Groom tries to take wife’s last name, is grounded by Florida DMV

If a woman changes her name after marriage, it’s a sign of her love and enduring commitment. (Aw…) If a man does it, he’s a fraud who’s trying to get one over on the state, and such offenses will not stand!

After Lazaro Sopena and Hanh Dinh got married, Sopena decided to change his name to Lazaro Dinh to honor his wife’s Vietnamese family surname.

“It was an act of love. I have no particular emotional ties to my last name,” Dinh (ne Sopena) told Reuters.

Dinh obtained a new passport and Social Security card, and changed his bank account and credit cards before going to the DMV to get a new driver’s license.

That’s when things got ridiculous.

More than a year later, he received a letter from Florida’s DMV accusing him of “obtaining a driver’s license by fraud,” and letting him know that his license would soon be suspended.

It turns out that the state of Florida, along with 40 other states in the U.S., lacks any kind of a streamlined system to let a man give up his father’s name to cleave to and become one with his new wife (’cause, I mean, what real man would want to, amiright?). Outside of California, New York, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Oregon, Iowa, Georgia, and North Dakota, he might as well be changing it to reflect his jersey number or his favorite dinosaur. That also means six of the states that recognize gay marriage still require lengthy and pricey legal processes for new husbands to take each other’s name.

The suspension was upheld in court on January 14 after Dinh produced his marriage certificate and new U.S. passport. But on Tuesday, after nearly a month riding shotgun, the Florida DMV gave him his license back, saying that it had been suspended by mistake, that “either a man or a woman can change their name” on a driver’s license, and that the DMV staff would receive training to this effect. No word on whether the judge who upheld Dinh’s suspension would receive similar training.

The takeaway: Society isn’t interested in helping you buck traditional gender roles. The missus is going to be subordinate whether she and he want it or not. Florida is a screwy state, but also not the only screwy state or the screwiest state. The English language currently lacks a male equivalent for maiden name. And if you’re going to have to jump through those name-changing hoops anyway, you might as well change both of your names to Optimus Prime.)

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58 comments for “Groom tries to take wife’s last name, is grounded by Florida DMV

  1. JBL55
    January 31, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Society isn’t interested in helping you buck traditional gender roles.

    Correction: Society isn’t interested in helping you buck traditional anything. Unless there’s money to be made, that is.

    • February 1, 2013 at 12:04 pm

      Or even more to the point “society is interested in preventing you from or punishing you for bucking traditional gender roles”

    • February 3, 2013 at 12:51 am

      Correction: Society isn’t interested in helping you buck traditional anything. Unless there’s money to be made, that is.

      Correction: Society isn’t interested in helping you with anything. (full stop), unless of course there’s money to be made.

  2. Andrew
    January 31, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    I had my name legally changed to include my wife’s, in CA. Had no idea the law was so stupid on this issue elsewhere. I got some questions when I went to apply at the various institutions and a little “I’m not sure how to do that.” but no major problems.

    I did get a lot of “Why would a man want to do that?” and “No no, you’re doing it wrong.” from family/friends/random people who should absolutely have a say in how I conduct my life.

    I understand state’s rights, but something like this needs to just be forced through. It’s silly.

    • Mandolin
      February 1, 2013 at 10:50 am

      My husband took my name in CA. I think he was the first in our county. The officials were all great.

      I don’t know if he’s caught flak for changing his name, but on my side, I often get wide-eyed women (often older) sort of dropping their jaws a bit and going, “Oh, I never thought of that,” and being clearly happy that this is a possible option.

      We like having the same last name, and I’m glad we were able to do it in the way that suited our needs best.

  3. zaebos
    January 31, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    While I either wouldn’t give up my name OR have my child take my last name because I am the last living Anderson that would still marry in my family, why the hell would they stop a man from changing his name? I mean, to so blatantly force a gender role over something so…petty is beyond me.

    • January 31, 2013 at 9:03 pm

      While I either wouldn’t give up my name OR have my child take my last name because I am the last living Anderson that would still marry in my family, why the hell would they stop a man from changing his name?

      Because clearly men are selfish, and they can’t have abusive fathers/families of origin, just love their wives as much as their wives love them, or want to acknowledge their spouse in their children’s lives, or want to pass a unique name with unique heritage to their children. I mean, that’s why women are encouraged to change their names, so men clearly just don’t experience any of those things amirite? It’s all roses where they live.

