While most people may never even think about the legal name change procedure, there are certain situations where adults may wish to legally change their names. This includes both first and last names. The most common reason to change a last name is divorce — many people wish to go back to using their maiden names.

Other reasons to change your first or last name could include safety concerns, disliking your current name, career advancement (you usually see this with acting or other media industry jobs), transgender identification or religious beliefs.

What is the General Process for Filing a Petition for a Name Change?

To legally change your name, you will need to file a formal petition for a name change in the appropriate court. Depending on your state of residence, the petition for a name change may be filed in a circuit, district, superior or supreme court. Most petitions for a name change are uncontested and are quickly heard by a judge in an informal setting.

There are several requirements you should be aware of when filing a petition for a name change, which include the following:

  • Residency: Depending on the laws of your state of residence, you must have lived in that state for about 6-12 months prior to filing the petition. This will vary and you should research your state’s requirement before filing the petition;
  • Age: You must be at least 18 years old to file a petition as an adult;
  • Fees: The clerk will collect a fee that you will need to pay in order to file your petition; and
  • Notice: If an interested party exists, you must either gain the consent of that party or publish a formal notice that you intend to change you name.

After a judge approves your petition, you will need to indepently take steps to change your name in other areas. This includes getting a new driver’s license, passport and social security card. All agencies will require proof of court approval to obtain identification cards with your new name.

Other places where you will need to change you name include mortgages, leases, house deeds, car titles, insurance, employers, pension or other retirement accounts, banks, credit cards, schools, and any other official accounts.

Keep in mind that you cannot change your name on your birth certificate, even if you obtain a legal name change. You can generally only change minor errors on a birth certificate, such as a spelling or other administrative error. Additionally, some states will now allow a person to change their gender on a birth certificate in certain situations.

What are Potential Obstacles to Changing My Name?

Potential Obstacles to Changing My Name: Interested Parties

As noted above, you need to provide notice to any party that may have an interest in your name change. This is generally not an issue when you change your name as an adult. It is usually only when trying to change your child’s name. In this instance, interested parties can include the non-custodial or custodial parent of a minor child (whether you are married to them or divorced), your spouse, grandparents and/or guardians.

If the judge rules that anyone is an interested party, you will probably be required to obtain an affidavit of consent from them for the name change to be granted. If there is no consent, a hearing will be held and you will need to provide all interested parties with notice of the hearing or an order for the individual to show cause to the court.

The judge will decide at the hearing whether the interested party has a right to stop you from changing the name. If the interested party fails to show up, the judge will most likely automatically find no cause and grant your petition for the name change.

Lastly, if you cannot locate any potentially interested parties, you will most likely need to file an affidavit of diligent search with the court, which is a formal statement declaring that you made your best reasonable efforts to locate an interested party without success.

Potential Obstacles to Changing My Name: Restrictions

There are certain situations where you will be prohibited from changing your name. A major reason includes fraud. If you are trying to avoid getting arrested or other legal consequences, changing your name is illegal and will not be allowed. You can face criminal charges for this.

You also cannot change your name to infringe on another person’s rights. For example, changing your name to John Smith so you can assume John Smith’s identity and receive benefits, use their social security number or open credit lines under this name is illegal. You can also face criminal charges for this.

You also will be prohibited from changing your name if you wish to change it to a racial slur, to include fighting words or to something confusing. Confusing name change requests could include attempting to change your name to a symbol (like !, *, ~ or $).

Do I Need to Hire an Attorney to Change My Name as an Adult?

While you do not need an attorney to legally changing your name, consulting with a local family law attorney regarding any significant legal matter, such as a name change, is always a wise choice. An experienced attorney can explain the impact of changing your name, make sure your request is legal, identify and contact any potentially interest parties and help you fill out all the necessary forms to legally complete your name change.