Changing Your Name: A Bride’s Guide and Common Mistakes People Make

For better or for worse, lots of married women change their names, as of 2009, about 80 percent. But what most people don't know until they face the wedding-cake sized stack of paperwork is what a huge hassle it can be. The average woman has to reach out to 27 different organizations and services, and spends between 10 and 15 hours filling out forms, following up, waiting at the DMV and other activities not at the top of a honeymooner's list.

The tedium of the process inspired newlyweds Marco and Priti Wirasinghe to found a business that does it for you. The idea was born when Priti told Marco she was happy to take his name, so long as he did the paperwork. "She was my first client," he says.

Upon spending hours, of what should have been wedding bliss, looking online, filling out unnecessary paperwork, and speaking to the wrong people, Wirasinghe created NameChangeExpress in 2006, a site aimed at removing the frustration.

For the "do it yourself" bride however, Yahoo! Shine asked Wirasinghe, what you need to know, and what you want to avoid in this common tradition.

The first step: Make the decision to change your last name even before obtaining a marriage license.

Typically, a soon-to-be bride talks the decision over with her beau, goes to the country clerk to pick up a marriage license (fees vary by state but should cost no more than $70), and from there decides whether she wants to keep her name or change it at a later date.

However, in many states, state law requires that the bride's desired name must be stated on the marriage license even before the wedding. A bride who then decides to change her name at a later date is faced with obtaining a court order and legal fees on top of the name change process. "Come to an understanding of how it's going to be and don't push it off. Women who wait usually don't have the time or money to go back and start the process and then find out they're stuck," Wirasinghe said. "Postponing the decision is the most common mistake we see from our brides."

After the ceremony, a bride who has decided to change her name (and has already indicated that on her marriage license,) obtains a marriage certificate, either directly at her county clerk's office or through the mail.

Once she has a marriage certificate, the next step is changing her social security name and number, which can be done by filling out a SS-5 form with the Social Security Administration. Along with your existing card, two forms of legal photo ID such as a license and passport, and a marriage certificate, a bride can apply for a new social security card free of charge and within 10 days, receive her new identity. Once you have a new Social Security card you can then get a new driver's license. Anticipate long lines at your local DMV.

Once a Social Security card and updated driver's license are issued, a new bride can then choose to change her passport, credit cards, bank account information, memberships, and insurance policies, among other considerations. The truly conscientious will make the changes down to their cable bills, magazine subscriptions, and even library cards.

Although the process may seem straightforward, it takes a lot of time to figure out the policies of each organization, and people make mistakes, or, Wirasinghe says, "workers are inadequate and do not give out the right information on whether or not the forms need to be delivered or mailed in, and to which department."

Some common mistakes that women make:

Making official copies of the marriage certificate to send in to companies.

The Passport Service is the only office that requires an original certificate. If a company requires a copy, a regular photocopy does fine. "Women spend money requesting these official copies when in reality, they only need the original," Wirasinghe said. "It's also important to know which companies even require a copy at all so you don't send out unnecessary information."

Jumping the gun on the honeymoon.

If your honeymoon is near the wedding, don't start the name change process until after you come back, and book all of your reservations under your maiden name. "If you book your boarding pass as X and you're still Y, the passport isn't going to be changed in time and you'll run in to trouble," Wirasinghe said. "Some states may however require a name change to be filed within 10 days after the wedding so do your research and know the requirements."

For $30, Wirasinghe's service, takes most of the pain out. It starts in helping obtain a new Social Security card and license for clients, and streamlines the name-change process everywhere else. Brides can select from NameChangeExpress's online list of over 2,000 companies and venues where they'll need to change their names. From there, NameChangeExpress tells them which supporting documents they'll need, where to mail or hand them in, and even generates the correct forms auto-filled, with the information of their discretion, and ready to print.

With all that a name change entails, it's another incentive to only get married once.