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You just got married in France and you want to start using your spouse’s last name in your daily life and on all your paperwork. Good news—The name change process is simple! Read on to find out how you can indicate your surname preference after marriage in France.
Name Change Traditions in the United States and France
In the United States, it’s quite common for women to legally change their last name after marriage but it is not required. Legally, either spouse can take their partner’s name. To change one’s last name in America, specific paperwork must be submitted with supporting documents. Additionally, the new last name must be officially declared on all US documents and records to ensure that everything matches. Otherwise, complications can arise later when trying to access certain accounts or needing to prove one’s identity.
After a legal name change in the US, the maiden name is essentially deleted. Although it would remain on your American birth certificate, it would no longer be your current legal name.
On the other hand, you can’t get rid of your last name here in France after your wedding. Your last name from birth is your legal name and can always be used to identify you. It appears on many documents and identification papers regardless of your marital status. In France, it is common practice for wives to use their spouse’s last name as their nom d’usage, although like in the US, both spouses are afforded this option.
A nom d’usage is the surname that you choose to use in everyday life following marriage. It does not replace your last name from birth, also known as your nom de famille (family name). Therefore, selecting a nom d’usage is not really considered a name change.
Regardless of your sex, you can use the surname of your spouse. The option to take a nom d’usage is only for married couples. Those united with a PACS (le pacte civil de solidarité) do not have this option.
It should be noted that taking a nom d’usage is an option and a personal choice. It cannot be imposed upon you.
If desired, you can select any number of combinations; one last name or both last names together (in any order) or the two names attached with a dash. Spouses do not have to choose the same nom d’usage.
Adding Your Nom d’usage to Paperwork in France
You can update or change your nom d’usage at any time. There is no time limit for how soon after the wedding you have to declare it.
Supposedly, the usage of the partner’s name is not automatic. This is what all the French government websites indicate. It’s been my experience, however, that if you’re a woman married to a man, France regularly just throws your husband’s name on documents even if you don’t ask for it. To be honest, it can actually be difficult to get admin to use only your maiden name if that is your desire.
If you’ve recently moved to France and are in the process of setting things up for yourself following marriage to a French citizen, you’ll have an easy time adding your spouse’s name to everything. Simply indicate your chosen nom d’usage (sometimes called deuxième nom) on any applications in the space provided. This is what I did when I applied for French health insurance. As a result, my carte vitale displays my nom d’usage.
If you’re already established in France and you want to add the nom d’usage to various accounts and identification documents, you have a few options. In the case of a document that will be renewed, such as your residence permit (carte de séjour), you can simply wait until renewal time to indicate your preference. If it’s an account, like your French bank account, you’ll need to contact them. A simple letter to your advisor along with a recent acte de mariage should do the trick. You can inform l’Assurance maladie (health insurance) of your deuxième nom using their téléservice form.
Keeping Track of Your Identities
Personally, I really like the freedom of being able to choose which name to go by in France. I interchangeably use both my last name and Jonathan’s last name. Sometimes I write both just for funsies! Kidding! I think I only did that once because I forgot which name my account was in. It kind of feels like I have a secret identity!
When you’ve declared a nom d’usage, residence permits, identity cards, and passports usually display BIRTH NAME ep. MARRIED NAME. Other accounts, such as health insurance and bank accounts, are solely in the MARRIED NAME. The French driver’s license is issued solely in the BIRTH NAME for everyone no matter your preference.
My experience has been that France doesn’t seem to care too much about these inconsistencies. In the land of bureaucracy, this has certainly surprised me!
For simplicity, I have no intention of changing my name legally in the United States as the process seems time-consuming. Plus, I already get the best of both worlds with how things are set up in France!
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Removing Your Nom d’usage From Paperwork in France
It is possible to stop using your chosen nom d’usage and revert back to your birth surname at any time. For passports and other identity papers, like your carte de séjour, supposedly, you simply need to not list the name on your renewal paperwork and it will be removed. For all other documents and formalities, you just need to let them know that you no longer want to use it.
In all cases, no supporting documents are required. This is because your birth name is considered your only legal name in France. The nom d’usage is just a last name you are “borrowing.” Nonetheless, you will likely need to follow up and advocate for this change.
What if you get a divorce?
In the case of divorce, you simply lose the right to use your spouse’s name. However, if you want, you can keep on using your ex’s last name as long as you have their permission.
On the other hand, in the case of divorce on the American side of things, if you’ve legally changed your last name to your partner’s name, you can keep using it without anyone’s permission. However, most people, understandably, want their birth name back. In this case, you have to go through the process of changing your surname all over again on US paperwork.
Changing Your Last Name in the US
If you want to change your last name “back home” in the United States following marriage, you can do that, even if you live in France. There are a number of formalities that are required in order to activate this change. You cannot start using your spouse’s last name in the States until you’ve officially made the change. Be sure to look up the specific processes for your home state.
Here are the main places where you’ll want to change it first:
- Social security card
- Driver’s license
- Travel documents like TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
- Voter registration office
- Credit cards
- Bank accounts
- Retirement accounts
- Investment accounts
- Property (mortgage)
- Insurance (auto, home, life)
As other things come to your attention, you can make the changes one by one.
Whatever you decide to do in the United States will be completely separate from what you do in France as it is a different legal system. If you go through with this legal name change, you might want to consider keeping a copy of your marriage certificate accessible especially when traveling. Don’t forget that for all travel, your tickets must match your passport!