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7 Things To Know Before Legally Changing Your Name

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People legally change their first, middle, or last names for a variety of reasons: Major life changes—getting married, divorced, or undergoing a gender reassignment—might catalyze a name change, or people might just hate the name they were born with. 

“The biggest thing to keep in mind about any name change is that it is a process, rather than a one-stop shop,” says Anna Phipps, VP of Experience at HitchSwitch, a name change service geared towards newlyweds. Obtaining a legal document such as a marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court granted petition will allow you to change your name but won't make your name change official, explains Phipps. “You won't be legally recognized by your new name until you've submitted applications with the Social Security Administration, DMV, etc.”

If you’re considering getting a legal name change, here are seven things you should know. 

1. YOU CAN NAME YOURSELF ANYTHING, WITH A FEW EXCEPTIONS.  

If you don’t like your birth name, you can legally change it to whatever you want … with a few exceptions. You can’t name yourself after a celebrity (because that could be viewed as intentionally misleading), a trademarked name, a numeral (like 4 or 8), a punctuation mark (like ? or !), or something offensive or obscene. You also can’t change your name to commit fraud, evade law enforcement, or avoid paying any debts you owe.

Jo-Anne Stayner of I'm a Mrs. Name Change Service recommends that people who are legally changing their name make sure they’re 100 percent certain of the spelling and format of their new name. “It might seem obvious, but we get several inquiries a year for people needing to make a legal name change because of a misspelling.”

2. THE SIMPLEST TIMES TO CHANGE YOUR LAST NAME ARE DURING MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE.

In most states, men and women can legally change their last name to their new spouse’s surname, hyphenate their two surnames, or create a new amalgamation of their surnames (like when actors Alexa Vega and Carlos Pena got married in 2014, and changed both of their last names to PenaVega).

If you decide to change your last name when you get married, you don’t need a court order. Just write your new last name on your marriage license and show your marriage certificate (not license) to places such as the DMV, your bank, and Social Security Administration as proof of your new last name.

And if you get divorced and want to legally change your name back to your maiden name, you can usually get the judge to take care of that during the divorce proceedings. Your name change should appear on your Decree of Dissolution (a.k.a. Divorce Decree), then you can start using your maiden name again.

3. YOU DON’T NEED TO HIRE A LAWYER…

Although it may be seem daunting to show up at court or fill out legal paperwork, you don’t need to hire a lawyer to change your name.

Filling out a Petition for Name Change can be fairly straightforward. But if you do feel overwhelmed by navigating the name change process yourself, consider outside help. Companies such as LegalZoom offer packages that streamline the name change process, giving you the paperwork you need to fill out for your state.

Services such as I’m a Mrs. and HitchSwitch can also simplify the name change process by putting all the forms and instructions you need in one place. “We save our members time by auto-populating forms, pre-drafting emails, and providing specific contact details and tips on organizations’ preferred method to submit name changes,” explains Stayner.

HitchSwitch founder Jake Wolff adds, “Our goal is to streamline and take the mystery out of this intimidating process."

4. BUT BE READY TO PAY A FEW HUNDRED DOLLARS.

In most states, you have to pay a fee (usually $150 to $200) to file your name change petition in court. It also costs a small amount of money to get forms notarized. And if you’re getting married, you may want to pay for additional certified copies of your marriage certificate to use as proof of your new last name.

5. UPDATE EVERYONE ON YOUR NEW NAME…

You’ll need to make government agencies, businesses, family, and friends aware of your new name. First, apprise the Social Security Administration of your new name, then notify the IRS and the DMV—you may need to get a new driver’s license. Don’t forget to tell banks, credit card companies, utility companies, and mortgage or loan companies about your new name, and make a list of any identification documents—like your passport—that you’ll need to update.

Other things you should do? Get new checks, notify the post office, and update your medical records and insurance. If you have legal documents like a will or trust, you’ll want to look into changing them as well.

6. …BUT DON’T JUMP THE GUN.

