A legal name change with Chinese documents

One day I was out shopping with a Chinese-American friend and he told me he wanted take his (presumably american) wife’s name when he eventually gets married.

This seemed odd as men don’t usually change their name when they get married, so I asked –

    Why do you want to change your last name? 你为什么要变性?

He stopped and looked horrified. Finally he laughed –

    Thank goodness no one heard you. It’s 换姓名, not 变性. I don’t want to become a woman!
    (性 xìng = sex; 姓 xìng = surname)


He then proceed to tell me how difficult it is when no one can pronounce or spell your last name. Hmm, I still wanted to take my husband’s name, even if it is Chinese. After 2 years of marriage, I finally got my name changed!

How to change your name:
Changing your name after marriage is actually really simple. You don’t have to go to a courthouse for a legal name change. All you have to do is:

    1) apply for a name change through the social security office by using your marriage certificate
    2) apply for a new driver’s license by using the marriage certificate and the new social security card

After that your name is officially changed and you simply tell your banks and renew your passport and you are done.

The problem with Chinese documents:
Ever notice how things are just a little bit more complicated with a Chinese spouse?
Well, we married in China and so our lovely red marriage books are in Chinese. American people look at them and don’t know what to make of them, even with the stamped translation. I had to wait an unheard of 3 months for the social security office to change my name as they they would not accept an outside translation of nonenglish documents and had an in-house translator do it. My bank actually refused to change the name on my accounts because they could not read my marriage certificate! The process is the same, add a translation, but just because my marriage certificate is in Chinese, it’s taken a bit longer.

I think our problem was that we used the Chinese government certified translation as opposed to an American one. Some people even suggested we marry again in the US just so we would have an English marriage certificate, I don’t think that is necessary.

The problem in reverse is that our Chinese marriage certificate has my maiden name on it, all my other documents are in my married name. I haven’t found a way to convince the Chinese banks that I’m the same person as before, so unfortunately, I just had to take all the money out of the accounts with my bank cards and then open a new account in my new name.

It was a little bit more difficult than it should have been because we married in China, but it all worked out and I have my Chinese husband’s name now!
No, he doesn’t care, but I am happy!

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20 Comments

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20 responses to “A legal name change with Chinese documents

  1. Hi Ericka,

    I’m so glad you posted this, as I could find almost nothing really useful about changing your name in China! From your experience, changing your name isn’t nearly as hard as the Chinese documentation about name changes suggested (though, certainly, not without a few hiccups, I guess).

    I’m going to add a link to your post and update my information so others can benefit from what you learned.

    • There is a lot of confusing information out there about changing your name after getting married. It’s really not “hard,” it was just time consuming since all of our documents were in Chinese.
      If some gets married in the US (say with a K-1 visa), it should take less than a month to change all of the documents. I think in the long run, it was easier to process all of my husband’s documents since we were already married before he went to the US.

  2. Pingback: Ask the Yangxifu: Change your name after marriage in China? | Speaking of China

  3. Interesting. I’d like to change my name but I’ll wait until we are in America to do it officially because the idea of sending/faxing stuff back and forth between China and America gives me a headache. I use a hyphenated version of my name socially but all my important documents are still in my maiden name.

    • I tired hyphenating for a while but found it tiresome. Another way to do it is to drop the middle name and make your maiden name your new middle name so it’s still legally part of your identity but you only have to sign one last name on documents.
      It probably is easier to wait and do it in person – calling the social security offices is so frustrating that it’s not worth it to handle it remotely.

  4. scottishlaura

    We moved back to the UK a few months after we got married so I changed my name then. It was no more difficult than for my friends who had got married in the UK. We had the translation of our marriage certificate that we got the day we registered our marriage and all the offices in the UK seemed to accept this. Now for work purposes I actually use my old and new surnames with a hyphen, nobody seems to care, but documents, bank card etc all just have new surname.

  5. Kelly

    Hi! I came across your blog via another, and enjoy your writing. The name change question is one that I am currently pondering myself, as I recently got engaged to a wonderful Chinese man. It’s so nice to hear that others are having/had the same experiences!

    • Congratulations on your engagement! A name change isn’t much of a hassle, and I think it makes things easier in the long run, but there are many reasons to change or not to change.

      • Kelly

        Thanks for the congrats. The name change issue is one I have to discuss with the fiance to see if he has any strong opinions about it, but I personally am leaning towards keeping my name legally, but using his in day-to-day life. But there are other, more pressing issues to come before that…like wedding planning and dress shopping! Haha!!

  6. Justin Liu

    This is slightly off-topic but is it possible for a foreigner to be naturalized as a PRC citizen? What is the legal status of people who chose to stay in China permanently?

