suit. Your name is your identity and getting married to another person doesn’t have to change that.

Many people who have an established writing, legal, or creative career don’t want to change their last name if they’ve built up a clientele or have name recognition. In many cases, changing a last name means more than just changing it on your social security card: it can also mean contacting clients to inform them of the change, updating your website and email address, and showing new employers or clients past work with a note that you’ve since gotten married. Even if you plan on having children, it’s not necessary for you to share a last name. You can choose for your children to have hyphenated last names or even choose for one child to have one parent’s last name and a second to have the other parent’s last name.

Whatever you choose, the choice is personal and doesn’t need to be explained to family or friends who may be inquiring. No matter what name choice you go with, the commitment to each other that you make is the most important thing to share.

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