You can legally change the name on your social security card after marriage, divorce, or court order through the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Getting a new social security card paves the way for other name changes, such as your driver’s license and passport.
Your social security number (SSN) will stay the same after changing your name.
Name change requirements
You can change the name on your social security card by completing the SS-5 application and providing:
- Proof of name change
- Proof of age
- Proof of identity
- Proof of citizenship or lawful immigrant status
Any evidence you offerID, records, certificatesmust be original or certified copies. Photocopies, notarized copies, photos, and receipts are unacceptable.
Does this mean you’re obliged to mail your driver’s license and unearth your birth certificate? Maybe not. You may only have to satisfy the first condition (explained later).
What’s allowed in your legal name change?
Your legal name is your first and last name only. The SSA will still print your middle name and suffix on your social security card if enough space is available.
Your name may only contain letters, spaces, hyphens, and apostrophes. Suffixes are okay. Omit your personal title, such as Mr., Ms., Mrs., Dr., Esq., Sister, or Father.
Don’t use a nickname or abbreviation, such as Liz for Elizabeth or Deb for Deborah, unless it’s your actual legal name.
Use Form SS-5 (Application for a Social Security Card) to:
- Change your name.
- Get a new social security number.
- Correct a flawed social security record.
- Request a replacement social security card.
The form will ask you to spell out your:
- Birth name
- Current name
- Other names used
- New name to be shown on card
- Social security number
- Date of birth
- Parents’ names
- Parents’ social security numbers
- Daytime phone number
- Mailing address
- Today’s date
Sign your new name on the application. Make it legible. And no initials. You can omit your parent’s social security number if you’re 18 years old or older.
You can fill out the social security form using our name change kit. Be prepared to download, print, sign, and mail your auto-filled PDF form.
Proof of name change
There are four unique name change events:
- Court order
Proven by their respective name change documents:
- Marriage certificate
- Divorce decree
- Court order
- Certificate of naturalization
Let’s unpack each event, starting with the most common
Marriage name change
Change your name after marriage via your marriage certificate.
Thirteen states will allow you to choose your new married name when applying for a marriage license, which shows up on your marriage certificate:
- New Hampshire
- New York
- North Dakota
The following map illustrates how most states (representing 70% of the U.S. population) won’t ask that you pick out your new name when applying to get married.
New name chosen on the marriage application in 13 states.
For the remaining 37 states and D.C., you can “derive” your new name in four ways:
- Full last name
- Partial last name
- Hyphenated last name
- Double-barreled last name
These rules apply to same-sex marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships too.
1. Full last name
Take your spouse’s entire last name, as-is. This is the “traditional” approach.
2. Partial last name
Take one whole part of your spouse’s hyphenated or space-separated last name. (Assuming such name exists.)
3. Hyphenated last name
Combine your and your spouse’s last names with a hyphen (-), in either order.
4. Double-barreled last name
Join your and your spouse’s last names, separated by a space, in either order. Space is mandatory; names can’t be flush.
Married name change examples
The following exhibits your choices if your last name were Adams and spouse’s Baker.OptionNew last nameFullBakerHyphenatedAdams-BakerHyphenatedBaker-AdamsDouble-barreledAdams BakerDouble-barreledBaker Adams
Here’s an example using Adams and Baker-SmithOptionNew last nameFullBaker-SmithPartialBakerPartialSmithHyphenatedAdams-Baker-SmithHyphenatedBaker-Smith-AdamsDouble-barreledAdams Baker-SmithDouble-barreledBaker Smith-Adams
You can’t change your first name through marriage; petition the court instead.
Divorce name change
Change your name after divorce via your divorce decree.
You can return to your maiden name using your divorce decree. Or any prior legal name. Men and women. Just ask the judge to include the written order.
If your decree has a name restoration order:
- You can only return to that name.
- It will be accepted by all government agencies.
If your decree is missing a name restoration order:
- The SSA can restore your maiden name.
- The SSA can restore any prior name on file.
- It might be accepted by other government agencies.
Divorce name change rules apply to similar legal break-ups:
- Civil union dissolution
- Domestic partnership dissolution
You can skip your divorce name change if you plan to switch it later after getting married again. This avoids a redundant, back-to-back name swap.
Court order name change
For a court-petitioned name change, you can only transition to the judge-approved name shown on your court order.
A court order is the most powerful name change instrument, permitting unbounded first, middle, and last name revisions. Reach for this tool if all else fails.
Naturalization name change
You can ask the court for a new name during naturalization, then use your certificate of naturalization as proof.
Proof of age
False assumptions on name change and birth certificates merits mentioning that you don’t have to prove age to:
- Change your name.
- Obtain a duplicate card.
- Replace a lost or stolen card.
But you must show evidence of age to:
- Apply for your first card.
- Correct your date of birth on file.
- Get a brand new social security number.
- Make up for forgetting your social security number.
You can confirm your age using a:
- Birth certificate (preferred)
- Identity document (showing age), or
- U.S. citizenship document (showing age)
Proof of identity
You must show one form of “primary” photo ID to change your name. If mailing identification alarms you, there may be a surprising workaround. Let’s cover this rule first
U.S. citizens, show your American:
- Driver’s license
- State-issued ID card, or
- Passport book or passport card
U.S. lawful immigrants, show your foreign passport and:
- Green card
- Arrival/departure record
- Machine-readable immigrant visa, or
- Employment authorization document (EAD)
Alternative, secondary ID
You can show secondary ID if primary ID is unavailable. Unavailable means you can’t “easily” access or replace it within ten business days.
