User Experience in Name Changes on Church Records

A couple of months ago while at a dinner with women in my ward, one woman told me her name was wrong on the church records; the Church automatically changed** her name when she was married, but legally her name is still her “maiden” name. “Oh!” I said, “My husband is ward membership clerk! He can change that for you right away.”

And he did.

And in the process, I got a sneak peak into the Church’s LCR (Leader and Clerk Resources) interface. And it’s not great.

When a clerk changes a name on the records, there is a list of radio buttons so the clerk can select the reason for the name change. The possible reasons are:

  • Finalized Adoption
  • Spelling Correction
  • Verified Legal Name Change
  • New Marriage for the Member
  • Divorce
  • Member’s Preference to Be Known by This Name
  • Other

If the clerk choses any of the first four (adoption, spelling correction, legal name change, or marriage), it looks like this:

However, if you choose any of the last 3 options, you get special flash messages.

For a divorce-related name change, the text for the option turns red and a flash message reads, “Please record the divorce on the current marriage. You should not change the member’s name unless it has been legally changed. If it has been legally changed, select the “Verified Legal Name Change” option.

Think about this. The Church changed this woman’s name (and mine, and lots of other people’s) at the time of their marriage without finding out if there was a legal name change, but insists on legal name changes in the case of divorce. And then the clerk can not categorize it as a divorce-related name change even though the option is there. Why even have the option?

If the clerk chooses the “Member’s Preference to Be Known by This Name” option, the text for the option turns red, as above, and a new flash message is displayed: “Since this is not the member’s legal name, please record this name in the preferred name field. The preferred name will print on all reports.”

I think it’s great to share there is a way for a member to change their preferred name, but I don’t know where the Church is coming from being so concerned about legal names when they don’t care when they auto-switch “maiden names” to “married names” at marriage. Also, when a baby is blessed, I’ve heard the blessing usually state that the baby is being given a name for use on the records of the Church and throughout their life. To my knowledge, there’s no verification process for making sure it is legal at baby blessing time After all, they might not even have a legal evidence of the name yet- we had to use a blessing certificate to help file for a US Social Security card for one of our babies!

And lastly, if the clerk chooses “Other” the word turns red and a long-winded flash message is shown.

“You should not change this member’s name for other reasons. If you have just received this record in the ward and the information is different than you expected, make sure that you have received the correct record by comparing birth date and parent names. If you are not sure you have the correct record and you change the member’s name, you may inadvertently update the wrong member’s record.”

Everything from the second sentence and on is pretty reasonable: make sure you have the right person before changing anything, but that seems irrelevant to it being an “Other” name change reason. That information should be stated above everything before it is changed for any reason at all.

Also, like the “divorce” option, you can’t change a member’s name with the “Other” option, so why even show the option? To me, this feels very bait-and-switch-y. Like the Church is saying, “Hey, Clerks, you might think you have the ability to respect members’ name change reasons and personhood and change their name if they’d like it changed… Just kidding, you don’t.”

This user experience and interaction with the Church’s web app for Leadership feels disheartening for the clerk. Does the Church not trust their members to do the right thing? Their leaders and ward clerks? It also feels very shaming: “How dare you change someone’s name for reasons other than our 4 ‘approved’ ones?” It boggles my mind that there is a product manager somewhere who okay-ed this copy and all the flash messages.

My husband did change this woman’s name back to her maiden name, under the reason “Spelling Correction.” That’s the reason he gives for most name changes. After all, “Sanchez” is a really poor spelling of “Rodriguez.” And “Molly” is a poor spelling of “Peter.”


** I am unsure if the system is set up to automatically override a “maiden name” to a “married name” upon recording a marriage or sealing. My husband says he’s never entered a civil marriage for two members so he doesn’t know what that interaction is like in the system. And the temple recorder enters the sealings, so maybe it’s different temple to temple, based on who is there. Or it’s automated. Who knows?

Heather Moore-Farley
Heather Moore-Farley
TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.


  1. I agree, TopHat. It’s absurd from a usability perspective to have options that are only used to scold the user. I also think you’re spot on in pointing out the discrepancy between just assuming as a default that a woman getting married has changed her name, but then to change it back, insisting that it be a “verified legal name change.”

