How to legally change your name: Step by step guide

There are different situations in which an individual would want to change their name. Although the first that come to mind may be marriage or divorce, there are others, as well.

Perhaps the best advice would be to approach the decision more like a gradual process than a goal to be achieved in one go.

Regardless of your reasons, in order for a name change to be valid, it must be accompanied by a legal procedure. Once you begin to consider changing your name, questions such as “how am I going to change my name on my birth certificate?” along with many others, are likely to come up.

Read on to find all the answers to your most pressing questions about changing your name. In this guide, you will also find step by step instructions, and learn what you will need to consider beforehand, as well as the institutions you will need to notify once you change your name.

Common Reasons to Change Your Name

Adopting a new name, different from your birth name, often coincides with a major life change such as marriage, divorce, adoption, or the desire to align with a person’s gender identity. In other cases, an individual may choose to do so simply because they dislike their given name.

Marriage

In most states, men and women alike, can legally change their last name after marriage. Some women choose to take on their husband’s last name, while some men wish to take on their wife’s last name. Other couples choose to hyphenate their two surnames, or create a new combination of their surnames.

When changing your name after marriage, you will need to consider these key points:

  • Name change laws vary by jurisdiction, so check which rules and regulations apply to your place of residence
  • A legal name change after marriage can be accomplished without court involvement, just by filing the necessary forms
  • You will need to present your marriage certificate in multiple government institutions, so make sure to have multiple certified copies
  • Your credit history is tied to your old name, so make sure to inquire about how to preserve your good credit
  • It may take weeks to get your name changed on your passport, so if you are traveling abroad, for your honeymoon, for instance, plan accordingly

Divorce

If you would like to change your name back to your maiden name after divorce, you would have to ask the judge to restore your former name during the divorce proceedings so that your name change appears on your Decree of Dissolution.

When going back to your former name after a divorce, make sure to consider the following:

The Decree of Dissolution will be your most important document to change your name with other institutions where you were listed by your married name. Changing your name after your divorce is final —as opposed to requesting it along with your divorce— will require an additional court order, filling out some forms, presenting criminal record information and paying for processing fees. This simple procedure, however, usually does not require a lawyer.

Adoption

Some parents choose to change their child’s name after adoption, if this is your scenario, you will need to know the following:

  • The original birth certificate will include the place and time of birth, the baby’s length and weight, and the biological parents’ names.
  • After the adoption application is approved by the judge and the process is finalized, the state will issue a new birth certificate.
  • The new amended birth certificate will be issued replacing the biological parents’ names with the names of the adoptive parents. The amended birth certificate will also include the child’s new name, if their name is being changed.
  • Many states seal the original birth certificate but then grant the adoptee access once they turn 18, while others require a court petition in order to unseal the original document.

Read more: How do i get my original birth certificate if I was adopted?

Gender Identity

Transgender people undergoing gender reassignment surgery may also wish to change their name to one more aligned with their identity. Should this be your case, please remember to take the following into account:

  • Proceed with caution when changing your name with your health insurance company in order to avoid confusion and ensure coverage.
  • The process will require filling out court forms and filing them with the court clerk, after which you will receive a Decree Changing Name from the court.

Read more: Transgender Birth Certificates by state

Things to Consider Before Changing Your Name

There are some key things to know before changing your name, ranging from the paperwork this will involve to the time you will need to invest in order to complete the task across all government institutions. Changing your name starts with the desire to do so and is not fully complete until it is reflected accordingly in all of your documents.

Having your name changed legally is a fairly simple process that usually does not involve a lawyer. However, it does entail multiple steps, sometimes including publishing a notice in a local newspaper, as required in certain states.

The residency requirements for name changes vary from one state to another. Some states require you to have established yourself as a bona fide resident by living there for a certain amount of time.

You can check all the requirements for your place of residence, as well as file the necessary paperwork to change your name by contacting the local county court. Some states require that you file your name change in court, while others do not.

Keep in mind, some names are banned in the US. Check the naming laws for your state before starting

Even in California, where you can technically choose a new name and start using it consistently under the state’s usage method, you might still need a court order to serve as proof of your name change when dealing with banks, the SSA, or the DMV.

Can You Legally Change Your Name to Anything You Want?

Individuals who dislike their birth name may legally change it to another name they are more comfortable with, following a few common sense considerations and exceptions:

  1. You may not change your name for fraudulent or criminal reasons, nor to escape debt, or legal actions against you
  2. You may not take on a celebrity’s name as that could be viewed as misleading
  3. You may not take on a trademarked name, a numeral, a punctuation mark, nor something offensive or obscene as your new name

Step By Step Process to Change Your Name

The process of legally changing your name generally entails the following steps, although these may vary slightly depending on your state of residence:

  1. Petition to change your name by filing the requirements below with the help of your county’s court clerk after making sure all the forms are carefully filled out
  2. Pay the processing fees, as required by the court
  3. Attend the hearing scheduled with the judge or magistrate
  4. The judge or clerk will sign the order and provide you with a certified copy once the hearing is closed
  5. You may now proceed to amend your Vital Records by presenting the certified copy of your Name Change Order

Requirements to change your name legally:

  • Supporting evidence to prove your current legal name, such as your Social Security card, current valid birth certificate, and driver's license or other form of valid photo identification.
  • Your state’s form for a petition to legally change your name
  • A court order to show cause for legally changing your name, and a decree to legally change your name, if applicable
  • An affidavit declaring you are not a convicted felon or currently have any outstanding warrants. Sign the form in the presence of a notary public so that they verify your identity and witness your signature

Who Needs to be Notified after a name change?

Your final step, after changing your name, will be to notify government agencies, businesses, family, and friends of your new name.

Here is a list of the institutions you will need to reach out to, in order to communicate your legal name change:

  • Department of Records or Vital Statistics
  • Social Security Administration
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
  • Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
  • Banks and Other Financial Institutions
  • Creditors and Debtors
  • Telephone and Utility Companies
  • Public Assistance (Welfare) Office
  • Veterans Administration
  • Post office (via change of address form)
  • State Taxing Authority
  • Insurance Agencies
  • Registrar of Voters
  • Passport Office
  • Employers
  • Schools

Documents that need to be updated after a name change

The first question that may cross your mind once your name change is complete is probably how to change your name on your Social Security card, but that is just one of the documents you will need to have updated so that they reflect your new name:

Related: How to correct an error on a Birth Certificate?
Source: Change or correct name on Passport by Travel.State.Gov https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/have-passport/change-correct.html