How to File a Legal Name Change

The most common times that a person may desire to change a last name or “surname” occurs when they get married, divorced, or when a child is adopted. Other circumstances occur when a person does not like the name they were given at birth and desires to make a change. This article will provide information about the procedures and restrictions required in order to change your name.

Q: Can I change my birth name to any name I want?

A: Yes, within certain restrictions such as the following:

  • Changing your name with the fraudulent intent to avoid bankruptcy, lawsuits, other debts or to escape liability for a crime
  • Choosing a name that violates a trademark
  • Have numbers or symbols in your new name
  • Changing your name to include obscene words, racial slurs or one that would incite violence in others
  • Choosing a name that infringes on another person’s civil rights by intending personal gain, e.g. a new name that is the same as someone famous

Q: What do I need to do to start using my new name?

A: In some states like California which follows common law, the “open and notorious” use of a name is sufficient to allow one to use an assumed name. In some jurisdictions, individuals can also register the use of a trade name that is different and distinct from their legal name and is registered with the county clerk, secretary of state, or other similar government authority. In order to satisfy requirements in virtually all states, it is best to first register your new name with the social security office followed by registration with the department of motor vehicles to reflect the new name on your driver’s license. Common steps of implementing a name change are:

  • Informing others generally that you have changed your name
  • Contacting government agencies and businesses to inform them of your name change and request that records be updated to reflect the change
  • Informing family and friends of your name change and that you want them to use it in the future.
  • Using your new name at work or school
  • Introduce yourself to new people using your new name
  • You may need to file a name change form with your local government

To legally change your name without a marriage license or divorce certificate, government agencies usually require a copy of a court order that shows you have legally changed your name before they will change the name on their records. This is the reason why it is easier for you to get your social security card first, then your driver’s license. Government agencies will inform you of what other documentation they may need to change your name on their records and chances are your social security card and driver’s license will be sufficient.

In order to get your name changed on your social security card, take your marriage license, divorce decree or court order to the social security office near you to have your name changed first before you go to the DMV. If your social security number doesn’t match your new name when you apply for a new driver’s license, they won’t issue one.

Q: Can I change my name if my marriage is common law?

A: Under the common law rule, anyone can change their name. All one needs to do is use the new name consistently in an “open and notorious” fashion without fraud and interference of the rights of others. As such, you can start using your new name without needing to go to court to effectuate a change. Note that name changes not due to marriage means there is no issuance of a marriage certificate, which is an official government document and accepted by common establishments. Banks, title companies, government agencies and other private companies may not accept your new name unless you have an official court order.

Q: What institutions do I need to notify of my name change?

A: After making a name change, you will want to contact all of the following institutions as applicable:

  • Employers
  • Schools
  • Post office
  • 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
  • Criminal Justice System if you are a lawyer or ex-con
  • Immigration and Naturalization if you are an alien

Any wills, codicils, powers of attorney, living wills or other estate planning documents that you have should be replaced with new documents done in your new name. Changing these documents to your new name will prevent future confusion.

Q: When I get married or divorced, do I have to go to court to change my name?

A: No – unless you or your new spouse want to change your name to one that is entirely new. In such a case, you would have to go to court to legally change your name for government agencies. If you are divorced and want to change it back to your maiden name, or you are changing it to your new name after you get married, just start using that name. All you will need as proof of your new name is your marriage certificate or divorce decree.

Q: My new name is not being accepted, what should I do?

A: You have a constitutional right to change your name and knowing your state laws in order to determine procedure will help you assert your rights. Contact the main office of a government agency if the local office is giving you trouble. Typically you can show documents that have both your old and new names such as a recently obtained passport. Your new name may appear with an “AKA” (also known as). You can also obtain a court order as proof that you have a new name.

Q: Can a minor change their name?

A: Yes, but a court order is needed and it should be:

  • submitted by an adult giving parental consent and stating the reason for the name change
  • for a significant reason such as an adoption or name change to that of a step parent with the consent of both parents

Changing a minor’s name is not equal to a legal adoption and can not relieve the parent of responsibility to the minor. For example, when a minor child changes his name to that of his step father, the biological father is still responsible to pay child support. In the case of an adoption, the original birth certificate can sometimes be changed as well.

Q: Can a legal alien change their name?

