Name Change

Welcome to the Name Change department of Divorce and FamilyLawService Center. Here you will find information on how to change a name from a legal birth name to a new legal name. We will discuss typical instances in which a name change could occur – from marriage and divorce to other personal reasons for a fresh start. The steps of how to change a name will be laid out and who to notify once the name is legally changed.

What is a legal name?

Your legal name is your identity, given to you at birth by your parents and is stated on your birth certificate.

Why change a name?

Just because a certain name is given at birth doesn’t mean a name can’t change to (almost*) anything as an adult or a minor with parental consent. Common instances when a name change occurs in our culture are:

  • After divorce – Using a maiden name can be a nice jumping off point to a new start.
  • After marriage – Most commonly a woman changing her name to her husband’s surname, also a hyphenated combination of husband’s and wife’s surnames, and even an altogether new name for the family are all options.
  • After adoption – Adoptive parents want the child to have their surname or may even change the first and middle name given at birth.
  • A fresh start – A brand new name change to better suit an indvidual. Everyone has the right to change their name to (almost*) anything they choose.

* Some limitations are: one can’t choose a name that includes numerals or punctuation; one can’t choose a name that would be considered obscene, intimidating, or offensive; one can’t choose a racial slur; one can’t do a name change to escape debt or criminal liability; and one can’t do a name change to commit a crime or with the intention to mislead.

Instances and Process of a Name Change

Name Change After Marriage

When a wife takes her husband’s name after marriage, the common usage of the new name is enough to make it legal because the marriage license is on record. Common usage means simply beginning to use the new name in everyday occurrences, social setting, and signatures, etc.

Name Change After Divorce

After a divorce if a woman wishes to revert to her maiden name, that point can be part of the Divorce Decree in some states. Even if it isn’t part of the decree, it may be amendable after the divorce is final. Obtain certified copies of the order as proof. Read on to learn how to go about a name change after a divorce the same simple, inexpensive way as any individual goes about the process.

Simple Process of a Name Change

For other instances of name change, a court order is a simple, inexpensive process and generally considered a best practice for ease of legally transferring any bank accounts, insurance accounts, and other legally binding documents.

Once the name has been decided, contact the clerk of the court for the county where you live. The clerk can tell you where to file your Petition for Change of Name, where to pay the nominal filing fees, and provide you with the needed forms. Typically the petition is a short one-page form that you complete, sign, and have notarized. The form usually covers these key elements: asks the court to change your name; proof of age and residency requirements; identifies you by your birth name, birth date, and birth place; states your proposed new name; and states that you have met the publication requirements for your state.

Part of the process is to publish a notice about the name change in the newspaper for several weeks. Exceptions to this rule apply to domestic violence victims. Ask the clerk what the rules are in your state and what forms pertain to this part of the process.

A hearing date is set after the forms are filed. Hearings are quick, with the judge reviewing the petition and maybe asking a few questions. There could be little or no wait time for the judges decision and the signed order that legally binds the name change. Get certified copies of the order from the court and you are all set to start using the new name.

Who to notify after a name change?

Notifying the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Social Security Administration that you have changed your name is generally a best practice. In addition, it is also best practice to change any bank accounts, insurance accounts, wills, and any other legally binding documents.