The following table shows acceptable alternative IDs, which must contain your photograph, age, or date of birth:DocumentU.S. citizensNon-citizensAgeU.S. military ID cardYesYesAllU.S. official passportYesNoAllU.S. diplomatic passportYesNoAllU.S. certificate of citizenshipYesNoAllU.S. certificate of naturalizationYesNoAllU.S. Indian tribal cardYesNoAllSchool record (current year)YesYesAllMedical recordYesYesAllReligious recordYesYesBirth to 17Life insurance policyYesYes6+Final adoption decreeYesYesBirth to 17Employee ID card or badgeYesNo18+Health insurance cardYesYesAllMedicaid cardYesYesAllNon-citizen state-issued ID cardNoYesAllNon-citizen state-issued driver’s licenseNoYesAll
The agency that issues your medical, religious, or school records must certify them. Insurance policies and medical cards must be current and active.
To reduce the chance of your paperwork returned asking for nonexistent primary ID, take preemptive action by attaching a note explaining your plight
Please accept this secondary ID, as I cannot access or obtain primary evidence of ID within 10 business days.
Maybe you don’t need ID
You can avoid relinquishing your ID under key criteria.
It may be possible to use your name change document as ID. This offers the convenience of mailing your application without surrendering your driver’s license, passport, etc.
This works by making sure your document:
- Is recently established
- Shows biographical information
- Matches your current name on file
Review the primary ID options if your name change document doesn’t qualify as ID.
1. Is recently established
You’ve crossed the biggest hurdle if your name change event took place within the past two years. (It extends to four years if you’re below the age of 18.)
There’s no name change deadline. But waiting too long increases your burdenmailing ID and awaiting its return. Even then, alternative ID options exist.
2. Shows biographical information
Your name change document mustand shouldshow biographical data matching your current social security record:
- Date of birth, or
- Parents’ names (one or both)
Any of the above three details work, but nothing else.
3. Matches your current name on file
Your name change document must mention the name on your current social security card. So, were your name Jane Doe before changing, your document must show likewise.
Proof of citizenship
In the unlikely event that the Social Security Administration is unaware of your U.S. citizenship, show your:
- U.S. passport
- U.S. birth certificate
- KIC-class American Indian card
- Consular report of birth abroad (CRBA), or
- U.S. certificate of citizenship or naturalization
The bottom line is that you can skip this step if the SSA issued you a social security card in the past with your citizenship status marked as U.S. citizen.
Proof of lawful immigrant status
If you’re a U.S. lawful immigrant (non-citizen), verify your immigration status with your:
- Foreign passport
- Work authorization (if applicable), and
- Unexpired U.S.-issued immigration document
Student visa holders (F-1 or M-1), show Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status). If employed, show a pay stub or employer letter listing your:
- Start date
- Supervisor’s name
- Supervisor’s phone number
Exchange visitor visa holders (J-1 or J-2), show Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status). If employed, your sponsor must write a letter that’s:
- On their letterhead
- Authorizing you to work
Submitting your paperwork
You’d normally have a big decision to make after preparing your paperworksubmit your application by mail or in person? The in-person experience is was clear-cut:
- Visit your local social security office.
- Submit your paperwork for review and scanning.
- Retrieve your documents: identification, certificates, etc.
- Exit with your receipt of services rendered.
- Await your new card by mail.
Alas, you must now apply by mail since COVID-19’s impact on social security has closed field offices to the publicSSA prerecorded notice on Coronavirus office closings.
The Social Security Administration is taking steps to protect the public and our employees during the Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.
Until further notice, offices are open to provide limited, dire need, in person services by appointment only. We will continue offering services by phone and online.
You can’t schedule an appointment to change your name; it’s not a “dire need” service.
Receiving your new card by mail
Real-world name change turnaround times in 2021.
It should take 7 to 14 days to receive your new social security card by mail. But COVID-19-related delays have stretched it out to 2 to 4 weeks. Eight weeks at worst.
Expect two deliveries
Supporting documents you send with your application will arrive earlier from your local office. The “Central Office” near DC and Baltimore will mail your card last.
For instance, if your mailed packet includes your:
- Completed SS-5 form
- Driver’s license (proof of identity)
- Marriage certificate (proof of name change)
You’ll get mailed two envelopes:
- One returning your license and certificate.
- Another containing your updated social security card.
It’s normal for your card to arrive several weeks after your personal documents.
When your new social security card arrives by mail:
- Sign it in ink.
- Avoid making photocopies.
- Seal it in a plastic bag or container.
- Store it at home instead of your wallet or purse.
Don’t laminate your card; it blocks built-in anti-counterfeiting security features.
Changing your name on other credentials
How should you order and space out your name change to-dos beyond social security? Here’s the proper sequence:
- Green card
- Social security card
- Driver’s license or Real ID
- Military ID card
- Everything else
Let’s explain each in quick succession
1. Green card
Use Form I-90 to change your green card name. This precedes social security.
Social security name change makes your new name legal.
3. Driver’s license or Real ID
Wait at least 24 hours between your social security and driver’s license name change; enough time for the SSA database to refresh before it’s queried.
4. Military ID card
Update your military ID via DEERS or an ID card center.
Renew or change your passport name any time.
The SSA will alert the IRS that you’ve changed your name.
The name on your W-2s must match IRS records for proper social security benefits recording.
8. Everything else
Notify or update the leftovers:
- Business cards
- Car title and registration
- Credit cards
- Doctor’s offices
- Government tax assessors
- Insurance companies (auto, life, health, homeowners)
- Internet properties (email and website)
- Mortgage company
- Property deeds, titles, and trusts
- Retirement plans (401k and IRA)
- Shopping accounts (Amazon, eBay, PayPal)
- Social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
- Utilities (water, electric, cable, phone, internet)
- Voter registration
Whether you use this guide or our online name change kit to change your name, everything starts with updating your social security card. Good luck to you.
Your questions and comments are welcome below.