  2. None of this makes sense! When doing sealings in the temple, the woman’s maiden name is used. Seems like this software has some worldly patriarchy going on.

    (my maiden name wasn’t changed until about 10 years into our marriage to make us look “better” for adoption. But, my husband was not a church member when we married either.)

  3. I’ve mentioned this several times – in our ward directory I am under my husband’s name even though I kept mine, and he’s not even a Christian, let alone a member!

    • That doesn’t make any sense. That’s strange that they do that. As far as I know, only members are listed in the directory.

    • Right before I got married to my Catholic husband, I preemptively emailed the ward clerk to let him know that I was not changing my name and that I did not want my husband listed on the ward directory. (People who are my friends know his name, and anyone else would just use his name to make him a project, which we absolutely do not want.) The clerk respected my wishes, and I’m still listed alone with my last name.

      (As an aside, we recently went on vacation in South Carolina, and I was the one who made all the reservations. The hotel staff was amazingly polite, and they addressed us throughout the stay as Mr. and Mrs. My-last-name, and I didn’t have the heart to correct them.)

    • Several Exponent readers have reported to us over the years that since the church system still embraces an antiquated and offensive “head of household” system, the name of the male is listed alphabetically in the directory because heads of households (males) are alphabetized, They do this even for spouses who are not members of the church, and then women are listed below their husbands, so they cannot be found alphabetically if their names differ from their husbands.

      Several Exponent readers discussed this problem with a church employee in our facebook group awhile back, and he seemed quite responsive and indicated that they would work on fixing this, but I do not know whether any progress has been made.

      • In LDSTools, at least in Canada where I am, there is no Head of Household listed. There is only Household Information (address, land line number) anf Household Members (names and ages of persons residing there).

  4. I too was shocked after I got married and my name was automatically changed to my husband’s last name. I told the clerk that that name was not my legal name and that I had chosen to keep my maiden name. In addition, I was writing my checks to tithing with my legal name and the tithing slip HAD to say what the church had put in as my new name with my husband’s last name. His response? “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. We don’t care what name shows up on the check. We will match it and it will be fine”. Also, when I went to the temple, my temple recommend showed my legal name and when the worker scanned it, he smiled and said “we show your new married name. You should get that changed soon!” I didn’t smile back and said “I kept my last name. What you have in your records isn’t even a person who exists”

    • I agree that the name they use does matter. Once, I was upset when I noticed that all the tithing I had paid was under my husband’s last name. I was the breadwinner at the time and my husband is a full-time student. I asked the financial clerk to put the tithing under both our names (me and my husband’s names), and he said okay but then didn’t do it. Perhaps the system didn’t allow it. I had been upset because it had looked like they were giving all the credit to my husband for the tithing paid, when I was the one working and paying tithing.

      Yes, I often have to tell people that I kept my last name. They assume that all women in the church change their last names when they get married. People find it odd when I tell them I’m Italian and married and that I still have an Italian last name. I see the look of confusion come over their faces, and so I tell them that I didn’t change my name. A few people have asked me why I didn’t change my name, and I tell them it’s because I love my last name and since I’m Italian, I’d prefer to have an Italian last name. 🙂 Some people chuckle when they hear this, so at least I make them laugh. 🙂

  5. Thank you for letting us know about this! When I got married, I moved from a singles ward to a family ward. At first I decided to try out my husband’s last name at church (even though I had officially kept my last name), so that’s what I wrote down on the new member sheet. Soon I realized that I didn’t like being called by my husband’s last name. It just didn’t fit and I like my own last name way better, so I talked to the clerk and he changed it to my own last name.

    When I got married in the temple, they automatically changed my last name to my husband’s last name without asking me. I would go to the temple and they would say, “Welcome, Sister (husband’s last name)” even though my temple recommend had my own last name on it. But it seems that after I talked to the clerk at church, now whenever I go to the temple, their records show my own last name. Thank goodness for that!

    The other bad thing is that even though the directory lists my own last name, if someone searches for my last name in the directory, it says no results. They would have to put my first name or my husband’s last name in order to find me in the directory. It’s very weird. I’m thinking that the next time I fill out a new ward member sheet, my husband and I will just hyphenate our names together just so both our names show up in the directory.

