The complete guide to legally changing your name

Thinking about changing your name? This guide to legally changing your name will help get you started.

by Siege Media, contributor to LegalZoom
updated May 11, 2023 ·  10min read

The process of legally changing your name differs depending on your state's laws and the reason why you want the change.

Hands holding a pen are shown filling out a document on a wooden desk with a laptop in the background.

It's important to be aware of any restrictions your state imposes on the type of name change you seek, to retain proof of your former name, and to ensure that your financial and other records are correct after the change.

Here, we'll break down the general process for obtaining a name change.

How to legally change your name

6 steps to legally changing your name: 1- obtaining proper forms, 2-background check, 3-publishing public notice, 4-attending a hearing, 5-updating official documents, 6-using your new name publicly.

Generally, the six steps for a name change will vary state to state, but the list below is a great place to start. Be sure to check with your local court to obtain all the necessary requirements for a name change in your area. If you need help, a family attorney can prepare your petition and assist you with questions along the way.

1. Obtain and complete required forms

This could include an application, a petition for name change, and other documents to request the change. You may also have to pay a filing fee.

2. Undergo background checks

Depending on the state you live in and the reason for your name change, you may have to complete an FBI background check and have your fingerprints taken. Both of these require a fee as well.

3. Publish a public notice if required

Publishing public notice of a name change may be required by your state. This means publishing your name change in a local newspaper. Sometimes this requirement can be waived, but that decision is up to the discretion of the court. Publishing notice of your name change invites any objections that must be submitted by a deadline set by the court.

4. Attend a name change hearing

Once you've published notice of your name change (if required), you may be required to have a hearing with a judge. The judge will consider your petition and any objections before ruling on your request. If the court approves the change, you should obtain a copy of the court order so that you can use it to begin changing your name on official documents.

5. Update your official documents

After obtaining a court order granting a name change, you should update important identification records, including your driver's license or other state-issued identification, birth certificate, Social Security card, and your passport. If you got married or divorced and your name changed, there is no need to update your birth certificate.

To update your birth certificate, follow these steps:

  • Obtain a copy of your name change order from the court.
  • Obtain a certified copy of your existing birth certificate.
  • Gather additional supporting documents required by your state's Department of Health or Vital Records Office.
  • Complete an application for a revised birth certificate.

Once you have changed your name legally, you should also consider changing your name on:

  • Mortgages/deeds/leases
  • Bank and other financial accounts
  • Credit cards
  • Utility bills
  • Insurance policies
  • Student loans
  • Payroll and retirement plans
  • Voter registration
  • State tax authority (the Internal Revenue Service is notified automatically through the Social Security Administration)
  • Doctor and attorney records
  • Professional licensing boards and associations
  • Magazine subscriptions
  • Other personal records

If you come across any instances where your old name is still in place, you should move to correct those errors.

6. Retain proof of your old name

It's important to retain proof of your former name and to ensure that your financial and other records are correct after the change.

How much does it cost to change a name?

Name changes cost a few hundred dollars, varying based on your filing location.

If you hire an attorney, you'll also pay legal fees. You can also use an online legal service to assist you in completing the name change application. You may also need to account for other fees, such as those relating to:

  • Certified copies of your court order
  • Fingerprint cards, which Texas and some other states use
  • Background checks—in some states
  • Publishing your name change in a local paper—as required in some states
  • Miscellaneous court costs established by your state and county

Why do people change their names?

Marriage and divorce are the most common reasons for people to change their names, but they might change their names if they change their gender identity or want to change their child's name. In some cases you could be required to state your case.

Changing a name after marriage

Although there is no law requiring a name change after getting married, the practice continues to be common in the United States—and not only for women. Men are increasingly taking their wives' last names, and in the case of same-sex marriages, some couples are deciding that having one family surname is beneficial to them, particularly when children are involved.

If you've gotten married and would like to change your last name, you do not generally need to file a petition with the court. Instead, you should submit paperwork to the Social Security Administration, including:

  • Certified copy of your marriage certificate (in long form if available)
  • Form SS-5, available on the SSA website
  • Other proof of your identity and citizenship or lawful immigration status (such as passport or driver's license)

Some states have different name change procedures for anyone except a woman taking her husband's surname after marriage (which includes hyphenating), depending on the circumstances. Accordingly, a formal name change petition may have to be filed with the court in the following circumstances:

  • A man taking his wife's last name
  • A couple choosing a new last name
  • A same-sex partner or nonbinary partner changing their last name

Talking to a family attorney about your state's specific rules for a name change can help you prepare for any contingencies in the future.

