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Changing Your Name

Any person may change his name as long as the change is not for a fraudulent purpose. Reasons for a name change are varied and personal. The person may dislike his given name, want his name to reflect his heritage or religious views, want to disassociate himself from a former lifestyle, or may need to change it for security and protection purposes.

Laws require courts to grant an application for a name change unless there is a prohibition that does not allow the change. For instance, a person convicted of a felony cannot change his name since law enforcement has a substantial interest in tracking his location.

While all states have statutes setting forth procedures for legally changing your name, the procedures vary from state to state.

Most states require a court order to legalize a name change, you should contact your local clerk of court to find out whether your particular state allows name change by common usage.

TIP: Bear in mind that although your state might allow name change by common usage, obtaining a court order may save you a lot of trouble in the long run. Your new name will be easier to prove and is more likely to be accepted if you have a court order to back it up. For example, your bank may be reluctant to change your name on your bank account if you do not have a court order evidencing the name change.

What do I have to do to change my name?

If your state allows name change by common usage, you may simply begin using your new name. If your state requires a court order to effectuate a name change, you will need to file the necessary papers and pay the filing fees before an order changing your name is issued. The court, however, has the discretion to deny your request if it finds an unreasonable motive. The following reasons are likely to be considered good reasons by the court: to shorten your name, to distance yourself from your family or to use your stage name. You will also need to publish your name change in a local paper.

Procedure for Name Change (Followed by Most States)

Obtain necessary forms (some will need to be notarized-this can usually be done for free at your bank)

  • Petition for change of name
  • Order granting change of name
  • Legal backer form
  • Notice of Petition to the public (local newspaper)
  • Affidavit of Consent (if necessary)
  • File your forms with the proper court and pay any filing fees
  • Contact your local county court to find out in which court you need to file.
  • Attend hearing
  • A hearing is not always required, but the court may schedule one to determine the reason for the name change.

  • Publish notice of name change in local newspaper
  • The newspaper in which you must file will be specified in the order, and an advertisement is usually sufficient. The purpose is to notify any creditors of your new name.

Court issues Order granting name change

You may now begin using your new name!

TIP: To learn your state’s specific procedure for a name change, you can go to http://www.namechangelaw.com, which has a collection of all state procedures.

Can I pick any name that I want?

Generally yes, but there are a few limitations:

  • The name cannot be chosen with fraudulent intent. For example, you cannot avoid any judgments against you by changing your name.
  • You cannot choose a name that is intentionally confusing, such as one with numbers or symbols. This does not mean a person cannot refer to herself as "&" (ampersand); however, the symbol will never be his legal name, e.g., it will not ever appear on a passport.
  • Your name cannot be a racial slur, nor can it contain threatening or obscure words, or words likely to incite violence. Names that are obscene or vulgar cannot be legally obtained. A person may use such a name, but he cannot have his name legally changed.
  • Your name cannot interfere with any trademarked name or with the rights of another (e.g., the name of a famous person employed in a similar field).

What do I have to do after I get my new name?

The first step is to obtain a new driver’s license and Social Security card with your new name. This will to facilitate changing your name with other agencies and institutions. You can start by applying at your local Social Security office. You will need to bring proof of your former name, such as your driver’s license, and a certified copy of the court’s order changing your name. To obtain a new driver’s license, you must present a certified copy of the court order to the Department of Motor Vehicle office in your state.

Then, you need to contact any business or government agencies with which you deal to notify them of your new name and request that it be changed in their records. Some important agencies to notify are your employer, school, creditors, utility companies, banks and financial institutions, insurance and mortgage companies, post office, internal revenue service, registrar of voters, professional associations and frequent flier programs.

You also need to notify the passport office and Bureau of Records or Vital Statistics (to obtain a birth certificate with your new name). Additionally, be sure to change your name on any legal papers, such as wills, trusts, or contracts.

Social Security Administration800.772.1213http://www.ssa.gov
Internal Revenue Service800.829.1040http://www.irs.gov
U.S. Post Office800.275.8777http://www.usps.gov
Passport Office877.487.2778http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports.html

TIP: Although some agencies will change your name in their records with just a phone call, most will require a written request indicating the new name and a copy of the court judgment legalizing it. To save yourself time, prepare a form letter clearly stating your old name and new name, and request that you want to be known by your new name. Also, make several copies of the judgment authorizing your name change so that you can readily provide it to any agency or business that requests proof of the legal name change.