  6. I’m so curious how it gets changed in the first place — computer programming? Or someone assuming all women will be known under their husband’s name and manually changing it?

    Thanks for the insider scoop. It’s super disappointing. 🙁

  7. Let me preface everything I am going to say about the system with I fully understand that people often want to keep their maiden name, and I have no problem with that. I have a cousin and a best friend that have done this. Also, that they want to return to their name after a failed marriage – I have a sister-in-law who has done this.

    The system.
    MLS, the LCR, etc. all have to operate within the laws of all the countries that the church is in. It would be against the law in the UK, for instance, for the system to be holding a non-legal name. For this reason all members may have a preferred name as well as they legal name. The preferred name shows on lists, directories, etc. The legal name is there on the IOS, and should be used for ordinances.

    As I am stake clerk I do not get involved in processing record changes in the LCR and the last time I did it was in MLS. MLS did the opposite. We had several clerks mess up when “marrying” people in the system and the wife, incorrectly, was listed with the maiden name. Whichever way you have it set someone will mess it up.

    In fact, for my daughters’ marriages, because I could, I transferred their fiancé’s record to our ward, did the marriage update myself, on their wedding day, and transferred the married couple to the new ward – correctly done.

    Why have Other if it doesn’t work? Because if you didn’t someone would use one of the other options, incorrectly, to get the job done. If Other is what you need, and there are reasons, the clerk can call the GSC and they will make the record change required in their systems.

    None of this is to do with Patriarchy. It is all to do with keeping within the law. If the legal name was not correctly represented a disgruntled member could seek legal recompense, at least in the UK – and the Church would be fined.

    And this isn’t disappointing – computers have to have rules. This is generally binary – although it can be trinary as some couples both change their name to a double-barrelled or concatenation of their names.

    To make the process simple someone chose to have the system change the name – as this resolved the previous problem in MLS where it didn’t change it. The vast majority of sisters currently change their name.

    Mistakes can be fixed – the only really bad thing I see in this thread is the cases where the problem of an incorrect name was not seen as important by the clerk, priesthood leader, etc.

    • “The vast majority of sisters currently change there name” is (a) not true in plenty of places; (b) an assumption that doesn’t need to be hardwired into programming or protocol; and (c) is allowed to perpetuate itself because the (white, straight) men in charge are used to it being that way.

      As for it having nothing to do with patriarchy, the whole “women change their names at marriage” IS patriarchal. There’s no need for the default position to be that marriage (or divorce) = name change.

      Kudos to all of the red-tape-cutters who recognize the importance of correct spelling!

      • I didn’t say it was the case in any specific place, I said sisters, implying all sisters.

        Speaking as a computer programmer having a default is generally helpful. Especially when it would be the case most of the time.

        That doesn’t mean someone shouldn’t ask, or immediately correct mistakes.

    • This has everything to do with patriarchy. That you can’t see it suggests that you’re so immersed in it that you think patriarchy is just natural. The need to have a default in the program does not mean that the default must be to change the wife’s last name to match the husband’s. The default could be to change the husband’s last name to match the wife’s. Or, even better, to make no change at all unless people explicitly ask for it. Or the default could be to hyphenate both their last names, using the wife’s last name first. Or hyphenate with the husband’s last name first. Or mash the names together, taking the first syllable of the wife’s last name, and the first syllable of the husband’s. My point is that there are lots of defaults you could have. The need for a default does not require that the default be a patriarchal one.

      • All of these could be the default – but they would not help the clerks. Why? Because we set defaults to the most common – not the least.

        I am not saying there should not be all options available.

      • I guess you believe helping the clerks is more important than respecting a fundamental part of women’s identity (their names). Even if a woman chooses to change her name, she’ll probably appreciate that someone asked instead of assuming. Software should not be a substitute for a conversation, it should promote conversations.

      • I’m saying the default should be asking and having the conversation, not changing anything. The software is set up to automatically change, which means the conversation is skipped, and that is the problem. The software should not be built in such a way that the default means that important conversations are skipped.

