Taking My Husband’s Last Name Was a Wild Bureaucratic Marathon That I Wish I Never Ran
When we were dating and even engaged, I thought that sharing the same last name would make me feel like we were more of a family. I thought the outward-facing world would regard us as more of a united front if our house appeared more, well, united. Not in a Game of Thrones House Stark kind of way, but just in the sense that I couldn’t wait to be this man’s family, and I wanted the whole world to know it. The pressure was entirely of my own making—my husband never cared whether I took his name, and he respected my choice to add to my career's worth of editorial work under my maiden name (I still use my maiden name as a byline).
Still, on the day we went to City Hall in New York City to get our marriage license, it took me by surprise when the clerk informed me that if I wanted to eventually take his name, even a year or so down the road, I’d have to decide right then and there, on the spot. I balked at the suggestion. Surely she was wrong. Not everyone who takes a married name has to declare that before even day one of wedded bliss, right? “Wait, can’t I just take my time and come back to change it later?” I asked. “Yes, but then you’d have to annul this document and start the process all over again,” she said. I stared blankly from her to the form to my now-husband for a few seconds, blinking in disbelief.
It took months, several signed affidavits, courthouse appearances, and around $200 in fees for me to realize that I should’ve left well enough alone.
For what it’s worth, I’ve since looked deeper into the matter, and while the clerk was no doubt overdramatic in her delivery, she was essentially speaking the truth. In New York State, if you don’t elect to change your name when signing your marriage license and decide to do it later, you have to file for an entirely new document, do the paperwork, pay the $35 fee and re-perform the ceremony either at City Hall or off-site, a rep at the City Clerk's Office tells me. But if you do go this route, you don't need to legally annul your marriage first (wow, what a convenience, right?). Maybe this whole runaround is a reason to tie the knot elsewhere—in states like, say, Florida, which doesn’t require a notarized form to change your name, or Massachusetts, where you don’t even require a court appearance.
Alas, I got hitched in the Empire State, and in that moment, I didn’t even think to weigh my options. I was just so taken aback that the name I’d broken in like a soft, comfortable pair of jeans for the past 36 years was about to be ripped off me without warning and tossed out unceremoniously. I remember checking the name-change box required to make it official, but resolving to move my maiden name to my middle name in order to feel like I was holding onto some semblance of my former identity.
This choice unintentionally kicked off a second legal-name-change process (the first being to take my husband's last name via the marriage license). It took months, several signed affidavits, courthouse appearances, and around $200 in fees for me to realize that I should’ve left well enough alone. The cherry on top came when my husband had to sign an official form to allow me to alter my name so Sellitti could still have a home in my full signature. Yep, I needed permission to establish my identity as I pleased—and, hey, nothing says, “We’re an evolved society” like pulling a move straight from the pages of The Handmaid’s Tale, right?
It was all seemingly for naught, since two years later, seeing or hearing my married name still makes me feel like I’m wearing someone else’s clothes.
What's worse is it was all seemingly for naught, since two years later, seeing or hearing my married name still makes me feel like I’m wearing someone else’s clothes. I often sit in a doctor’s office completely unaware my name is being called, because my new(ish) identity feels foreign.
The takeaway? Anyone who is contemplating a name change should think about why they're jumping through the hoops. If you absolutely love the sound of the new you, love the look of your new signature, or can’t wait to update your monogram/hang one of those engraved signs in your kitchen, like “The Millers, Est. 2018”—well, to each his own. But the intention behind my name-change journey—to feel like a Family Unit—ended up null and void.
In the two years I’ve been married, House Kero has endured job loss, parental health scares, financial growing pains, and loss of pregnancy, and I can say with certainty that my wonderful, supportive husband would’ve felt no less like a teammate to me had we sported different names on the back of our proverbial jerseys. And if one day our kids find partners and want to get married, I’d give them the same advice I wish someone had given me: The only thing that needs to match are the linens on your registry. Beyond that, just do you.
For some celebrity-sanctioned secrets to a long and healthy marriage, check out what Hugh Jackman and Sarah Michelle Gellar have to say.
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