Family Names in International Marriages
One of our office’s most frequent requests is an application for a status of residence (visa) “Spouse of Japanese National” for a marriage between a Japanese national and a foreign national.
Sometimes we are asked about “common name”. We would like to explain it.
This article in Japanese 国際結婚の際の名字と通称名(通名）
Family Names in International Marriages
Although there has been some discussion of a separate surname system for married Japanese couples, the law currently requires that one person be registered in the family register of either the husband or wife and that the couple use the same surname.
On the other hand, foreign nationals do not have a family register, and even if they marry a Japanese national, their family register will not be created. The foreign spouse’s information will be entered in the “Marriage” section of the “Status Matters” section of the family register of the Japanese spouse.
Therefore, in the case of an international marriage, if you register your marriage and do not take other procedures, you will have separate surnames and will remain married under different surnames.
If a foreigner wishes to take the surname of his or her Japanese spouse, he or she is required to register a “common name”.
What is a “common name”?
A common name is a name that is not a formal name but is commonly used in domestic social life as a name for a specific person, thing, or event.
Since frequent listing of new common names may lead to the misuse of common names for illegal activities, in principle, once you register a common name, you are not allowed to change it.
(November 15, 2013, Sogyo Gaikokai No. 18, “Notice of Points to be Noted in the Description and Change of Common Names”)
Procedures for registering a common name
You can register a common name at the municipal office of the city, ward, town or village.
Fill out the “Application Form for Notification of Common Name” (通称記載申出書）available at the counter and bring identification documents such as a passport or residence card, and a copy of the family register or other documents that show the marriage.
The characters that can be used as a common name are hiragana, katakana, and kanji, which can be used in the family register for Japanese nationals. Alphabets and other characters cannot be used.
For example, if a foreign woman, Mary Johnson, marries a Japanese man, Ichiro Yamamoto, and wants to use “Yamamoto” as her common name, she can register her common name and after the marriage she can use:
Real name: Mary Johnson
Common name: 山本メアリー (Yamamoto Mary）
IDs you can and cannot use common names
If you register a common name, it can be used on the following IDs.
- Certificate of residence
- Driver’s license
- My number card
- Health insurance card
It is also possible to open a bank account under a common name.
On the other hand, the following ID cards do not allow the use of common names.
- Residence card
Cases of Changing Real Name
In addition to registering a common name, there is also a way to change the foreign spouse’s real name itself so that both spouses have the same last name.
In the previous example, the name is changed from “Mary Johnson” to “山本メアリー” (Yamamoto Mary). In this case, the procedure must be done in the foreign spouse’s home country, so the procedure will vary depending on the country.
If the change of surname is approved, the passport will reflect the new surname.
When applying for a spouse visa, you make the visa application under the name in the passport. Therefore, if you change your real name, you apply for a visa under your new name if you changed your real name before the visa application, and if approved, your new name with the same surname as that of your Japanese spouse will also appear on your residence card.
If you change your real name after the residence card is issued, you need to change the information on the residence card. Please note that you are required to report the change within 14 days of the name change. Notification should be made to the Immigration Bureau that has jurisdiction over your place of residence.
When a Japanese and a foreigner get married, their surnames remain different unless they take special procedures. However, by registering a common name, the couple can take the same surname, even in an international marriage.
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