It’s actually a pretty big decision and I don’t know why I’ve never read a blog post on it. I never heard anyone talk about this, and I never thought to talk with anyone about it, maybe because everyone has such different views on marriage in general and what different name change options would say about you. Even when you Google “name change after marriage,” the whole first page is about the process of changing your name and not what to change it to. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would have benefitted from reading something like this.
I initially didn’t like the idea of changing my name. This is what I had been called my whole life. I didn’t want to be called something else just because I made the decision to get married. Changing my name would mean having to update everything from my driver’s license to my Amazon shipping information to my paperwork at my job. I really didn’t want to go through all those processes, in addition to having to update pretty much everyone I knew. The reason I did change my name was because I wanted our eventual family to all be under one name. “The Gows” wouldn’t include me if my last name was Scott or Scott-Gow. People wouldn’t know to associate me with Dan or our future children. So I eventually decided that I wanted to be a Gow, but what would come between Christine and Gow?
For other people, there are several factors to consider. I know professors who didn’t change their names so they can still be tied to different works they’ve published. Other professors might marry another professor in the same department and not want to be confused with each other. Some use a hyphenated name. One of my professors made her husband’s last name her middle name instead of the other way around. Some people change their name, but still choose to be known professionally as the name everyone knows. Carrie Underwood, for example, is not known to the public as Carrie Fisher, partially because so many people know her as Carrie Underwood, and partially because she could be confused with Princess Leia.
After deciding what your last name will be, you have to decide what you want your middle name to be. For some people, it’s an easy choice if they don’t like their middle or last name, or if it’s a name that they don’t want to be associated with anymore. I like my middle name and I didn’t like the idea of completely replacing my family name. Plus, I had Christine Scott Photography going for me, but it would be weird if Scott wasn’t part of my name anymore. I don’t think I really knew what I wanted my middle name to be until over a month after I was married.
This brings me to the legal process of name changes, which can vary by state. In South Carolina, you can change your middle and last name to reflect your spouse’s name after becoming legally married. Based on those rules, my options were Christine Laureana Scott, Christine Scott Gow, or Christine Laureana Gow (side note: Laureana is pronounced Laurie-Anna and it was my great-grandma’s name). Somehow, I got away with making “Laureana Scott” my legal middle name without anyone questioning me. I don’t know what my plan would have been if I’d been told that wasn’t allowed or if I didn’t have enough space on the form.
Here’s where it gets complicated: if you don’t go by your first name, you will need a court order to legally change your name to the one everyone calls you. This applies to people who go by their middle names, their last names, a nickname, or just another name they’ve chosen for themselves. According to the South Carolina Legislature’s website, “A person who desires to change his name may petition, in writing, a family court judge in the appropriate circuit, setting forth the reason for the change, his age, his place of residence and birth, and the name by which he desires to be known,” as well as a series of background checks and an affidavit.
If monograms or initials are important to you, that’s something you’ll want to think about before making a legal name change. Remember the Big Bang Theory episode where they name their teams “Perpetual Motion Squad” and “Army Ants,” not realizing what the acronyms would be on their shirts? Or what if your initials don’t spell anything, but your monogram does? As for initials, I always thought “Christine S” sounded weird, maybe because it was rare for me to need to be distinguished from another Christine, so “Christine S Gow” sounded weird to me too. The only times I see “Christine L Gow” are in places like my bank account. My signature is “Christine L Gow” because that’s what my credit card says and my signature is on the back. On a side note, Dan and I recently realized that the “G” looks different in our signatures. His G looks like the one on the General Mills logo and mine looks like the one on the Goody hair accessories logo.
There are online services that will automate the process for you. I considered this since the DMV here wasn’t open when I wasn’t at work, but I read some negative reviews about the online services and decided I didn’t want to risk my legal name getting messed up. I read that you’re supposed to go to the social security office before the DMV, so that’s what I did once I had a day off work. I believe I was required to bring two forms of ID, which can include your driver’s license, your passport, your social security card, and your birth certificate. I got there right when it opened and there was already a huge line across the front of the building. I had some photography work to do, so I brought that with me in anticipation of a long wait. The wait at the social security office was actually longer than the wait at the DMV, but I was able to sit down right away at the social security office.
I hope this has provided some insight to you as you get ready for this big change!