A legal name change allows you to officially use a new name that is different from the name that you were born with. Every U.S. citizen has a constitutional right under the Fourteenth Amendment to change their name through the legal name change process. However, a legal name change does not give a person a new identity. A person’s debts, legal obligations, and criminal records still remain with that person even after a legal name change.
Any person can request permission from the court to change their name by filing a name change petition and paying any court fees related to the process. A person may also file a petition with the court to change their child’s name. If the court approves your petition, you will be granted a new legal name and you can notify government agencies and your financial institutions that you have legally changed your name.
Typically, the procedure to legally change your name requires that you:
- Be at least 18 years old (in some situations a court may change a child’s name);
- Meet your state’s residency requirements;
- Choose an appropriate name (taking on your spouse’s last name, restoring your maiden name, or a selecting a new name);
- Fill out a petition to legally change your name;
- File your petition with your local civil court (the specific court where you file your petition depends on where you live);
- Pay your petition filing fees with the court;
- Attend your court hearing to see if your petition has been approved by the judge; and
- Notify creditors and governmental agencies of your new legal name.
A name change applicant should provide the court with a valid explanation for wanting to change their name. The court may reject a name change petition if it finds that an applicant’s reason for changing their name is not valid. If the court finds that a person has the intent to commit fraud or harm by concealing their birth identity, or has chosen an inappropriate name, their petition may be denied.
After the court approves your legal name change petition, you can apply for a new driver’s license and social security card. You can also update your credit cards, loan documents, and bank accounts to reflect your new legal name.
Name changes after marriage or divorce are the most common situations when a name is legally changed. A person may legally change their last name to the last name of their spouse when getting married. When getting divorced, a person may make a request to legally restore their former or maiden name.
Child name changes are common in situations that include adoption or remarriage. Typically, a court will consider whether the name change is in the best interests of the child before a legal name change is granted.
A legal name change may also be granted by the court if a person does not like or no longer identifies with their birth name. Some individuals may legally change their name if they have been victims of harassment, stalking, or violence.
There are several situations where a court may not grant your petition to legally change your name. If the court believes that you intend to commit fraud or avoid lawsuits, debtors or other legal obligations by changing your name, it may not approve your request.
A legal name change petition may also be denied if an applicant chooses a name that is not appropriate. Examples of inappropriate names may include names that:
- Interfere with the rights of others;
- May cause confusion (such as choosing the same name as a well-known celebrity or politician);
- Contain profanity, slurs, racial, sexist, homophobic or anti-religious language, numbers, symbols or violent language; and
- May be offensive to modern society.
After you have legally changed your name, make sure you notify the following governmental agencies and organizations of your legal name change:
- Social Security Administration;
- Department of Motor Vehicles;
- The IRS and state tax department;
- The United States Post Office;
- Creditors and debtors (including utility companies, mortgage companies, and cell phone providers);
- Banks and loan holders;
- Car, health, and life insurance companies;
- Employers and schools;
- Emergency contacts; and
- Doctors offices.
If you have a passport, you should also apply for an updated passport with your new legal name.
Ultimately, you may want to consider talking with an attorney for help with a legal name change. While you may be able to change your name on your own, a family lawyer can help make sure that the legal name change procedure is completed properly.