A: Yes, but they must obtain a federal court order to change their name after they become a United States citizen.

Michael M Wechsler, Esq.

Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com and former SVP of Zedge.net. He has published hundreds of articles online covering a variety of legal topics and regularly provides free legal advice at The Law Forums.

Michael M Wechsler, Esq. – has written posts on TheLaw.com Guide.


Comments

  1. Tajiri says

    I Have been using an alias name for a number of years because of some family issues and I wanted to change my name from that of which my father named me because of a dispute in our relationship, so I changed my name and most of my documents show the assumed name, but has not been legally filed withe courts. On my Social Security Card, it reflects my changed name, but when I went to the drivers license office they told me that I had to have a birth certificate to reflect it also in order for them to change it to my new name.
    Can you please guide me in the proper direction as to what I need to do to make this name legal or is it already a legal part of me.
    I use that name for everything and all of my bills.
    So what do I do next please.
    Thanking you in advance,
    Tajiri

  2. eleanya kaufman says

    when a child is adopted and their adopted parents change their first and middle name how can they change it back to their given birth name

  3. Brian McAnany says

    My son wants to use my last name. I am happy with that and his mother is ok. Once my name is added to the birth certificate and his name is changed on it as well, does that constitute a legal name change?

  4. admin says

    Take a look at our name change FAQ here in the legal guides section. It will provide you with all the information you need for name changes. Good luck!

  5. Christina says

    I was legally married in Hawaii 01-31-08 but did not change my name on the marriage certificate since I did not want my family to know of the marriage. I have since been “married” in front of my family and now want to use my husband’s last name. Also, I now live in Colorado, not Hawaii. What forms do I need to fill out and where can I procure these documents?

  6. caroline says

    I have a child whose father was an illegal alien at the time of birth. He has since been deported to mexico and I have not had contact with him in months. I was wondering how I would go about changing my daughters last name to my last name.

  7. Rosa says

    I have a Divorce Judgment dated September 18, 1997, that includes my name change back to my maiden name. However, I didn’t both to do that 12 years ago. However, I’ve been considering going through the process now. Can I still do so 12 years later without issue? Thanks for your help!

  8. Scott says

    I came out to my parents at 18. My mother didn’t care, they got divorsed soon after that. My father has tried to ruin my lfe, he also has been arrested for fraud, has been a violent drunk, and is an all around jerk. I’ve dropped off his last name for over a decade now. I would love to make it legal, just because I hate to see his last name when I use my debit card, DL, or deal with the gov. So I’m real happy to have found this site. I guess I have to go to library & print out a name change form.

  9. says

    My Birth Certificate last name does not match my social security card, drivers license, marriage certificate. My step father never legally adopted me, but I took on his last name. He is now dead. What do I need to do to legally change my last name?

  10. kaylie says

    I was adopted by my father when I was 7 years old, in 1993. At the age of 13 my parents divorced. I was 16 when I received my license and the only birth certificate I could find was that of my birth name. With my father not being in the picture, I decided just to stick with the name I was born with and made sure that everyone knew of my alias. I now have everything in my birth name and nothing in my adopted name and want to know how I may get my social security and birth certificate in this name.

  11. Hallie says

    i would like to change my name in order to get away from my family, what documents can i have changed? i also plan on getting married in the near future and moving out of state will i be able to do that with the documents that can be changed ?

  12. khristian dove burkhart says

    I am a minor and want to change me full name, keeping my last name the same. I only want to do this because I am not happy with my birthname and would love to change it. If my parents or all right with the change, which they are, can I do it without any complication? Please email back I would love to know.

    - Khristian

  13. Michelle says

    I went through naturalization. During my interview the interviewer asked me if I wanted to change my name. I told him I’m getting married in April 2010, but we dont have the marriage papers yet, and I asked him if I should change my last name into my fiance’s last name at the time of the interview, so I did. Now, i have my Naturalization certificate under my new last name, but my marital status in it is Single. I am now torn between my two single name. We are not married yet but I have his last name already. PLEASE HELP.

  14. LaTonya says

    i was in a marriage fraud situation where i married 3 people. i was charged with marriage fraud, i was given 3 yrs probation, which i served and completed. on one of the marriages was in my home town the others was a couple of miles away from one another. One of the dudes i married i went to the social sec. place to get his last name on there… I was wondering how can i go about to get my last name back?