      • zaebos
        January 31, 2013 at 9:08 pm

        …what? I don’t understand what your sarcasm is attacking. I guess you mean my ‘petty’ comment. If so, I mean petty as in, it is a petty thing for the government to get all angry about. To the government, it is just a name.

      • January 31, 2013 at 9:15 pm

        …what? I don’t understand what your sarcasm is attacking.

        The fact that the government thinks it’s JUST FINE for SO MANY TOTALLY NON-PATRIARCHAL REASONS for women to change their name, but all those reasons mysteriously disappear when men change their names. When they have as good reasons to change their names, if not more, given social pressure not to.

      • zaebos
        January 31, 2013 at 9:22 pm

        Oh, yeah. It’s nothing short of just sexism. Government sanctioned sexism at that.

    • February 1, 2013 at 12:30 am

      While I either wouldn’t give up my name OR have my child take my last name because I am the last living Anderson that would still marry in my family,

      Maybe you should move to Sweden. 1 in 13 Swedes are named Anderson, so there is a good chance you could marry an Anderson.

      • bhj
        February 1, 2013 at 1:20 pm

        Actually, in Sweden it is Andersson, with double “s”.

        But a couple can choose to take his surname, or her surname, or both keep their own surname, and children by default get their mother’s surname.

  4. Angie unduplicated
    January 31, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    The F state also mandates that if you ever, even once, use your husband’s patronymic, it’s yours till death. Resumption of maiden name must be specified in the divorce decree.
    Not so long ago, a wife who wanted to start her own business was required to get hubby’s permission, in writing.

    • February 1, 2013 at 9:05 am

      “Resumption of maiden name must be specified in the divorce decree.”
      This is 100% true. And they will check. Plus, you have to show the divorce decree to get a new driver’s license, and you have to show your driver’s license to get a new passport, but the passport office also wants to see your divorce decree again. Just in case.

      Don’t ask me how pissed off I was when I had to make a special trip home the 2nd time and get the thing out of the safe.

    • Past my expiration date
      February 1, 2013 at 9:17 am

      In my state, when you transfer a vehicle title between two family members, if the two family members don’t have the same last name, you must provide documentation (birth certificate, marriage certificate, certificate of civil union, divorce decree, or adoption certificate) to prove the family relationship. But if the two family members do have the same last name, you don’t need to provide any documentation at all.

    • February 1, 2013 at 12:28 pm

      Yikes! I actually use my given-at-birth last name and my husband’s last name pretty interchangeably, and context-dependently (I’m maintaining my academic identity as is, but mostly using the new name with friends and family). I also took almost two years to get most of my IDs changed over – my passport still has my original name, and likely won’t change until it expires. I would be in so much trouble if I lived in Florida.

  5. Marion Poliquin
    January 31, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    Where I’m from (Québec), regulation changes in the 70s made it mandatory for women to go through the same paperwork to take their spouse’s name as any other person wanting to change their name. Women simply stopped taking their spouse’s names from that point on because it was too much of a hassle. Bureaucracy is apparently the one thing that consistently trumps tradition.

    Norms and perceptions changed rapidly. Nowadays, whenever my coworkers and I hear about a female colleague from another province who got married and changed her name, there’s always this “People still do that? How quaint…” impression running in the air. Not out of disdain or a misplaced sense of superiority, because it’s just weird to us.

    • LC
      February 1, 2013 at 9:53 am

      Hah, I mentioned the Quebec thing below.
      It seems the government always had a basic “you keep your birth name on legal documents” policy, but the 81 law hammered it down into official status that nothing changes with out the civil authority approving.

      You CAN get around it, of course, by using another name constantly for 5-6 years or so and then making a petition on “the name on my records is not the one in general use”.

      But most people don’t.

      • MsLinconnue
        February 1, 2013 at 2:36 pm

        You can petition based on records in Canada? Can you do that in all provinces, or is it just Quebec? (That would be another reason to move there).

        That would solve so many problems for me. The government and I are always at odds on whether I can use my mother’s maiden name or not while every other institution acknowledges my other last name and not the one the government wants me to use.