      • TopHat,

        If the clerk is too lazy to have the conversation not having a default is not going to change anything – he will simply supply his own default.

        No where have I said, nor do I believe, that the clerk should act independently of the couples desires. And having software defaults shouldn’t, and doesn’t (at least for this clerk) change that.

  8. I’m prettty sure that when I got married, someone verified that I was changing my name before changing it in church records (7 years ago). But then 2 years ago I decided to legally change back to my maiden name (even though I’m still married–I just realized that I regretted my initial choice). I had it changed in church records a year ago, but sometime in the past month, one of the clerks (none of whom know me personally) apparently changed it back to my husband’s name, because it has changed on the roll and on LDS Tools. So I have to go in on Sunday and talk to someone. Frustrating, especially since my husband hasn’t been an active member for about 5 years.

  9. Oh, and after reading your asterisk I do remember clearly that it was the temple worker who asked about my name change–so it was changed in the system several weeks before it was legal.

  10. The church incorrectly changed my name when I got married 8 years ago. I have asked EVERY ward clerk I’ve had since then to fix it. They have all said they would and then it doesn’t get changed. I explained the problem to the most recent ward clerk. He promised to push it through. A week or so later I received a call from a man at church headquarters. He asked what my legal name was and I told him. He said, “are you sure that’s your legal name?” I responded that it is the name on every legal document I possess. He said ok and hung up. Three years later it is still incorrect.

  11. As I said above I have no problem with the choices people make. If leaders are not making the corrections that shoulder be made call the GSC yourself and have them change it.

  12. Yes, the defaults on MLS and LCR are sometimes frustrating. There are always ways around the name change issue for an individual, but the household stuff can be difficult. I am trying to enter the name of a non-member wife and mother of a family I home teach into the database, but the church insists that I input a marriage date. I asked the teenage daughter (who has been active) but she is not sure of the date. I would prefer not enter the wrong info, so most members are not even sure that this girl lives with both her parents. Not always an easy thing for a young woman, when every other one comes every week with her mom.

    I have frequently had to update spelling or other items on member records. This is not nearly the most difficult thing to deal with, so I do not see why the clerks do not handle it quickly.

    • El oso, are there no data protection issues where you are with what you are trying to do, such as requiring the permission of the individuals concerned before entering their information? Because if there aren’t there ought to be.

      • I can’t speak for the data protection legislation everywhere – but in the UK entering a marriage date (or any date) and holding it comes with in the legislation. Having the wrong date is what would be considered outside.

  13. Obviously a program written/run by Americans. What about sisters in countries around the world where culture and custom are to keep birth names? Or where they are not allowed to change their names? Most Mormons do not live in the USA any longer. It would be interesting to see how this works in other countries. For all of its insistence on accuracy of records, the Church has put up plenty of barriers to making sure their database of names is precisely correct.

    • Oh the big bad Church. It is so evil. Full of men who’s only desire to oppress women by forcing them to take their husbands surname.

      I would love for one of my six daughters to keep they maiden name. The two that are married haven’t, and none of the others has expressed a wish to do so. Poor things must be so brainwashed.

      • Ella, you are, of course, correct. However, I find statements line “the Church has put up plenty of barriers” a clear indication of a belief that the “Church”, which for me is the Kingdom of God on the Earth, has established practices which are in conflict with a correct path.

        The Church doesn’t do anything. The Church is a vehicle for the Children of Heavenly Parents to come back into their presence.

        The fact that some programmers used established practices of providing a user interface with the most common defaults is hardly an example of institutionalised patriarchy.

        To illustrate this I can think of several other defaults. If you use the LCR to update a calling. Let’s take High Councillor.

        I start to type the surname of the person – my surname begins with R. As I type my surname the two men in the stake with my name appear. If I select my son it helpfully tells me he needs to be ordained a High Priest first. It also offers 7-May as the sustained date, since generally he would be sustained on a Sunday, and it assumes the previous Sunday. He could have been sustained at a General Priesthood meeting on a week night, so I can change it, but I don’t have to select a date in most case – saving me time and effort.

        Likewise if I were to change a member of the stake Young Women presidency it would only show me sisters.

        You may see these choices as sexist – I see them as helpful to clerks.

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