What's In a Name? How to Legally Change Your Name

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 24, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Just got married? Just got un-married? Just can't stand your given name? It is possible to change your legal name and it is not too difficult, although persistence will be required. Getting the court order and forms to record your name change is fairly simple. What might take some time and effort is ensuring all the necessary agencies, departments and record holders are notified and the all the forms they may require have been filled out. Then, you need to tell your family.

In all seriousness, a name change can be a fairly straightforward process. If you marry and wish to take your spouse's name, you only need to show a certified copy of your marriage certificate to change your identification papers such as driver's license, passport or Social Security card. If you are stepping outside the traditional boundaries and wish to hyphenate or combine names with your spouse, a court ordered name change may be necessary.

If you are a woman divorcing, who wishes to return to her maiden name, you may request an formal order from the judge handling your divorce to restore your original name. If you obtain certified copies of the order, that is all you will need to show to record agencies as proof of your new name. The clerk of the court may be able to help you obtain the copies you need.

If you are just unhappy with your birth name and want to change it, there are a few fairly reasonable restrictions. A new name cannot be chosen with the intent to defraud, that will interfere with the rights of others (such as a celebrity name), that is a racial slur, a fighting word, or that would be intentionally confusing. What would be confusing? How about the name "7," although "Seven" might well be approved.

Some states allow individuals to change their name essentially by use, just by informing all of the intended name and procuring the appropriate identification. However, in a post-9/11 world, even if your state allows this common law manner of name change, a court document will no doubt smooth the way with government agencies such as the IRS, DMV, Social Security Administration, etc. Be sure to check out this full list of the agencies, individuals and institutions that will need to be informed of a name change.

To obtain a court ordered name change, you must fill out certain forms and file them with the appropriate court in your area.

Last of all, be persistent. Not all businesses, agencies or even your Aunt Ermintrude (whom you were originally named after) will necessarily make it easy for you to make a new start with a new name. But, if it is important to you and you have completed all the legal steps, you will succeed. Even if Aunt Ermintrude cuts you out of her will. But that's another blog post.

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