This is the first in a series on Love and Marriage

Getting married? Your government has a wedding gift for you: a new name.

You get this wonderful gift without regard to your age or sexual orientation.  And you get the same gift each and every time you get married.

What new name can you choose? 

You have 3 alternatives.  We’ll go through them, using an example where your original name is Pat Ashley Jones and your new spouse’s name is Alex Harper Smith.

First choice:  keep the surname you had prior to marriage.  You will continue to be known as Pat Ashley Jones.

Second choice:  drop your middle name, keep your surname, and add your new spouse’s surname.  Your married name will be Pat Jones Smith.

Third choice:  drop your surname and add your new spouse’s surname.  This will make you Pat Ashley Smith.

That’s it.  In case you are wondering, you cannot substitute your middle name for your first name.  Thus, “Ashley Jones Smith” would not be acceptable.

You also have to end up with three full names, unless you did not have three names prior to the marriage.   So “Pat Smith” is not acceptable.

You may have noted that hyphenation is not one of your choices.  Texas frowns on hyphenated last names.  Do not try to go with a last name of “Jones-Smith” unless you want to spend the remainder of your married life arguing with government employees.

This is not a choice that only one spouse can make. Both spouses can change their names.

If you do decide to change your name, then you need to let the government and everyone else involved in your life know.  Take action as soon as possible, and make sure you are consistent when stating your new name.

Begin by requesting several certified copies of your marriage certificate.  As soon as you receive them, file an SS-5 with the Social Security Office.  This gets the ball rolling on the federal side of things.  Then apply for a new driver’s license at any Texas driver license office.  This starts things on the state side.

You need to update your name with the State Department for your passport, the IRS, the US Postal Service, and the Voter Registration Bureau.  You should update your name on your vehicle title, bank account, credit cards, credit cards, investment accounts, insurances, mortgages, employment, leases and service providers.

Each government agency and company have their own requirements on the documentation that you have to present.  Check before submitting a form or spend hours standing in line.

Be thorough.  The world is littered with people who do not have the same name showing on important I.D.s.  At some point it is going to catch up with them, possibly in the form of a failed reference check, a denied boarding pass, or a refusal to cash a check.   When that happens, their only recourse may be going to court to get a formal name change.

Or getting married again.

Virginia Hammerle received her JD from SMU in 1982. Find more articles at  To receive the monthly email newsletters, send your requests to

The information contained in this article is general information only and does not constitute legal advice. ©2018