Changing Last Name after Marriage: the French Compromise

Should a bride change her last name after marriage? See the French way of dealing with the pressure to change names after the wedding.
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There is always that annoying relative who asks before the wedding: Are you thinking of changing your last name after marriage? As a woman, the moment of doubt arises. Even if we are in the 21st century.

No matter your convictions, and no matter how much you “think” you know what you want to do, there is always that tiny moment when you second guess yourself. Should you change your last name? It is your identity.

Then again you want the same name as your kids, assuming you want kids. Maybe the kids should keep your name? Maybe everybody should get combined names? That’s a heck of a lot of paperwork!

Keeping both names

The French have a compromise, they simply keep both names after marriage.

  • Nom de jeune fille: Maiden name
  • Nom d’epoux: Married name

All official documents such as your passport, visa, social security ID, driver’s license, etc are issued with both names included.

The best part is that, for once, it is automatic. French people don’t have to do anything to “activate” it. And if you are a foreigner, it still leaves you with the choice of changing your name “back home” or not.

☞ READ MORE: The Guide to having your Wedding in France

In addition, any children born in France can receive either one parent’s name or a combination of both parents’ names.

The choice is made at the time of the birth of the first child in the family in France. Any subsequent children born within the family must have the same name as their full sibling.

The Confusion of not knowing which name to use

Which is not to say that the system is perfect. There have been a few instances where I’ve specifically wanted a document under my maiden name, and it came under my married one. I also can never remember which name I originally gave when I made a particular rendezvous.

It is like having a secret identity. You have one name in one place, and another name somewhere else. All you need is a Superwoman costume under your clothes and you’re set!

☞ READ MORE: 16 Tips for planning the perfect Château Wedding in France

Having Combined names

Since French women have both names on their identity cards, the trend towards double-barrelled names has been slow. It is starting to catch on now, especially for naming children.

When you register your child’s birth in France, you are automatically asked what name you would like on the child’s birth certificate, the mom’s name, dad’s name, or both. And that is that. Once it is written on the birth certificate, it is more or less set in stone. To change it afterward will involve the 12 labors of Hercules.

The additional restriction though is that you must decide this name only for the oldest child. Any subsequent children with the same spouse must all carry that same last name. This makes sense since you don’t want full-siblings to have different last names.

This progression though is relatively recent. And if one of the spouses has a double-barreled name himself, the authorities (ie the bureaucrat managing your application) will kick up a fuss at the thought of giving that child 3 names. As with everything, it depends on the mood of the fonctionnaire sitting in front of you!

☞ READ MORE: Giving birth in France: Oh Baby!


So what do you think? Is keeping both names more trouble than it is worth? Should everyone just keep their maiden name and be done with it?

If you enjoyed that article, you may want to read more about other wedding traditions that are popular in France. A bientôt!

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Patricia

    Hello! I’m still a bit confused about the way French use the last names because I’ve read article 225-1 of Code Civil which says you may take the spouse’s name as a substitution or addition to your own surname based on how you choose. But then I’ve also read a paper about how there’s still still this law “la loi du 6 fructidor an II (23 août 1794)” in force today which basically says that you can use just name and surname that are stated in your birth certificate and that you may gain just the right to use your husband’s name but it will never really be yours? But then it seems to me like it goes completely against the mentioned article 225-1 CC since the article says you may take your spouse’s name as a substitution? So is the law from 1794 not in force anymore or…? Could you please explain it to me? THANK YOU SO MUCH!

    1. Nassie

      Oh hello! I’m afraid I’m not a lawyer and I can’t tell you about which article is in effect, but I can tell you that in practical terms you can use either name you want on most paperwork (eg. at work, at a doctor, at your child’s school, etc.)

      But in effect, you do keep your maiden name legally because of the birth certificate issue: In France, they go back and update the birth certificate with your marital status, spousal name, and children. So if you don’t keep that legal connection to your maiden name, you make that process much harder. I write more about that here:

  2. Heather

    Hello I just got married to my French husband as I am American and want to change my last name to his. Can you please guide me in to where and how I may do this please? Perhaps online link?

    Thanks so much!

    1. Nassie

      Congratulations on your wedding! Did you get married in France? In this case, you don’t have to do anything in France, your new documents will already say maiden name: x, spousal name: y. To change your name in the U.S., I’m afraid you have to see with your local state laws. Good luck!

  3. Meredith

    Hi there! I’m an American getting married in France. I’m trying to decide how I will manage my last name. I want to use my married name here in France (my name is very not-French!), but I am having trouble deciding whether I am better off legally changing my name back home or not.

    You mentioned that it gives expats the choice. Do you have any insight onto the relative advantages/disadvantages of legally changing your name in the US while living in France? Or can you point me to any resources that might discuss it.


    1. Nassie

      Hi Meredith, congrats on your upcoming wedding! So in France, all your documents will automatically now say “nom de jeune fille” = X, “nom d’epoux” = y, you don’t have to do anything special. You can call yourself “Madame Y” everywhere in France without issue.

      And whatever you decide to do in the U.S. will be completely separate within the U.S. legal system. I can’t think of any legal advantages to changing your name (you’ll have to google U.S. law depending on your state I presume). The only thing I can think of is that sometimes if you are traveling with your kids, at customs when you cross the border, you may have to prove that they are your kids if you are all traveling under different last names. But any French titre de sejour will automatically have both names, so really that is sorted too. It is just less paperwork to keep your maiden name overseas, I think 🙂

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