Get a Different Name Day: Why and How to Do It

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on February 13, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's Get a Different Name Day! As Juliet famously proclaimed to Romeo, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But what if you feel otherwise and believe names carry special significance?

You certainly wouldn't be alone. People change their names for a variety of reasons. And the legal process for doing so may be easier than you think.

Here are a few reasons why people change their names and how you can change yours:

Why People Change Their Names

People change their names for a wide variety of reasons, including:

  • Marriage and divorce. It's common for one spouse to adopt the other spouse's name after marriage. On the flipside, when things go south, ex-spouses change their names back after divorce. It's also not unheard of for custodial parents to change their kids' last names after a divorce, particularly after a contentious one.
  • Personal preference. If your parents bestowed upon you a name that's a little too special for your liking -- like, ahem, North West -- you can change it. But you generally must wait until you're 18 or get emancipated.
  • Publicity. Folks with a flair for eccentricity might change their names as a publicity stunt. For example, cannabis connoisseur Ed Forchion tried to change his name to "" Unfortunately for Forchion, your name change may not pan out if it risks creating unnecessary confusion or condoning illegal activity.
  • Notoriety. Some people with notorious last names, including members of the Sandusky and Madoff clans, have sought to change their names to get a fresh start and to distance themselves from negative associations.
  • Personal or political reasons. Sometimes a name change can carry personal, professional, or political significance. For example, San Francisco 49ers' safety Donte Whitner plans to change his name to "Hitner" for his fans (but it's been delayed until he can be present in court, ESPN reports). New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio changed his name twice to honor his mother's side of the family.

How People Change Their Names

The most important thing to do to legally change your name is to just start using your new name. Use it on forms and with friends, family, employers, and schools.

Though most states don't require court proceedings to make name changes official, it can be helpful. Common forms include a petition to legally change your name, an order to show cause for the legal change, and a final decree.

Not all name changes will be approved, however. For example, you can't change your name to hide from creditors or police, and you can't take another person's name to create confusion. Courts also won't approve name changes deemed obscene or offensive.

Since every state varies on their name change rules, you may want to consult an experienced family law attorney on your state's requirements.

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