How to Legally Change Your Name

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

There are a number of reasons an individual may wish to change his or her name. Doing so is fairly simple and straightforward depending upon the circumstances. In most instances, a name change is only a matter of having the right documentation on hand.

Name Changes After Marriage

In the United States, more than 80 percent of married women choose to take the last name of their husband. Though most do so as soon after the wedding as they reasonably can, there are many who wait months or even years to make this decision. Regardless of the timing, in most states, women simply need to present a copy of their birth certificate, marriage license, and a picture I.D. to their local Social Security Administration office along with a completed application for a new Social Security card.

Name Changes Due to Divorce

A name change after a divorce is often even less complicated. The judge finalizing the divorce can include language on the divorce decree that restores the female’s name. She will then use that decree to obtain a new Social Security card and identification in her previous name.

Other Reasons for a Name Change

Both men and women may wish to change their names for a host of reasons. Sometimes they want to appear more professional or wish to distance themselves from difficult pasts. They may simply dislike their birth name or wish to legally change the spelling. No matter what the purpose for the name change may be, the path to legally change the name is generally the same. Laws differ from state to state, but most people who wish to change their names must start with filing a petition for change of name. This can be found through the state court. After the paperwork is completed, it is a good idea to have an attorney look over the paperwork to make sure it is filled out properly. Individuals should then make copies of their paperwork before submitting to the court clerk. A small fee is usually assessed at this time, which varies depending on location. Some areas will then require that the individual publicize their name change request in a local newspaper before a court hearing is scheduled. The judge will then decide if the name change is granted.

Helpful Tips

– Name changes are not granted if the intent to change name is to evade arrest or forgive past debts. Likewise, a name change will not clear one’s credit history.
– Nearly all states have laws against certain types of names. Obscenities, racial slurs, and names using numbers rather than letters are not allowed. Those wishing to change their names to that of a celebrity are usually denied as well.
– Many entities exist that charge exorbitant fees for name changes. In cases of marriage and divorce, one should not need to pay a third party for a legal name change. Always check with a legal counsel before paying an unknown business for name change procedures.

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