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How to Legally Change Your Name

Can I change my name to anything I want?

Probably! Everyone has the right to change their name. Typically, you may legally change your name to whatever name you'd like. There are some exceptions, though:

  • You can't change your name just to escape debt liability or to hide from criminal liability.
  • You can't change your name in order to commit a crime.
  • You can't change your name with the intention to mislead. This usually involves taking the name of a famous person. Courts typically do not allow this, unless you have a convincing reason that is not related to the famous person or the use of his or her name.
  • You can't choose a confusing nameone that includes numerals or punctuation. However, some courts have permitted people to spell out the numbers, for example "Seven" instead of "7".
  • You can't choose a name that would intimidate, offend, or be considered obscene.
  • You can't choose a racial slur.

What are the most common reasons people change their names?

Marriage and divorce are easily the most common reasons people change their names. With marriage certificates in hand, many a spouse has gone to a government office to get their name changed. See Changing Your Name after Marriage. If the marriage doesn't work out, divorce decrees are a common route to change back to your maiden name. See Changing Your Name After Divorce.

If you want to change your name after marriage, then your marriage license should suffice to prove your name change. If you want to go back to your former last name after a divorce, then usually mere usage is all that is required. You should check with your local courthouse to be sure.

Is filing my name change in court required?

No, not in most states, but it is helpful. Most states allow you to legally change your name simply through usage. You can choose a name and just start using it in social settings and in your business. This is a completely legal name change. The problems arise when it comes to government and financial agencies. In current times when identity theft, credit card fraud, and even the fear of terrorist spies are rampant, many financial and government agencies may require legal court documents to prove your identity. Furthermore, there are certain forms of identification, such as a social security card, birth certificate card, and passports, which absolutely will require legal name change documents.

Again, since every state varies on their name change rules, be sure to check with your local court clerk on your state's requirements.

What is the process to legally change your name?

The most important thing to do to legally change your name is to start using your new name. Introduce yourself using your new name, fill out forms and applications under your new name, tell all of your family and friends to only refer to you using your new name, and tell your school and/or employer of your new name.

As mentioned, some institutions may require legal documentation of your name change. In most states, it is a rather simple process to change your name through the court system. Most state government websites have forms online that you can print and use. The questions on the forms are very straightforward, and may include your old name, new name, social security number, reason for your name change, and a promise that you are not changing you name to escape debt or criminal liability.

The most commonly required forms include a petition to legally change your name, an order to show cause for legally changing your name, and a decree to legally change your name. Once you have these forms filled out, simply take them to the court clerk and file them along with your state's required filing fees. In most cases, a judge or magistrate will review your forms and grant the name change. Some states require a more formal advertisement of the usage of your new name, which is done simply by posting notice in the local newspaper. Be sure to check the requirements in your state by visiting your state government's website or calling your court clerk.

As mentioned above, most states only require your usage, and do not require a court proceeding to legally change your name. Having the court document that grants you permission to legally change your name, however, will help you when dealing with institutions and companies that do not want to honor your new name.

Who should you notify of your new name?

Be sure to change your name on all of your personal documents, such as wills, deeds, titles, trusts, accounts, and powers of attorney. Changing your name on estate planning documents will make it much less confusing and easier on your heirs in the future. They cannot be disinherited because of a name discrepancy, but they may have to go through more steps in showing your former name and true identity, before they will be awarded their share.

In addition to your friends and family members, here are some of the entities that should be notified once you legally change your name:

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

If any of these entities give you a hard time when you try to tell them about your legal name change, remind them of your right to do so, and offer them a copy of the court order. If necessary, talk to a supervisor. Remember that many financial institutions and creditors will be reluctant for fear of identity theft and fraud. Be patient, and continue enforcing the use of your new name. Eventually, it will catch on permanently.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified family law attorney to make sure
your rights are protected.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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