The name game after marriage

WEDDED BLISS: Chelsea Clinton looks at Marc Mezvinsky after their wedding ceremony at Astor Court in Rhinebeck, New York.
WEDDED BLISS: Chelsea Clinton looks at Marc Mezvinsky after their wedding ceremony at Astor Court in Rhinebeck, New York.

Is Chelsea a keeper or a changer?

That's what researchers call the newly married once they figure out what to do, if anything, about their names. Now that the big Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding is a wrap and Rhinebeck, New York, is back to its idyllic self, the question remains what Chelsea's choice will be.

Loads of options lie before her, from making up brand new names and hybrids (Clevinsky) to hyphenates and add-ons like mom (Hillary Rodham Clinton). Research suggests more women than you might think - 77 to 95 percent - legally change their names when they marry, including those who take the time to make a switch but incorporate their maiden names informally to preserve their identities on the job.

Jo-Anne Stayner, who provides name-change assistance at, said the decision today for many first-time brides is all about the value of a woman's digital footprint, along with her educational and professional oomph. We're not all Clintons, but we still care about the name game.

"With most women establishing a career before marriage (the average new bride is about 27 years old), it makes sense to want to protect the personal brand they have worked 14-hour days to create," Stayner said.

The question-and-answer site fields more than a million queries every day on a variety of subjects. In the last 30 days, three of its top 25 questions covered marital alphabet soup.

-How long before a wedding do you start planning for a name change?

Once engaged, Ask's experts recommend. Legal steps must usually wait until after the ceremony, because a marriage certificate is required as proof of a name change. Gathering forms and researching requirements can take time, so getting a prenuptial jump on the chore will help. Government agencies, banks, credit card companies and employers have their own procedures.

-Whose last name goes first in hyphenation?

The decision is usually based on sound, alphabetical order or personal preference.

-What percentage of brides takes their husband's name?

Though recent research indicates a range spanning well over half, Ask cited one study done at Indiana University last year estimating 80 percent, with 70 percent of Americans surveyed saying brides SHOULD take their husband's last name. A recent study out of the Netherlands indicates women who use their husbands' surnames earn an average of about $1,150 less a month than those who keep their maiden names. Name-changers were generally older and had less education.

Presidential daughters over the last four decades have either left their names alone or pushed them to the middle.

At 30 with an advanced college degree and some work experience to her credit (as an investment analyst), Chelsea's a pretty average bride, other than her dad being a former president, her mum secretary of state and her pricey nuptials dubbed the latest wedding of the century. She is off on a top-secret honeymoon with no name announcement yet.

Consider Samantha Saephan, 29, of the San Francisco Bay area in California. She is a public relations manager for a large communications company and soon will dive in to a name change after getting hitched to Sean Thai on May 22. Of ethnic lu-Mien origin, her parents are from Laos and named her Meuang Ay Saephan. She chose Samantha for her public self in middle school but remained Meuang Ay legally and at home.

"I already knew that I wanted to change my last name so I would have my husband's last name," she said. "It's a little bit of being old fashioned and traditional, and also further down the line when we do have children I'd like to have the same last name as my kids."

Saephan wants to preserve part of her past, a decision made easier by her lack of a middle name. "I'm going back and forth on what part of my birth name I should leave as a middle name so I'll still have something tied to my birth name."

On the table are "Samantha Saephan," "Samantha Meuang Ay Thai" and "Meuang Ay Thai."

Business law professor David Ryan Polgar, 31, in West Hartford, Connecticut, married Leslie Doane the same day Saephan and Thai wed. Doane legally took her hubby's last name, informally preserving Doane as a second middle name for her work as a real estate agent.

"I want to come up in searches if people look me up under Doane, but the whole process is frustrating," she said.

And the male perspective? "I could never imagine changing my name," her husband said.

Lauren Rotchford, 34, in Atlanta, Georgia, needs more time to make the leap after marrying Randy Holmes on May 8. She wants to change her name, but she is having trouble letting go.

"I think it's important. We're married. He's my husband, and I want to show that I'm committed to him," she said. "It's just that I feel like I waited a while to get married and I have experience in my career and I'm known as Lauren Rotchford. It's a little bit harder than I thought it would be."

Until recently, Mary Dean Taylor's feminist side was battling her madly in love side over taking on Birkel as she counts down to her wedding in Kansas City, Missouri. "He'd really like for me to take his last name, though he hasn't been insistent or vocal about it," said Taylor, 31.

She had a recent revelation to do the extra middle name thing informally and legally take on the hub's surname. That's four names. "My boss is already practicing," Taylor said.

In San Antonio, Texas, Alisa LeSueur is confidently on the other end of the spectrum. She was 46 when she married for the first time two years ago. It was husband Rob Salter's second time around.

"There was never a doubt in my mind that I wouldn't change my last name when I married," she said. "It doesn't make sense to me that I should lose my entire identity just because I have chosen one person to share the rest of my life with."