What is the significance of changing your surname when you marry?

Marriage is a significant life event for numerous women. Some may decide to change their surname after getting married, whereas others may elect to preserve their original family name.

In South Africa, there are two legislative acts governing marriage: the Marriage Act and the Civil Union Act. To gain a comprehensive understanding of these acts and the distinctions between them, please refer to the linked article.

Under the Marriage Act, only a woman has the legal option to change her name. Conversely, the Civil Union Act permits either spouse to alter their surname.

When entering into marriage, an individual has the choice to maintain their original (maiden) surname, adopt their partner’s surname, or combine both surnames with a hyphenation. It’s crucial to recognize that assuming your spouse’s name is purely voluntary and not mandated by law.

It’s worth noting that individuals who opt to change their surname are still within their legal rights to continue using their original name. In practice, this means you can take your spouse’s name for personal reasons but retain your original name for professional or occupational purposes.

This flexibility exists because, by the time individuals get married, they often have well-established careers, assets like cars and houses, and legal documents bearing their original name. Changing all of these can be logistically challenging and impractical.

If you opt for a surname change, you need to adhere to specific legal procedures to update it on essential documents. The most effective approach is to apply for a new identification card (ID) reflecting your updated surname, using this as evidence for the subsequent updates of your other legal documents.

The following documents should bear the new surname.

  • South African National ID Passport
  • Tax details
  • Driver’s licence
  • Employee details
  • Banking details
  • Voter registration details
  • Retirement annuities
  • Home loan documentation
  • Municipality account details
  • Medical aid details
  • Wills and testaments
  • Details on investment accounts
  • All legal contract details 

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