Changing Your Name -
Legal or by Marriage?
Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant ©
Categories: | Wedding Legals |
One of the more frequently asked
questions in relation to getting married is about
changing your name. What makes it tricky is that
- There is still a widespread belief
that, on marriage, women must (or at the
very least should) change their name to
that of their husband (not true).
- There are two different ways to change
your name, and you will be given
conflicting advice about which one
applies to you
So, if you've ever wondered whether you are legally
required to change your name on marriage, or even
why we say Mr and Mrs and never the other way round,
or even why Princess Michael of Kent is called by
her husband's first name and not her own (it is
Marie Christine Anna Agnes Hedwig Ida von Reibnitz)
here are the facts.
Names and the law in
Adults in Australia can assume any surname
(family name) they wish, with certain exception). It
is the circumstances and the choices that determine
how you make the change.
If you are a woman, it has been accepted (and
expected) forever that when you get married you will
take on your husband's name (change of name by
marriage). It is now widely accepted that anyone
getting married, regardless of gender, can
- keep their birth name, or
- take on their spouse's surname, or
- hyphenate their last names in either order, with
or with the hyphen between the names.
The history of the custom
for women to change their name
It all started in the 9th century and was bedded
down (excuse the pun) by the Normans.
Up until that time, surnames hadn't really been
necessary or set in stone. We still see the evidence
of the practice at the time of identifying individuals
by a nickname, often describing some personal
characteristic, their occupation or some geographical
reference in many surnames today. Names such as
Carpenter and Wright, Little and Small, and Paddock
Norman feudal law erased a woman's identity on
marriage through the Law of Coverture, a term that
refers to the fact that, on marriage, a woman was
"covered" by her husband's identity. The two became
one. The one being the husband. So legally she was
subsumed into the husband's legal identity and from
the date of their marriage they were treated as
one entity. In essence, her separate legal existence
disappeared as far as property rights and certain
other rights were concerned. And thus, she was
required to take on her husband's surname.
None of that applies in Australia any more. So
changing your name is optional, and, this bears
repeating, either of you can assume your spouse's
Changing your name after
If you choose to change your name after
marriage, you have two ways to do it.
- You can change your name by marriage, or
- You can apply for a legal change of name.
The process for each is different, as is what can and
does happen after you make the change.
Three important things
- Regardless of whether you are an opposite sex
couple, a same sex couple, or one or both of you
is non-binary, the full range of options of how
you change your name after marriage is available
to both of you.
- There is no time deadline - you can decide
whether or not to change your name at your
leisure. (NB In Australia that is. In some US
states, for example, the decision has to be made
before marriage as it is noted on the marriage
- If you change your name by marriage (see below
for how that differs from a legal name change),
you don't have to get a divorce if you change your
mind and want to go back to your original name.
A traditional "change of
name by marriage"
Changing your name by marriage is easy peasy, and
free. You just do it. You don't have to ask
anyone's permission. You can start to use your new
name whenever you wish. Many couples incorporate
their name change decision in the celebrant's
closing remarks at their wedding ceremony, just
before they walk back up the aisle.
It is not
a legal requirement to change
your name on any documentation. Nor is it a legal
requirement to stop using your maiden (birth) name
entirely. A growing number of women chose to use
their married name socially but keep their maiden
(birth) name for professional purposes and use
(and to keep being searchable on Google and on
social media). It is perfectly legal to keep your
maiden name on official ID documents. The
important thing is to be consistent about where
and when you use each name. Government and
financial institutions are inclined to get a bit
awkward if you present inconsistent documentation.
If you decide to change your name on your
documentation, the process is straightforward:
- You have to have been married in Australia.
While your overseas marriage will be
recognised in Australia, because it is not
registered in Australia change of name by
marriage isn't available to you. You
will have to apply for a legal name change.
- You need to have a copy of your official
marriage certificate (the one you apply for to
Births, Deaths, and Marriages in the State or
Territory in which you got married). This
certificate proves that your marriage was
- And then you take that certificate, together
with your birth certificate to prove the link
between the two names, plus whatever it is
that you are asking to be reissued to the
various entities where you want to change your
name and ask for that to be done.