Although it’s important to notify people of your new name, doing it too soon could create logistical problems. “Wait until you get your official paperwork (court papers, marriage certificate, divorce decree) in hand before starting to change your name broadly—you’ll save a lot of time this way,” says Stayner.

Waiting can also help you preserve your good credit because you don’t want to lose credit history that you’ve built under your old name. Additionally, it can take several weeks to notify the passport office of your new married name, so if you’re traveling internationally for your honeymoon, use your maiden name (to match the name on your passport) to book flights.

Finally, transgender people who are undergoing sex change operations should proceed with caution when changing their names with their health insurance companies to avoid confusion and ensure coverage. Insurance companies won’t cover a hysterectomy for legal males, for example. 

7. STATE LAWS VARY, SO DO YOUR RESEARCH.

Not all states require that you file your name change in court, but some states do. In California, for example, you can technically choose a new name and start using it consistently under the state’s usage method. But realistically, you might still need a court order to show as proof of your name change to banks, the SSA, or the DMV because these organizations are wary of identity theft. Some states also require that you advertise your new name by publishing it in a newspaper. No matter where you live, do your research (your state government’s website is a good place to start) to make sure you’re following your state’s protocol.

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11 Brilliant Wedding Gifts That Won't Cost You Anything
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Most modern couples make it easy for you to pick out a wedding gift (thank you, wedding registries). But if you're going to disregard the preferred gift list, what you give has to be good. And you're in luck—because some of those gifts won't cost you a thing.

1. BONUS GIFT CARDS

Gift cards and cash are great gifts because they let couples enjoy a nice dinner out or pick up household needs that didn't make it onto the registry. But how do you get them without doling out greenbacks? Look for gift card deals and bonuses at places you already shop or dine (so long as it's a place the couple might also enjoy). In many cases, restaurants and stores will run promotions that give you free gift cards when you buy a pre-determined amount of gift cards. Stores such as Kohl's, Target, and Bed Bath & Beyond have all run similar promotions (and are also popular wedding registry destinations). If it's a store you already visit frequently, you can purchase gift cards to shop for everyday expenses, then wrap up the free bonus gift cards as wedding gifts.

2. FAMILY HEIRLOOMS

Weddings are the perfect time to pass on a family treasure. In most cases, these gifts don't cost a thing (except if it is in need of repair, restoration, or cleaning), but that doesn't make them cheap. In fact, marketing professor Utpal Dholakia suggests that heirlooms, like grandma's wedding ring, have more worth than a pricey crystal picture frame or kitchen appliance because of the emotional connection and significance that the item holds.

3. THE CLASSIC REGIFT

Single present wrapped in red on table.
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Regifting is never quite ideal, but in the right scenario, it’s not such a faux pas, especially if it’s an item the couple really needs or wants. But before you go digging through your closet or basement for the "perfect" wedding regift, you'll need to consider Emily Post's rules for appropriately passing on a present. The recycled gift shouldn't be personalized or handmade, should be brand new in original packaging, and something that the couple really would like. Oh, and don’t rewrap a gift that they gave you in the first place. That's just tacky.

4. WEDDING PREPARATION HELP

If you have useful wedding-prep skills, it might be worth exchanging some hard work in place of a wedding gift. In most cases, brides and grooms are stressed about the final cost of their big day (the national average came in around $35,000 last year) , but if your skills—such as floral design, dress alterations, or invitation design—can lower the cost, they'll likely be happier getting your help instead of a coffee maker. Of course, you'll have to work out the details in advance, but then again, that's one less gift you'll have to haul to the reception.

5. THE GIFT OF TRAVEL

Honeymoon registries have become a popular alternative to dishtowels and potholders. If you want to go for Guest of the Year, you can one-up the cash gift with airline miles. Instead of cashing in your unused miles or points for magazines, opt for gift flights or hotel stays instead. With some airlines, it’s cheaper to purchase tickets for the couple outright (avoiding mile transfer fees), so confer with them before the big day to make this gift come true. And don’t forget the important travel rule for the newly married: always use given names on tickets and any bookings that require matching ID, since any potential name-change paperwork won't be filed until after the happy couple gets home.

