Getting engaged and planning for a wedding and married life can be an arduous affair. To add to the questions of where to have the wedding, who to invite, what to wear, where to live afterwards, when to have kids and more, there is question “Should your wife change her surname?”
Since a 2003 ruling by a constitutional court, Thai women no longer have the obligation to adopt their husbands’ surnames after marriage. Instead, this has become a personal question and whether to change the surname or not can still be a matter of great debate for couples.
These arguments are matters of opinion, but on the other hand there are real practical considerations for changing your Thai wife’s surname after marriage.
Though it’s true that some countries expect spouses to share the same surname and travelling to these places may create. Thai women face many barriers to international travel due to an unfair stigma related to prostitution, so in any case of travelling to another country with a Thai companion, it’s wise to make preparations such as acquiring visas in advance and carrying any necessary documents. However, this does not mean that your wife will need to have identification showing that she has adopted your surname. In any case where you suspect difficulty when travelling, a copy of your marriage certificate with a translation should be sufficient proof that you are married. In most countries around the world, the assumption that spouses must share a surname is simply not made.
If your wife has or will have dual citizenship of Thailand and your country, then she will be able to use 2 passports and it would be useful for her Thai identification to keep her maiden name, even if she registers a change legally in your country. Many countries in Europe will now amend a passport to include the name of a person’s spouse, so if she keeps her name her passport can say that she is married to you.
In Thailand, Thai citizens are allowed to own land and houses while foreign nationals may not and must content themselves with only condo ownership. A Thai woman is not even legally allowed to buy land or property in Thailand unless she can prove that the funds used are her own and that the property will be entirely in her ownership. When a Thai woman takes her husband’s non-Thai family name, this can cause her problems for land and property purchase and increase the level of scrutiny that her deal is subjected to. It’s much easier for a Thai woman to buy property if she maintains her maiden name.
If your wife decides to change her name after marriage, she will have to take her identity card (bat prachachon) with the marriage certificate to the district office (amphoe) or municipal district office (thesabaan) to have a new card processed. She will also have to change her home registration certificate at the same time (thabian baan). Once this change is made, her name change is legal and in order to retain all of her rights she will need to change all other cases of her name to the new surname. This will include her bank accounts, credit cards, utility bills, her passport, and more.
It’s very common for Thai people to change their names, both first and last, in order to increase their chances of a lucky future. They will visit the temple and ask months to divine a new name for themselves, usually based on their birthdates. This means that it’s common and fairly straight-forward to change a name in Thailand, but it still is a big headache.
Divorce these days is sadly increasingly common. Although not a pleasant thought for you and your wife, going through the hassle of changing her surname to yours would have to be repeated should you divorce. This is a practical reason to avoid the process unless you have strong feelings about the need for the change.
One final thing to think about is the difficulty of tracking down people whose names have changed. No matter how much you think it through, there’s always the chance that some government agency in the future may not have received your name change information and lose you in their files. Knowing how difficult it is to deal with bureaucracy in Thailand as it is, potentially putting yourself at a disadvantage is best avoided.
The overall view is that changing a Thai woman’s name after marriage is a difficult and potentially disadvantageous exercise with few practical benefits. If you don’t feel strongly that your wife shares your surname, it’s probably best and easiest for her to keep her Thai maiden name.