How to Legally Change Your Name
A legal name change is a rather simple process, though it requires several forms and steps in the appropriate order. Although each state has its own rules, forms, and requirements, the process is uniform enough to understand using one state as an example. In this article, we’ll go through the most common reasons people want to change their names, the most-used name change forms, the nuances of some states, and more.
On US Legal Forms, you can find a list of Name Change Laws by State to learn more about the procedure.
Common Reasons for Name Changes
While there are a plethora of reasons an individual may have for wanting a fresh take on their State ID, let’s take a look at some of the most common before we dive into the laws and process.
While adopting a new bundle of joy into your lives, perhaps you don’t want the child to know that they are adopted; or, perhaps the child is old enough to be aware of their adoption status but would like to share your surname. In either case, a change of surnames for the child is common practice.
Changing names after marriage is by far one of the most common reasons for a name change. Whether it’s the husband or wife, or a merging of the two surnames, this long-held tradition continues today. This is also true for a name change after divorce.
A Fresh Start
Have you ever wanted to move to another city or state and not look back? There are people who follow through on this desire, and one of the key steps to accomplishing a complete transformation is a name change.
For some individuals who have immigrated to America, their names are incredibly difficult to pronounce. While people may try, it could cause some dismay for the individual. It’s very common for foreign-born nationals to change their names upon arrival in America to make it easier in their day-to-day activities.
Have you ever known someone with a nickname that was wildly different from their legal name? Individuals that live with this problem may be seen as untrustworthy, as well as causing issues in the workplace.
No nation in this world is without bureaucracy, and in some instances, the name on your birth certificate, or other documents, does not match the name on your other documents. For example, if someone was given two names connected with a hyphen on all of their documents, spare their birth certificate, and they needed to acquire a copy of their social security card with their birth certificate, they would find the process impossible to complete without a name change in many states. With a legal name change, the individual can circumvent the bureaucracy that’s stopping them from reaching their desired result, such as receiving a passport for work or travel abroad, which requires supporting documents.
It’s no surprise that celebrities change their legal names to circumvent unwanted attention towards their loved ones and in some cases themselves. This, too, applies to politicians, the family members of disgraced persons, and ordinary people who have been on the receiving end of unwanted attention. Changing their legal name isn’t always a perfect solution; however, we’ll discuss why in the next section.
What are the Requirements?
When filing a petition for a fresh title, you need to be sure you meet the legal requirements for it to be approved. While each state has its own stipulations, the general requirements are as follows:
- There must be a reasonable basis for the change
- It is consistent with public interest
- The change is not used to:
- Avoid judgments
- Avoid debts
- Avoid legal actions
- Avoid legal obligations
With this in mind, it’s important to check your state’s requirements to avoid having to file a petition, and subsequently, pay twice. You can find a list of Name Change Laws by State here.
Filing a Petition
The first step is to file a petition where you hold residence. Most states require that you attach an FBI fingerprint card for each individual changing their name. In addition to the cards, the following information should also be provided:
- The intention of the petitioner for a change of names
- The reason for the desired name change
- The current residence of the petitioner
- Any residences held by the petitioner over the past 5 years
The Court’s Actions
After the petition has been filed, the Court in some states take the following actions:
- Set a date for a hearing on the petition, generally no more than 90 days from the date the petition was filed
- If there is no reason the safety of the petitioner would be jeopardized, the Court shall, in most states, require the petitioner to do the following:
- Publish a legal notice of the hearing in two local newspapers in the petitioner’s residing country or region
- Provide notice to any non-petitioning parent if the change of names will affect, or are for a minor
- The Court will forward the petition to State Police to check the attached fingerprint cards.
The hearing is subject to certain rules and procedures that apply in some states, these are things you should bear in mind prior to filing a petition:
- Anyone objecting to the change of names may appear before the Court and be heard
- The petitioner must present the following documents:
- Proof of publication, unless otherwise granted a waiver
- Proof that the petitioner, in all residences over the past 5 years, is not the subject of:
- Pending legal actions
- Decrees of record
After the hearing, and given that your name change was approved, we enter into more tedious territory. If you recall, we discussed supporting documents in relation to foreign passport applications. There are a series of documents you need to prove your identity. These supporting documents are not limited to your driver’s license or State ID. You will need to obtain certified copies of the Court order that approved your name change, or name change certificate, to continue down this rabbit hole.
Where Do You File a Petition for a Name Change?
Where you file your petition is different for every state and can be a combination of Courts or a specific Court. For example, in Alabama you must file in the Probate Court; in Alaska, the Superior Court; Arkansas, the Chancery or Circuit Court; Colorado, the District or County Court; Connecticut, the Superior or Probate Court; and in Delaware, the Court of Common Pleas. As you can see, this is not consistent and is incredibly state-specific. If you haven’t already, check our list of State-specific rules on name changes.
The Documents You Must Change
Everyone who was born in the United States has a birth certificate. If they’ve misplaced it, they can replace it; so long as they have their social security card and a photo ID. It looks like we’ve already hit a roadblock with the opening sentence to this section. Let’s explore this topic by going through a list of the documents we need to change. Hopefully, this will help you develop a strategy of what to get first so that you can complete the process without hassle.
Social Security Card
The Social Security name change form you need after successfully changing your name is the court order which states approval was granted for your change of names. However, there are supporting documents that may be required if the court order documents you submitted aren’t clear enough or it’s been more than two years (four years for minors) since the name change took place. If additional documents are required for a social security name change, providing documents with your previous name is usually sufficient.
This depends on the State level requirements. However, a name change birth certificate process is typically pretty simple, albeit time-consuming. You must provide your Vital Records office with a certified copy of the Court ordered name change documents approving your change of names and a certified copy of your original birth certificate (or the birth certificate you last received from Vital Records).
Typically speaking, you will be required to change your information with the Social Security Administration (SSA) prior to being able to change your name on your driver’s license at your State’s DMV. You may need to prove your citizenship status and identity prior to receiving your new license. Many states impose time restrictions on how long you can wait to inform your State of your name change. Although this may seem arbitrary and a bit comical due to the fact that the State’s Court is who approved your name change, it is your responsibility to inform each department. The process of the name change of driver’s license may seem tedious, but once you’ve got it, you’re nearly done.
How to change name on passport? If your passport was issued within the past 15 years when you were 16 years of age or older, is undamaged, and you are able to submit both your original passport and certified copy of your change name certificate, or Court order, you may be eligible to file Form DS-82 with the U.S. State Department (official information here) to renew it. A passport name change isn’t as demanding as other documents; the State Department is a fairly well-oiled machine with regards to document processing.
You will also need to name change bank accounts, trusts, deeds, titles, diplomas, certificates, and more. Most of these are not Government affiliated but may be actively regulated, such as universities and banks. You will need to contact each individual institution to find out more about the process; this is a very individualistic step and unfortunately, we can’t know your circumstances to offer guidance. Every bank, educational institution, and organization does things in their own way, with their own levels of bureaucracy.
While the process of a name change after marriage may be as simple as providing your marriage documents instead of a court order in some circumstances, generally speaking, the process doesn’t change all that much. However, a name change legally done when dealing with minors has a few extra steps, including consent from non-petitioning parents and other considerations. It’s important to know how this will affect your child before proceeding and what your State expects of you.
All in all, the steps to changing your last name don’t typically change when dealing with a first name. You still need to file for a name change and new passport, and a name change of driving license to continue enjoying the same life you had before you filed the petition.