Although you are not required to change your last name when you marry, you may do so if you wish. The most common way is to adopt your spouse's surname when you sign the marriage certificate but other procedures and choices are available as well. For example, if you changed your name from Brown to Brown-Smith after your first marriage, you could continue to use the same name after your marriage to John Green; revert to the last name of Brown; adopt the name Brown-Green or Green-Brown; or perhaps change both spouses' names to Breen if your state allows you to create a new last name.
Discuss the various options for name changes with your spouse before your wedding. Don't assume that the bride will necessarily be the one to change her name to that of her husband -- many states allow both spouses to change their names at the time of marriage. Some considerations include the effects of a name change on your business identity, on the children of a former marriage and on the future children of your new marriage. If you decide to change your name, you must also determine if it is best to do so formally or informally.
State laws vary regarding the choice of surnames available to you after marriage. Some states limit changes on the marriage certificate to your new spouse's surname. Others, such as New York, allow the parties to use either spouse's former surname; a hyphenated name that includes current or former surnames; or a new name that combines part or all of the parties' surnames. If you choose this method of changing your name, simply write the new name for one or both parties on the marriage certificate, then submit a certified copy of the certificate to each agency when you change your name on your driver's license, passport, Social Security card and other official records.
In some situations, changing your name on the marriage certificate may not be an option, so one or both parties must request a name change through the court system. For example, Texas does not recognize same-sex marriages and requires a court order for name changes even if the couple has a legal out-of-state marriage license. Most states also require a court order if a spouse chooses a last name that is unrelated to the current or former last names. To request a court-ordered name change, you must file a petition, state under oath that you are not changing your name for fraudulent purposes and attend a brief hearing. In most states, you must be fingerprinted and submit to a background check as well.
You may begin using your spouse's last name or any other name after the wedding without requesting an official name change. Many people choose this method if they prefer to avoid confusion in social settings while maintaining an established business identity. For example, a well-known author may continue using her maiden name on her publications and contracts while using her husband's last name in non-business situations. If you choose the common usage method, you will not be able to change your name on government records or identification because you will not have the appropriate documentation of the change.