Changing Your Surname – Your Choices on Marriage, Divorce and Widowhood

You cannot lawfully use any surname in South Africa other than the one shown in the National Population Register (NPR), and trying to do so will land you in a lot of hassle and probably in legal trouble as well. So tread carefully when it comes to any event in your life involving a possible name change.

Don’t be caught out trying to decide at the altar!

As a woman about to get married for example, you have to decide what surname you want to use after the marriage.

There are many pros and cons to consider when deciding between your various options, but ultimately the choice is yours by law. Think about it beforehand, because it’s important and you don’t want to be caught out trying to make a decision at the altar – whatever choice you show in the marriage register (in the “Surname after marriage (wife)” field at the end) will be recorded by Home Affairs in the NPR.

These are your choices on marriage, divorce and widowhood

  1. Take/keep your husband’s surname, or
  2. Use/revert to your maiden name or any prior surname, or
  3. Join the two surnames into a double-barreled surname.

Must you apply to change your name? And what about men?

As a woman, your choices as above don’t need any form of application, but do advise Home Affairs of any changes in writing or they won’t be recorded in the NPR.

For any surname changes other than as above, you need to formally apply to Home Affairs for authorisation. You will have to give a “good and sufficient reason” for the application, and publication in the Government Gazette will be necessary before approval.

Note: The reference to only “a woman” in the “Assumption of another surname” section of the Births and Deaths Registration Act could well be challenged as unconstitutional at some stage, but for the moment men are stuck with the formal name change process as above.

What about buying and selling property?

When you are buying, selling or otherwise dealing in property, your conveyancer will know how to reflect your choice of name and may in some circumstances need you to confirm your choice on affidavit.

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