      • LC
        February 1, 2013 at 9:11 pm

        I would have to go do some digging, but from what I recall, Quebec has a “general use” argument. If you use a different name as your general use name (even as the legal records have your original birth name) you can make the argument that since you don’t use the name on the records, you use this other name all the time, that’s a good reason to change the legal name to avoid confusion.
        So it sounds like in Quebec you could point to all those other institutions and say “see? I use this other name everywhere, let me change it for the government.”

        I don’t know about elsewhere accepting that argument, though.

    • WRG
      February 3, 2013 at 10:49 pm

      I got married in Quebec too, though I moved to Ontario a few years later. I would never, ever give up the name I was born with. Yes, it’s my father’s name, nothing’s perfect, but taking my husband’s name in my opinion is just two wrongs not making a right.

      When my husband and I had our kids, we decided that if we had a boy, my last name would be one of his middle names and his last name would be my husband’s. If we had a girl, her last name would be the same as mine and she would use his as a middle name.

      We had two boys. Oh well. But one of them frequently uses my last name as well as his dad’s. On Facebook, he uses both our names.

      I feel very strongly about keeping my own name. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that young women (I’m 56) outside of Quebec usually take their husband’s name. What a step backwards.

      Take me home to Quebec!

  6. kb
    January 31, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    My husband and I got married in Minnesota, and we both changed our names for free w/ no problem. The next county over tried to claim that I could take his name or he mine and nothing else,-pretty sure if someone would commit the resources to challenge they could win- but there was never a “oh, that only works for women”. And you could get the license from anywhere in the state. So long story short, get married in Ramsey County not Hennepin.

    • February 1, 2013 at 5:27 pm

      This is fascinating to me. I got married in St. Paul and both my husband and I hyphenated and I had exactly no idea that every county’s form was different until right this very moment.

  7. Colin
    January 31, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    I think “bachelor name” is the male version of “maiden name”, but it’s not widely known because the concept is not that widely understood. “Birth name” is probably better as a gender-neutral expression, although it doesn’t cover all cases.

    • February 1, 2013 at 7:12 am

      Growing up in central Wisconsin, I hadn’t actually heard the term “maiden name” until relatively late in life when I had to start filling out forms. We just always called it your “name from home”.

    • Andrew
      February 4, 2013 at 4:22 pm

      I use “pre-married name” and everyone seems to get that.

  8. January 31, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    Would they have reacted this way if Dinh had been changing his name to something quite different, ie. not his wife’s name? I mean, what is it – does Florida get the vapours over a man changing to a woman’s name, or over men changing their names at all? It’s totally stupid either way, but if it’s specifically because it was his wife’s name … yeah, extra creepy.

    • Donna L
      January 31, 2013 at 10:40 pm

      does Florida get the vapours over a man changing to a woman’s name,

      You’d be surprised — or perhaps not — at the difficulties that trans people can encounter trying to change their first names. Even in New York, and even in recent years, there have been judges who have (entirely improperly) refused to permit it. And even when one succeeds, the process can be quite unpleasant, involving putting advertisements in local newspapers, to run several times, announcing the proposed name change, the court date and place, and essentially inviting anyone with objections to come do so. I had to do this in New Jersey eight years ago, complete with paid advertisements in the Star-Ledger, and it was nerve-wracking. Especially the final appearance before the judge in open court, not knowing if he would grant my petition. All standard practice for court-ordered name changes, but particularly humiliating, I think, for trans people. You never really know if your appointed judge is going to turn out to be a flaming bigot who thinks they’re there to enforce the laws of God, rather than of the jurisdiction where they hold court.

      • Li
        January 31, 2013 at 11:22 pm

        Donna, I think The Kitteh’s Unpaid Help meant “changing his last name to that of his female spouse” by “to a woman’s name” rather than someone changing their name during transition.

        Though that process still sounds horrible for people to have to go through. I don’t recall the process of official name changing being nearly that bad for trans* friends who have done it in Australia (though getting various bureaucracies to recognise the change afterwards is a different story).

      • Donna L
        January 31, 2013 at 11:39 pm

        Now that you point it out, of course I see that’s what she meant. Never mind!

      • Tyris
        February 1, 2013 at 2:16 am

        Almost makes us want to move to Florida and find out by stress-testing the system with various name changes.

      • February 1, 2013 at 3:27 am

        Donna, Li – actually you’re both right, I was partly thinking of changing-his-own-name without marriage being involved, and partly of this particular case. I confess I wasn’t thinking of what extra shit trans* people would get thrown at them, but yeah … colour me surprised, not.

