Legal Name Change: Finally Being Who You Want To Be

How to Change Your Name

You’ve always hated your name. You can’t imagine what possessed your parents to give it to you. You almost cringe every time you hear it. So why not legally change it? Naturally, you can call yourself anything you want to and insist that your family and friends address you by this name only. But that doesn’t legally change your name. The Social Security Administration, your local Department of Motor Vehicles, your bank, your credit card companies and a variety of other businesses and institutions will continue to use your legal name as stated on your birth certificate unless you legally change it.

When you legally change your name, your birth certificate name no longer applies and your new name of your choosing takes its place. Except in cases of marriage or divorce (see below), changing your legal name requires you to go to court and request a legal name change.

Marriage Situations

If you wish to legally change your last name to that of your spouse, this does not require going to court. You simply need to show your marriage certificate, or a certified copy thereof, to the SSA, DMV, etc. and they will change it on their records and issue you a new Social Security card, driver’s license, etc. The same applies to couples who wish to use a hyphenated name honoring both spouses’ last name.

Divorce Situations

If you’re a woman who took your husband’s last name at the time of your marriage, you may wish to reclaim your maiden name if you divorce. If so, request this in your divorce petition. The judge will restore your maiden name as your legal name as part of the divorce decree, and distribution of assets. Then simply show this decree, or a certified copy of it, to the SSA, DMV, etc. that will issue you a new Social Security card, driver’s license, etc. Then you can once again begin legally using your maiden name.

Legal Name Change Process

For all other legal name changes, you need to file a Petition for Change of Name in your local county court. However, requirements vary from state to state. For instance, some states require you to also file an Order to Show Cause for Change of Name form. Some states also require you to “advertise” your new name by placing a notice in your local newspaper.

Whatever your state’s legal requirements, once you comply with them and pay the required court costs, the judge will issue a decree legally changing your name from that on your birth certificate to that of your choice. Usually, this is a straightforward procedure. You may not even have to go to court. However, if the judge refuses to grant your requested change and you want to contest his or her decision, you will need to go to court and argue your position.

Why People Legally Change Their Names

People change their names for all kinds of reasons. Those most given include the following:

  • Disliking their current name.
  • Wanting a more – or less – ethnic name.
  • Wanting a more – or less – religious name.
  • They are transgender and require a new name more suitable to their new gender identity.
  • They are a same-sex couple who want to share the same last name.
  • Wanting to make a political statement.

When Can’t You Change Your Name

For the most part, you can legally change both your first and your last name to anything you wish. However, virtually all states refuse to allow you to legally change your name under the following circumstances:

  • You want to hide from criminal prosecution.
  • To hide from debt or other civil liability.
  • You want to include numerals or symbols in your new name.
  • You want to change your name to that of a famous person.
  • The judge determines that your name choice is obscene, intimidating, offensive or a racial or religious slur.

Things To Consider Before Legally Changing Your Name

Remember that, if granted, your new legal name will be the one you have from now on. Therefore, make sure you have spelled it exactly the way you want it spelled before filing your petition with the court.

If you think you will be traveling internationally in the next few months, you may wish to hold off getting a legal name change until you return from your trip. Why? Because virtually all international travel today, including to Mexico and Canada, requires a passport. Your legal name change requires a new passport, which can take weeks, if not months, to obtain.

If you are undergoing transgender surgery, you may wish to hold off getting a legal name change until after the completion of all your surgeries. Why? Because whatever health care insurance you have may not apply if you jump the gun and legally change your name from male to female or vice versa.

Who To Notify of Your New Name

In addition to notifying the SSA, DMV and Passport Office of your legal name change, you will need to notify quite a few other companies and agencies of your new name, including the following:

  • Employer
  • School if you’re a student
  • Bank
  • Utility companies
  • Phone, cable and internet service providers
  • Credit card companies
  • Auto, home, life and health insurance companies
  • State’s Department of Revenue
  • State’s Department of Vital Statistics
  • County’s Voter Registration Office
  • The Veterans Administration if you are a veteran
  • Your county’s welfare and other offices from which you obtain public assistance

Why You Need a Local Family Law Attorney

Legal name change services are one of the many things that family law attorneys provide for their clients. Given that requirements and prohibitions for this vary from state to state, consulting with a local attorney likely serves your best interests. He or she will know what your state requires and see to it that your paperwork complies in all respects.

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