Legal Name Change Methods
There are two ways to change your name: (1) obtaining a court order, and (2) the “common law” or “usage” method. This website focuses on the first and most practical method—obtaining a legal name change through court order.
The second method, though technically possible, is somewhat impractical. Basically, one can technically just start using a new name (or new spelling of an old name) one day and continue to do so consistently for several years and their name has legally changed. The problems with this are numerous: it can take several years, there is no definite way to demonstrate that the change has taken place, and most government agencies (DMV, Social Security Administration, etc.) are unlikely to recognize it.
General Requirements for a Legal Name Change
To obtain a name change, most states require that you (1) have been a resident of the county where you live for 1 year (some are less); (2) do not intend to deceive or mislead anyone, such as creditors; (3) have reasonable and proper cause (and if sought for a child you must show that it’s in their “best interest”); and (4) that you published notice of the change to the public, oftentimes in a newspaper. This notice must generally be done a few weeks prior to your name-change hearing so that if anyone wanting to object to the name change will be able to attend the hearing.
Additional examples of names that may not be used include famous people’s names as the assumption is that one is attempting to confuse others with the name change. Moreover, if one hopes to adopt an unusual name (e.g., Prince’s symbol), it will be less likely that a court will approve it and increase your need for an attorney’s assistance.
Situations that may require you to obtain a “legal” name
change after a marriage or divorce
Generally, a marriage certificate and divorce decree stating that one is reverting back to their maiden name (or another old name) is sufficient legal proof of a name change. But there are a few common situations that will require you obtain a legal name change through court order even though you have been recently married or divorced.
There are times where a recently married woman changes her name after the marriage to her husbands’ surname, but soon decides that she actually wants to go back to her old name. Such a situation will require a legal name change through court order.
Married couples sometimes seek to create a shared last name (e.g., Sarah Smith and Mike Johnson) may decide to become the Smith-Johnson or invent their own combination name, such as the Smithsons. There are a few states that allow women to take a hyphenation by simply using her birth certificate, but most would require a legal name change for this situation.
If after a divorce, a woman failed to request the name change in the divorce decree, most states will require a modification of the divorce decree, or a legal name change to effect the change.
Name Change Notification
After you have obtained the legal name change, you must notify the appropriate government and private agencies. The court order will act as the “legal proof” needed to get the name recognized. The name change notification process is handled in more detail on a state by state level.