Changing a name after divorce

4 reasons to keep the same last name after divorce: keeping consistency for children, not identifying with a former name before marriage, preserving a reputation, and avoiding hassle in general. Illustration shows two blue wedding bands, one breaking in pieces.

If you would like to reclaim your maiden name after divorce, you can request this during divorce proceedings in most states. The judge can then enter an order restoring your former name. You will need a copy of the order as proof of the change to update 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, although this varies by state. In this case, you may need to 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, but only after you've petitioned for an official, documented change with the court.

Changing a child's name

Some states allow you to change a child's name on their birth certificate up to a year after their birth. An adopted child can usually get a new name during adoption proceedings without having to file a separate name change petition.

In all other cases, changing the name of a minor child will require a Petition to be filed with the court.

Whatever the reason for the child's name change, the court typically requires a standard be met that the name change is in the child's best interest.

Changing a name for personal preference

If you want to change your name for reasons other than those described above, the legal name change process usually involves first filing a petition with the court. You may have never identified with your former name and just want a fresh start, for example. 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)

If your name of choice doesn't fall under the above categories, double-checking with an attorney can help you make sure the change is legally valid.

Pros and cons of changing your name

Pros vs. cons of changing your name. Pros include removing an embarrassing name, getting creative and standing out, or matching your spouse's name. Cons include: confusing colleagues, and requiring paperwork and a possible fee and notary.

With any big decision comes a list of pros and cons, and changing your name is no different. Here are some pros and cons of changing your name:

Pro: Remove an embarrassing name

Nobody likes to be teased over a name they didn't choose themselves. Legally changing your name gives you the chance to remove a name you find embarrassing or that you think just doesn't fit you.

Pro: Get creative and stand out from the crowd

Creativity is very personal, and some people can feel limited by the name they're given. Changing your name can allow you to get creative and choose something unique that helps you stand out from the crowd, as long as it isn't a name change that's prohibited by your state.

Pro: Match your spouse's last name

Changing your name to match your spouse's last name is one of the most common reasons that people seek name changes. This can help some couples to feel like a joined family unit and can simplify future instances that require identification, such as jointly filing your taxes.

Con: Pay fees and find a notary

Changing your name legally through the court will likely require a fee and a notary, with some exceptions for name changes due to marriage, divorce, or adoption.

Con: Fill out lots of paperwork

Most likely, you will need to fill out a large amount of paperwork coinciding with your name change. There is paperwork if you need to file with the courts and there is paperwork to change your name on your important documents (such as passports or bank accounts). In all, it can amount to a lot of work.

Con: Confuse others with the change

Putting your personal happiness over the opinions of others can be liberating, and this is true when it comes to changing your name. Explaining your name change can be a hassle, however, and some people find it's not worth the effort of rolling out an announcement to family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.

Changing your name: FAQ

Look below for some frequently asked questions about changing your name.

Q: Is filing my name change in court required?

A: No, but if you want your new name to be legally recognized and updated on official government documents, you will need your name change to be approved by the courts.

Q: Can I change my name to anything I want?

A: While most names are on the table, there are usually restrictions applied to your ability to change your name to whatever you want. For example, you can't change your name to avoid creditors or arrest, to mislead, to confuse, or to offend others. Numbers and special characters are typically not allowed in name changes.

Q: Can I change my name online?

A: It's often possible to download your state's name change forms online, although you usually have to print them out and file them in person at the local courthouse. The process of changing your name usually cannot be done entirely online.

Q: Can I make my ex change their name?

A: You cannot legally force your ex-spouse to change back to their former last name. They have the right to keep your last name.

Why choose LegalZoom?

Both adults and children decide to change their name for a variety of reasons. LegalZoom makes it easy to get court approval of your name change. Once granted, you can use your new name on all government and financial records. Read more.

Ready to start your Name Change? START YOUR NAME CHANGE NOW

About the Author

Siege Media, contributor to LegalZoom

Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.