  15. says

    I was divorced 15 years aog. I did not request to change back to my maiden name back then and now I want to go back to my maiden name. Do I have to go through the the court to have it changed now?

  16. Beth says

    Five years ago, after fleeing a bad marriage, I changed my middle name (not legally), and started using that name in an effort to hide from my ex-husband. Everyone I know calls me by my “new name” including my siblings. How do i go about getting this change made legal? Will my ex-husband be notified some way of this name change? I’m terrified of him, even though he’s a “nice guy” according the the authorities.

  17. Dakota says

    I was adopted at birth and my A.parents are, for all intents and purposes my parents. They legally had my last name changed to theirs. I had a falling out at 17 and began thinking about taking on my biological last name. Recently, I needed to retrieve a copy of my birth certificate. Upon doing so my Last Name was that of my biological family. Now I’m about to file for domestic partnership, and one of the options is using the last name given to me at birth. My partner and I have no connection to the last names we have (both coming from disreputable families) and I’m wondering if I need to change my last name with Social Security and DMV before using it for our partnership.
    Any help would be appreciated, as there are a couple issues going on that render finding answers difficult.

  18. Veeshaan Shimamuura says

    I graduated from high school 4 years ago under RaShawn Tyron Marshall,the original name given to me by birth and which I hated so much,though I had changed it to Veeshaan Veezakisuke Kuuwashima Shiranuuchi Shimamuura,which is the current name that I have now,the next year after,legally. In 2008,I returned to the campus of Selma High (the school I graduated from) notified the guidance counselor about my name change;I showed her the court order,my renewed driver’s license both of which are on file,though the only thing missing was the renewed birth certificate. It took me a while or so to get it and when I did,I returned there to submit it though the new registrar refused to take it and said that I could’ve changed my name on my records before I graduated. I even brought the matter up to the School Board and they told me they couldn’t go back and amend my records (though they could) and that I can’t fight them;I posted an article in the paper based on my situation prior to that. Does anyone have any advice on this matter?

  19. says

    Great list you compiled about who to notify when you make a name change. One suggested addition is your CPA so that they can prepare your tax documents properly.

  20. says

    I was adopted by my step father at the age of 6. We no longer have a relationship. The adoption took place in New York. I now currently reside in Florida. Where would I go to start the process of switching back to the name I was born with??

  21. says

    I am a 16 year old who is at the moment not staying at home. I would like to change my first name. I have no idea how to.

  22. TheLaw Staff says

    For most of you who want to change your name, most of the information is in this article! If you have other specific questions after reading it, we are glad to help you with the answers!

  23. says

    I used the name Terry at work, in bank accounts and in purchase of my house, but my Naturalization certificate is in a different name. I lost my social security card but was denied for a replacement card because of the name difference on the driver’s licence. I went to DMV to change my name on the driver’s licence to match with the Social Security record and got a replacement. However, it is now totally different from the name I used at work, on my medical record, etc. How do I legally change my name from the Naturalization Certificate to the one I use at my work, with the finance instition, etc? I live in California. Help

  24. Ali says

    I’m getting married (and taking his name) and after the wedding, I am moving to the state he lives in. Do I need to change my Oregon driver’s license (the state I live in) and then get a driver’s license in the other state (Washington), or can I just take my Oregon license with my maiden name and the wedding certificate to the Washington DMV?

  25. Nickiherman37 says

    My brother and I started using our stepfathers last name when we were small children thanks to them making it so. He never legally adopted us and now 33 years later my brother has walked into a nightmare. He scheduled a trip over seas with his girlfriend and he cannot get a passport because he has a birth certificate that is different than his license and other documentation. I on the other hand use my married name because it’s legal, he is suppose to leave in 60 days for this trip and has no passport yet, he is so upset about what to do, does anyone have any advice, a legal name change takes 30 days and a passport takes 4 weeks or longer!

  26. says

    It’s a rather amazing story, probably indicative of the times growing up where these formalities could go undiscovered for many years. Have you contacted the US Department of State? Take a look at the “expedited service” for passports and those traveling within 14 days:  http://travel.state.gov/passport/processing/processing_1740.html . You will want to speak to someone and he will likely want/need to go into his local office as opposed to doing it by mail. Don’t get upset – determine your options as quickly as possible. Best of luck with this!