6. PET SITTING

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Wedding planning is hectic and expensive, so help your favorite couple stress (and spend) a little less when it comes to making all of their final arrangements for their pets. Well in advance of the big day, offer to pet-sit when they leave town for their honeymoon—they're sure to stress less if they know the daily dog walking, mealtimes, and kitty cuddles are being attended to by a friend. But before you jump in, make sure you're a good match with the couple's beloved pet; putting high-energy pets in a low-energy environment, for example, won't make for a compatible (or enjoyable) experience.

7. CASH-BACK GIFT BUYING

You can use this hack to purchase something the couple has their hearts set on, and it still won’t cost you a dime. If your bank account or credit card offers cash-back on purchases, plan in advance to save up the rewards from everyday purchases to put toward a wedding gift. While you're technically exchanging money for a gift here, it's the equivalent of using a free gift card to pick up that wedding present. Some credit card companies even offer the option to put cash-back rewards toward discounted gift cards, which also works for stores the couple frequents.

8. HONEYMOON HOUSESITTING

Being away from home for an extended period of time can make anyone nervous, so ease the couple’s worries by offering to housesit while they drink margaritas on a tropical beach. Depending on their digs, you may be in charge of everything from picking up the mail on a daily stop-in to actually spending the night while caring for pets and plants. While this gift is free for you, it’s a big budget saver for brides and grooms: on average, housesitting can cost between $25 and $50 per day.

9. PRO-BONO SERVICES

If you're an accountant, lawyer, or have some other kind of professional specialty or skill, consider giving free services as a wedding gift. You can offer to help the couple through the name change process, write their joint will or prenup, give them financial advice, or even just give them a couple of months worth of haircuts (but only if you're a professional stylist—we don't recommend this for just anyone with a pair of scissors and a trimmer!). You can create a gift certificate and deliver it with a card on the wedding day, and follow up afterward to see when they'd like to schedule an appointment (but note: if they decline your services because they already have a financial advisor, for example, then you need to graciously congratulate them again and send a gift).

10. SOMETHING GREEN

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Thinking of a gift for a green-thumbed couple? Consider sharing your favorite plant or a starter garden kit. If you're already a gardener, you can compile seeds from your existing stash, get seedlings growing, or transplant a portion of your favorite plant into a new pot. Just remember that this gift needs to be delivered after the wedding, avoiding the chance that the couple comes home to dead plants.

11. POST-HONEYMOON MEALS

Getting back into the flow of everyday life is a little strange after such a big event, so help the couple out by stocking their freezer with post-honeymoon meals. You can host a meal-making shower in lieu of a bridal shower, getting other friends and family (and their specialty recipes) in on the gift. Even better, consider coordinating with their honeymoon housesitter to drop off some early freezer meals that the couple will have ready for when they get home jetlagged. Chances are, they'll really appreciate the thoughtfulness of your gift—which is really the best kind of gift to give, regardless of cost.

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11 Wedding Superstitions From Around the World
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You’ve likely heard that before a bride can wed she requires something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue (representing her past, her future, and the hope of “borrowing” good fortune from a happily married woman and fidelity, respectively) or that the husband- and wife-to-be shouldn’t see each other pre-vows. (That one dates back to the time of arranged marriages when matchmakers feared the future spouses might run if they didn’t like their mate.)

But Americans aren’t the only ones with detailed wedding day rituals. Read on to discover the steps brides and grooms around the globe take to ensure they’ll last ’til death does them part.