Hint: Start with photo ID such as
driver licence or passport, because that can
then be used to do things like change your
name online on the electoral role
Cost: There is no cost to have your
documents reissued in your new name. Not even
for your new passport, though that does have
some conditions - you must have at least 2
years validity left on your passport and you
must apply within 12 months of getting
Historically, change of name was simple. A
couple got married and the bride's birth surname
(generally her father's surname) was replaced by
her husband's surname.
And that's still one of the choices. A common
alternative is that the wife hyphenates her
birth name with her husband's surname. And he
But there are other choices, choices that apply
to either and both of you, regardless of gender.
- One of you can change your surname to that
of the other, so you both have the same
surname - typically Mr and Mrs Jones,
for example (or Mr and Mr Jones or Mrs
and Mrs Jones)
- One of you can hyphenate your birth surname
with that of the other, so one of you retains
your birth name within your married name, and
the other one doesn't change their name -
typically Mr Jones and Mrs
- Both of you can combine your names, with or
without a hyphen, in either order, Smith-Jones,
Smith Jones, Jones-Smith, or Jones
- One of you can use your "married name"
socially but keep using your birth name
professionally. This is still almost
exclusively a choice made by professional
- Both of you can decide NOT to change your
- Or both of you can choose a whole new
surname (this requires a legal name change)
Legal name change
A legal name change is a whole other matter.
You have to make a formal application and pay a
fee and give a reason for the change. So, in a
way, a government entity has the final decision
about whether you will be allowed to change your
Other things about a formal legal change of name
that you need to be aware of:
- This form of name changes obliterates your
birth surname and retrospectively changes your
surname on your Australian birth certificate.
You will be issued with an amended birth
- If you were born overseas, you will be
issued with a change of name certificate
- There are residence conditions. If you were
not born in Australia you need to be a
permanent resident who has lived in your
current state for the previous 12 months. If
you were born in Australia you apply to BDM in
the state or territory in which you were born
- There are limits on how often you can change
your name and how many times in your lifetime
you can do so. In Queensland, for example, you
can only change your name once in a 12 month
period. In New South Wales and Victoria, for
example, you can only change your name three
times in your lifetime. Other states have
- You need to apply for a legal name change,
pay a fee, and provide a long list of
- You don't have to have gotten married in
order to change your name legally
- It can take quite a long time - months -
from application to approval.
Do you always have to
show your official marriage certificate?
If you are changing official documents, or with a
financial institution that requires 100 points of
ID, the answer is yes. In other circumstances, the
answer is no you don't! And frankly, your
marriage certificate is a legal identity document
with personal information on it so you shouldn't
just flash it around to all and sundry.
Some organisations may accept the Presentation
Certificate (the pretty one you were handed on the
day) because it is proof that the marriage took
place, and it doesn't include any personal
information other than your full names. Sad but
true, using the Presentation Certificate will be
straightforward if you are a wife doing a straight
swap to her husband's surname. For anything else,
you may have to deal with skepticism. At which
point, your updated driver license or adult proof
of age card should settle the argument.
Your doctor, dentist, or other medical practice
should accept your updated medicare card as
evidence, a good reason to change that once you
get your new photo ID (driver licence, passport or
adult proof of age card).
Any place where it is just a matter of them
changing your name on their membership list should
accept your word for it.
Going Facebook Official doesn't require any proof,
and nor does changing your name on Facebook
What if you get
divorced, separate, or just change your mind?
If you had changed your name by marriage all you
need to do is reverse the process. Just take
your marriage certificate and your birth
certificate to prove the link between the two
names and "reclaim" your birth name. You can do
this immediately. Your birth name is yours by
right throughout your life. However, some
entities may ask to see a divorce certificate.
Feel free to argue the toss on that one!
If you wish to continue to use your "married"
name, you are free to do that. Your ex can't
stop you using the name.
If you have gone through a legal change of name,
you have to make a new application, abiding by
all the rules for that, so the process is much
Thanks for reading!