How to Change Your Name

How to Change Your Name

by Michelle Fabio, Esq., September 2014

Whether you simply don’t like your birth name or you want to change your name after marriage, divorce, or gender change, the process of changing your name is generally straightforward. It does differ, however, depending on your reason for wanting a new name as well your state’s laws.

What follows are some basic considerations regarding how to change your name.

Change Name Because of Personal Preference

If you want to change your name for reasons other than those related to marriage or divorce, the legal name change process usually involves first filing a petition with the court. You may also have to attend a hearing and show cause for your name change request. If your petition is granted, the court will enter a decree with your new name.

Know, however, that there may be some restrictions on what you can change your name to, including but not limited to the following:

  • Changing your name with fraudulent intent, such as to avoid creditors or arrest

  • Changing to a famous person's name with the intent to mislead

  • Changing your name to a confusing one as defined by state law, which may include names with numbers, for example

  • Changing your name to include a racial slur or “fighting words” (threatening, obscene and/or inciting violence, as defined by state law).

Change Name After Marriage

If you have gotten married and would like to change your last name, the process is a bit different than if you simply want a new name.

First, you do not generally need to file a petition with the court. Instead, you must submit a certified copy of your marriage certificate (in long form if available) to the Social Security Administration (SSA) along with Form SS-5, available on the SSA’s website, and other proof of your identity and citizenship or lawful immigration status (such as passport or driver’s license).

You may then proceed to change your name on other documents such as your driver’s license with the Department of Motor Vehicles and your passport with the U.S. Department of State.

Note that some states have different provisions for anyone other than a woman taking her husband’s surname after marriage (including hyphenating), and in those cases, individuals often have to follow the procedure outlined above for name change because of personal preference.

Change Name After Divorce

If you would like to reclaim your maiden name after divorce, in most states you can request this during divorce proceedings; the judge can then enter an order restoring your former name. You may need a copy of the order as proof of the change to then revert to your former name elsewhere such as on your social security card and driver’s license.

If your divorce is already final and didn’t include such an order, it may be possible to have the original order amended to reflect your desire to change your name back, though this varies by state. In this case, you would simply file a petition with the court to modify your divorce decree.

If the order can’t be changed or if you don’t want to go through that process, you may be required to file a petition for name change, but keep in mind that many states allow you to simply begin using your former name again so long as you do so consistently. You may then be able to request that it be changed on all your identification and personal records.

You should always keep proof of your original name (such as a birth certificate) in case you run into any difficulties with using it again.

Change Name After Gender Change

Most states currently do not have special provisions for those wishing to change names after a gender change, so this situation would usually fall under the first scenario above.

Online Name Changes

Note that it is often possible to download your state’s name change forms online, though you usually have to print them out and file them in person at the local courthouse.

Final Steps in Changing Your Name

Once you have changed your name legally, remember that you should also change your name on bank and other financial accounts, credit cards, utility bills, and other personal records as well.

Changing your name for personal reasons? Create county-specific legal name change documents online to file at your local courthouse.