Can I obtain a birth certificate with my new name?

Yes. However, the laws in your state may only permit issuance of an amended birth certificate rather than a new original birth certificate.

Is it possible to have a new passport issued reflecting my name change?

Yes. You must apply for an amended passport by completing a Passport Amendment/Validation Application (Form DS-19). Additionally, you will have to provide a certified copy of the court order and your old passport.

I changed my name last year but do not like it as much as I thought I would. Can I change it back?

Probably, but you will have to follow the same procedure that was required for you to change it in the first place. Remember that discretion to allow a name change rests with the court, and the court will not look favorably on frequent name changes. Be sure to select a name that you like and will be comfortable using.

Changing Your Name After Marriage or Divorce

Name changes subsequent to marriage or divorce are very common in this day and age. A person may want to adopt the surname of her spouse upon marriage or may want to return to using her former name in the case of a divorce. The process for changing a name after a marriage or divorce is relatively simple and does not involve the lengthy process required for name changes as described in the previous section.

I am getting married. Will I have to do anything special to use my spouse’s name?

A woman does not need to do anything to use her spouse’s name; a certified copy of the marriage certificate is all the proof that is needed (but remember that you still need to take the steps discussed above to notify others of your new name). A man, however, may need to obtain a court order to use his spouse’s name.

I recently got married. Can I add my wife’s last name to mine?

Yes. When a couple marries, they have several options when choosing which surname to use (traditionally, the wife takes her husband’s last name). One of these options is hyphenation of both names by both spouses, and it is valid and acceptable.

I am getting divorced. Can I have my old name back?

Yes. You should request that the judge enter an order in the divorce decree restoring your former name. If the order is entered, a certified copy of the divorce decree will be sufficient documentation of the name change.

Changing Your Child’s Name

Parents sometimes decide to change their child’s name, particularly when there is a change in the child’s family structure, such as the parents’ divorce. The name change is more likely to be approved by the court if both parents agree.

My child’s first name is out of style. Can I change it?

Yes, provided both parents agree. If the parents do not agree on the name change, the court will consider the welfare of the child. Sometimes the father will object to a change of the child’s surname, and the court will rule in his favor even if the mother has custody, unless the use of the father’s last name is embarrassing or harmful to the child and it would be in the child’s best interest to not be associated with the father’s last name.

TIP: Once an order is issued changing the child’s name, be sure to notify her school, doctors and any clubs or organizations to which the child belongs. You also will need to apply for a new Social Security card for the child.(/p>

After my divorce, can I change my child’s last name?

Yes, as long as the name change is in the child’s best interest. The court will consider several factors in determining whether the name change is in the child’s best interest, such as how long he has used the father’s name and his relationship with his mother and father.

Suffixes, Initials, Middle Names and Nicknames

Many people choose to be known by their initials, middle name or nickname. The question then arises: Is the signature of a person’s initials, middle name or nickname valid? Generally, the answer is yes.

I am tired of being a "Jr." Can I just drop it?

Maybe. "Junior" is merely a suffix and is actually not a part of your name; therefore, your signature is valid without it. However, its use may be necessary if it would distinguish you from your father. Thus, you should use it whenever you sign any legal documents.

I do not want to bother changing my name. Can I just use different versions of my name or initials?

Yes. Generally, it is sufficient to describe a person by any known or acceptable abbreviation of her name, and that includes initials. All states consider a person’s name to be her first and last name, allowing the substitution of either the correct initials or full middle name.

Can I start signing documents with my nickname?

Yes, as long as your nickname is commonly derived from your first name. For example, if your first name is William, it is acceptable to sign Bill on your documents. Your nickname must clearly identify you or the court will require additional proof that you are the person represented by the nickname in the event of any misunderstanding as to identity. To avoid any such misunderstandings, it is better to sign any important legal documents with your full name.

Up until now I have always used my middle name. Can I just stop using it?

Yes. The law favors first names-middle names are not considered important. Additionally, if a middle name is omitted from your signature, it is of no consequence your signature is still valid.