5 Steps to Legally Change Your Name

Tips & how-to

When you get tired of your hairstyle, you can change it, so why not do the same with your name? You can pick practically anything you want, as Trout Fishing in America, James T. Kirk and the recently renamed Sexy have done. But before you go to the courthouse, find out how the process works and what restrictions you face when you go to change your name.

How to Change Your Name Through the Court System

The process for changing one’s name for marriage, divorce, and adoption is straightforward. The process to change your name for any other reason is a little more convoluted. Laws vary widely from state to state, so find out the law in your state before you begin the process.

1. Petition the court. Fill out your state’s form to petition the court. You can get it from your courthouse or online.

Some groups of people must bring additional documentation along with their petition. Immigrants must notify Citizenship and Immigration Services, ex-convicts and parolees must notify the state or their parole officer, and attorneys must notify the state bar. Some states have restrictions on when ex-convicts may petition to have their name changed.

2. Give public notice if required by your state. Some states, like South Dakota, Vermont, and Illinois, require a petitioner to publish their intent to change their name once a week for three or four consecutive weeks in a local newspaper before a hearing is held. Many states require no public notice at all. Giving notice publicly allows someone to challenge your petition if, for example, you owe them money.

3. Schedule a hearing – or not. Once you file your petition, many states will then set a court date for a hearing but some, like Alabama, can approve the petition without a hearing.

4. At the hearing, you may have to explain why you want to change your name. Also, most states allow anyone to object to a petition for name change, and valid reasons will be taken into account by the court.

If the judge denies your petition, you can try again. If the judge approves your petition, you’ll receive a Decree, a Judgment, or an Order declaring that your new name has been approved and stating the date you may begin to use it.

5. Change your name on official documents and accounts. Once you’ve got your Order, change your name with the Social Security Administration and then with your local DMV to get your new name on your driver’s license. Once you have these, change your name on bank accounts, credit cards, and other accounts. Some institutions, like banks, will likely want to see a notarized copy of your court order.

Restrictions On New Names

The majority of name changes are approved, but petitions can be denied for many reasons. A new name many not be chosen with the intent to

  • Avoid legal obligations,
  • Avoid debt and other financial obligations,
  • Defraud, or
  • Impersonate someone else.

New names also cannot

  • Contain any numbers or symbols except for Roman numerals,
  • Infringe on a trademark, or
  • Be obscene.

The decision ultimately comes down to the judge, who can deny a petition if the name change seems frivolous, fraudulent, or immoral.