    • The basic answer is no on naturalization.
      Most of the people who choose to stay in China permanently usually have family (spouse, parents etc) there so they can renew their “tan qin” visa every 1-3 years without too much difficulty. I did know a New Zealand woman who retired in China without any family there and she just enrolled to take Chinese classes indefinitely to have the student visa. A student and work visa will give a residence permit, but the visiting family visa is a glorified tourist visa with no residency. So to answer you question, their status depends on their visa.
      I think to get citizenship you have to be invited by the government, so you would have to make a huge contribution (scientific, social, economic etc) to the government. I believe there might be something if you have Chinese heritage as well. Many Chinese people assume that since I have a Chinese husband, I must have Chinese citizenship now, but it doesn’t quite work like that. I would never give up my citizenship anyways.

  7. When Jodi and I got married we were advised to also purchase several “official” translated copies of the marriage certificates for several hundred RMB. We haven’t used them yet, but it sounds like we made the right decision in accepting. Who knew?!

    • Getting translated copies in China is much cheaper than in the US. They are useful mostly for unofficial things like the bank, but the DMV also took mine. For most government things, they translate themselves. It’s just good thing to have.

  8. hi.i wonder why you ladies bother changing your family name. i mean , on one hand, do you know that a female rarely change her family name traditionally in china;on the other hand ,wouldn’t it sounds more independent(which i value as a previlige seldomly found in chinese girls.)? so if i had an western girlfriend to be married, i’ suggest she can have a totally authentic chinese name(anyone she like) picked up on her own will while keeping her english name unchanged.

    • Why should a western woman married to a Chinese man have to give up her tradition to be like a Chinese woman? Just because Chinese women don’t change their names doesn’t mean that American women should have to give up that right.

      Taking on a married name is a completely personal choice. It can show Independence from one’s parents. It could give a feeling of starting one’s own family. It can be convenient for later legal documents. Mostly I just think it’s a tradition that a lot of girls grow up with. If you grow up with that tradition, why should you have to give that up? For me, it’s also pride and showing off who I’m married to. I’m happily married and love being a Mrs.

      There are many reasons to keep a maiden name, but I doubt Independence is one of them. The women’s rights movement was a few generations ago and young people (men and women) have the choice to take on traditional gender roles, reverse roles, or create their own.

      I also doubt any woman marries a Chinese man to sound more Chinese…

  9. Found your site while looking for info on deodorant in china. Love it. I had no problem changing my name in the us, with the translations we still had from the immigrant visa application. The only problem I had was I had waited three years and they nearly told me that was too long. Hmm. I changed it because my maiden name was harder to pronounce and it was more confusing with kids.

  10. wow me too!! i’d probably be so happy to have my future husband’s name 🙂
    but it sounds like a tedious process to do it hehe
    may i ask you something?
    were you not scared and sad to live in china? i heard not a lot of people can speak english there, and did you had a hard time finding a job?
    thanks a lot!

    • Changing your name isn’t that bad, it’s just an extra step with the translation. I thought it was exciting living in china when I first got there and couldn’t speak Chinese. I found finding a good job in china difficult; it’s hard to compete with Chinese people for jobs when, as a foreigner, I excepted higher pay and don’t speak Chinese as well as a native speaker.

      • no one can tell what’s gonna happen in the future, but i ‘might’ live there also one day hehe.. i’d love to, really, i think it’s exciting, the problem is, i want to have a job that will have a good salary! and considering i couldn’t even speak chinese, i’m afraid i’d find that very difficult to happen hehe :)) it’s ok thanks so much!!:)

  11. Hi Shandongxifu,
    I’m having quite a problem right now after changing my name. I’m a Filipino and married to a Chinese for three years. When I renewed my passport I decided to change my maiden name and use my husband’s surname. Changing my name on my passport was quite easy because in our country after marriage we can opt to use our husband’s surname without having to go through so much trouble.
    But right now, my problem is that the Exit Entry Public Security Office would not believe that the old passport (with my maiden name on it) and the new passport (wherein I used my husband’s surname on it) is the same person. They told me to get an affidavit of one and same person from my embassy and have it translated which I did. While waiting for the release of my visa. An officer called my husband and said that my visa will be released this time because my visa is expiring soon, but he said that the next time we will be renewing my visa we’re gonna have to go to the marriage office first and have my name in my marriage certificate changed (same as my new passport) before they can allow me to renew my visa.
    After changing your name and using your husband’s surname in your passport, did you go through this process when you are applied for family visa renewal in China? What paperworks did you go through, please advise. Thank you in advance.

    Please reply through my email. I really need your help.

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