        Is it made so damn difficult for people to change their names generally in the US? I changed mine twice by deed poll nearly thirty years ago (I’m in Oz). First time was my surname (reverting to my mother’s name because my father’s didn’t mean a whole lot) and second was my given name. Now there was no gender change involved, so I can’t say whether that would have been a problem – most likely it would, in the early 80s. But judges? Courts? Advertising? Flipping heck, all I had to do was take my birth certificate along to the Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages and fill in the old name and the new name, and hand over about twenty bucks. Simplest thing possible, and informing all the banks and so on was my business.

      • LC
        February 1, 2013 at 9:35 am

        If I recall, it’s pretty tricky to change your name in Quebec. We have a bit of a top heavy bureaucratic/technocratic government approach in many ways, and changing your name on all their records is a hassle, so they don’t want to do it. It costs money, time, and you have to have “a good reason”.

        (I think you can do it without a “good reason” it just costs even MORE money and time. I haven’t looked in a while.)

        So it is a big pain.

        But interestingly, one of the parts that lots of people from outside of Quebec complain about, however, is that “I am a woman and got married to a man and want to take his name” is NOT considered “a good reason” to change your name.

      • February 1, 2013 at 12:42 pm

        Yeah, the deed poll thing has made my husband (native to Scotland) consider going home to get his name legally changed – in Canada (or at least in Ontario specifically, although I don’t think there’s significant differences across the provinces, other than Quebec not allowing the “assumed name” bypass for people changing their name upon marriage) you have to fill out a form stating your reasons for the desired change, how long you’ve been using the name, and whether your spouse knows you are changing your name (N.B. they don’t require spousal approval, just spousal awareness – I believe it’s to prevent people from trying to disappear and marry someone else or something). And it costs money. At any rate, it’s a bit of a process, and they can throw out requests deemed frivolous.

        Re: the assumed name thing, though. This is what’s got the Floridians all confused. In most of Canada and the US there’s a special provision that says you don’t need to go through the usual name change rigmarole if you’re changing it due to marriage. You can just assume the new last name, without altering your birth certificate/citizenship papers and still legally use the new name on all other government documents. The people who gave the guy in the story a hard time thought this exception only applied to newly married women, where that would obviously be discriminatory, and in fact it does apply to men, it’s just not usually exercised by them.

        But yeah, in response to your original question, what the state was saying was that this guy had to go through the regular (annoying) legal name change process to change his name, which is what he would have been required to do in the alternate scenarios you proposed, as well. So, yeah, Florida was specifically getting upset about the guy changing his name to his wife’s name, and using the process usually used only by women to do so, not by the name change in general (though people going through the formal process do face their own barriers etc, as discussed above).

      • February 1, 2013 at 1:55 pm

        Dinh actually did go through official channels to change his name — he took his birth certificate and marriage certificate to get a new passport and a new Social Security card before going to the DMV. And the DMV originally issued him a new driver’s license with his new name, which he had for over a year before they decided he’d done something wrong. Because he was a man-who-just-got-married instead of a woman-who-just-got-married, his process was meant to involve paperwork, fingerprints, a criminal background check, a public hearing, and assorted filing fees and court costs.

        Incidentally, a name change in Alabama can (in many cases) be as simple as filling out some paperwork, chucking $15 at a probate clerk, and walking out with your shiny new name.

      • February 2, 2013 at 6:36 am

        Thanks for the info, folks! :)

      • Andrew
        February 2, 2013 at 9:39 pm

        Caperton, I remember my mom changing her name here in Alabama, and it was fairly easy. Of course, the reason she was changing her name was because her name automatically changed to her new husband’s name and she had to go through the process to change it back, so that was pretty ridiculous. But at least it was pretty easy to do it.

      • February 6, 2013 at 1:42 am

        Is it made so damn difficult for people to change their names generally in the US?

        In California, you have to go through that same legal process to change your name, unless you’re a woman getting married. Changing via common use isn’t really as possible anymore with the increased security after 9/11. If you want your ID to have your name (the one you have chosen as opposed to the one given at birth) then you have to go before a judge, after you’ve posted in the newspaper, and jumped through all the hoops. It’s also expensive.

        I’m not looking forward to it. I can’t imagine how horrifying it would be for a trans person.