1. IN GREECE, THE BRIDE AND GROOM GO NUTS WITH SNACKS.

The Mediterranean country is home to a sweet tradition. The happy couple hand out sugar-coated almonds, called koufeta, to their guests. As one Greek Orthodox bride explained to Manhattan Bride magazine, the white of the almond symbolizes purity, the egg shape is a sign of fertility, the hardness represents the endurance of marriage, and the sugar is meant to show the sweetness of married life. Together, they’re meant to wish the newly married duo "happiness, health, wealth, children, and a long life." And should a single girl take one of the blessed snacks and sleep with it under her pillow for three nights, tradition states she’ll somehow see her future husband!

2. IN SWEDEN, THE PARENTS OF THE BRIDE SHARE THE WEALTH.

Brides in the Nordic country add some heavy metal to their footwear. According to Stockholm website Your Living City, the father of the bride gives his daughter a silver coin to go in her left shoe, while Mom offers up a gold coin for her right. It’s meant to ensure she will never go without.

3. IN POLAND, BRIDES DON'T SKIMP ON THE SHOES.

Future wives in Poland must also pay close attention to their footwear. Tradition dictates that if they wear open-toed heels their future wealth and fortune would fly right through the opening. Fortunately, they have a shot to scoop up some extra cash. When the new Mr. and Mrs. exit the church, the guests shower them with coins they must scoop up to ensure a prosperous future.

4. IN SCOTLAND, FUTURE WIVES GET SAUCED.

Before a Scottish bride can be dressed in white, she must first be doused in slime. Pre-nuptials, the bride’s friends slather her—and sometimes her groom—in smelly foods like rotten eggs, curdled milk, and fish sauces. The tradition is said to prepare couples for the hardships of married life or to throw evil spirits off the trail of the upcoming big day.

5. IN FRANCE, WEDDING GUESTS PREPARE AN UNUSUAL FEAST FOR THE COUPLE.

French newlyweds flush away bad luck with a unique tradition called La Soupe: Guests gather the leftovers from the reception—or tasty treats like champagne and chocolate—and place them into a toilet or toilet-like bowl for the bride and groom to eat.

6. IN KENYA, THE FATHER OF THE BRIDE DOESN'T HOLD BACK.

The Maasai people in this African country douse newlyweds with good fortune. The father of the bride will spit on her head and chest as she leaves the village with her new husband. The thought is that by acting disrespectfully, rather than heaping them with praise, they avoid tempting fate and bringing bad luck to the new union.

7. IN NICARAGUA, BRIDES SKIP THE PEARLS.

In some ancient cultures, pearls are thought to symbolize wealth and love, but Nicaraguan brides won’t touch ‘em. In many Latin cultures, pearls mean “tears of the sea” and wearing them on your wedding day is a sign sadness is likely to show up in your marriage.

8. FUTURE WIVES IN MEXICO GET COLORFUL.

Mexican brides aren’t all dressed in white. Many will sew three colorful ribbons to their undergarments. A yellow strand symbolizes the blessing of food, blue is meant to bring financial luck, and red is believed to ensure a passionate relationship.

9. IN INDIA, BRIDES GET INKED.

As part of their pre-wedding celebrations, Indian brides have henna tattoos applied to their hands and feet in an hours-long ceremony. Often, the groom’s initials are included in the elaborate designs. If he’s able to locate them on the wedding night, the couple is thought to have good luck. And if he’s unsuccessful? He owes his new bride a present, which is somewhat lucky for her.

10. IN CHINA, SOME BRIDES GET TEARY, WHILE OTHERS CAREFULLY VET THEIR GUEST LISTS.

Betrothed couples in China have many key rituals to follow. In one province, brides must spend an hour a day crying in the month leading up to the nuptials day. In another, couples have to slaughter a chicken to discover the perfect wedding date. And some duos won’t attend another wedding, a funeral, or visit a woman who’s just given birth in the three months before their big day to avoid a clash of good fortune.

11. IN ITALY, COUPLES HAVE A SMASHING GOOD TIME.

To ensure a long marriage, some Italian couples will attempt to demolish a vase or glass during their wedding. Tradition states that however many pieces they manage to smash the glass into determines how many years they will be happily wed.

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