      • karak
        February 2, 2013 at 12:11 pm

        I imagine that would be terrifying for a person from an abusive family or with an abusive ex-partner. It seems to be an invitation for finding and attacking someone who is trans.

  9. yes
    February 1, 2013 at 3:50 am

    Worth mentioning that a lot of men don’t have their fathers’ name.

  10. Marksman2000
    February 1, 2013 at 5:22 am

    They would probably give you prison time where I live.

    Progressive epicenter of the known world, let me tell you.

  11. B
    February 1, 2013 at 9:16 am

    I’m looking forward to the day I meet Mr and Ms OptimusPrime.

  12. February 1, 2013 at 10:36 am

    I seriously considered taking my wife’s surname as I knew my kids would look more like her as opposed to the very Irish surname of their father. I opted not to because she wasn’t concerned about that and wanted to be traditional. I was ultimately grateful for that after seeing her go through the hassle. And that was relatively painless compared to the story in this article.

  13. February 1, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Good heavens. When I got married (in Denmark, 25 years ago) we were asked “would any of you like to change you last name to your spouse’s last name”; the paperwork had a form where name change could be ticked, in exactly the same way for the man and the woman, or left black, with no preference for either option. Had we opted for name change, the process would have been exactly the same, and there would be no difference after.

    The situation in Florida sounds like something out of the 40’s.

    • February 2, 2013 at 6:44 am

      ::applauds Denmark::

      (and not just ‘cos the Crown Princess is an Aussie, either)

      • February 3, 2013 at 9:52 am

        You know, I actually don’t think Danish gender politics is something to applaud. Things are half way decent, and by’n’large laws that completely fuck women over are gone. But is that something to celebrate? I don’t think so.

        And make no mistake – we still have a long way to go.

    • Casandra
      February 3, 2013 at 11:07 am

      It was pretty much the same for me and my husband when we got married in The Netherlands we were both given the choice between: keeping our own name, taking on our partner’s name, own name-partner’s name and partner’s name-own name.

      It was just a case of check the box you’d each like, sign the document and it’s sorted.

      • February 4, 2013 at 8:01 am

        Exactly as I’d expect it to be in the Netherlands – why would you do it any other way?

  14. Emily WK
    February 1, 2013 at 11:19 am

    I would like to know more about where that list of states came from. In 2009 in Virginia, my husband and I both changed our names at the same time and to the same thing (hyphenation station!) and he had no trouble. I’m not sure if that was an anomaly but… it happened.

  15. Lizzie
    February 1, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    It’s comparatively easy to change your name in the UK, anyone can do it. Like this kid:

  16. bleh
    February 1, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    When I wed in Florida, they would not allow us to legally change our name to the new last name on the marriage license because neither of us had the name previously. But they did offer either of us to change it to the other one’s birth (hate “maiden”) name.

    We left our names the same on marriage license application and changed them via court when we returned to New Mexico after honeymoon. Funniest thing was, the final marriage license from FL with the intact birth last names on it was mailed to Mr. & Mrs. his-last-name despite the names on the document inside.

    • February 1, 2013 at 3:50 pm

      Funniest thing was, the final marriage license from FL with the intact birth last names on it was mailed to Mr. & Mrs. his-last-name despite the names on the document inside.

      Is your husband related to Jeff his-last-name?

  17. Marksman2000
    February 2, 2013 at 4:12 am

    The situation in Florida sounds like something out of the 40′s.

    You’d amazed–or perhaps disgusted–and how much of this goes on inside of the United States at the local, state, and national level. Many people here are encased in amber–and prefer it stay that way (no pun intended).

  18. suspect class
    February 2, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    Oregon does not have same legal sex marriage (not that this stops me from aggressively referring to my husband as such, sometimes with entertaining/annoying results), but you can change your name to your partner’s when you enter a registered domestic partnership. And you can change back in a dissolution of a domestic partnership, just like in a divorce.

  19. John
    February 4, 2013 at 11:21 am

    I find the entire thing so very funny! I got married in Mass. almost 26 years ago and my wife wanted my last name. I really didn’t care one way or another and if she had want for the two of us to change names to her last name or for the two of us to pick another last name I really wouldn’t have care one way or another. Matter of fact as many times as I had gotten into trouble about my last name I would have been happy to have changed it. But, I find idiots in government offices all of the time!

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