A legal name change, or the process of changing your name in a court will vary based on the state you live in. Generally the legal name change steps are:
- Draft your legal name change petition and court documents;
- File your documents with the court;
- Notify the public by publishing your name change in a local newspaper;
- Appear in Court;
- Make it official by notifying the SSA, DMV and everyone else.
Select your State for the specific requirements:
After review the summary of the process below, more specific instructions on the process can be found at our Legal Name Change Instructions page.
What is a Legal Name Change?
A legal name change can take many forms, but is basically a document that can be used as evidence that your given birth name has been changed. A marriage license or divorce decree can be used for this purpose, but if you are changing your name or a child’s name for any other reason, you essentially need to obtain an order from your local county court.
Although one may technically legally change his or her name without a court order (under the “common law”), this has become impractical because various governmental and business agencies require proof of a name change in the form of a court order, corrected birth certificate, marriage certificate or divorce decree.
Indeed, courts have actually become stricter of late due to increases in identity theft. Many states now require criminal background checks, finger prints, information concerning child support orders and numerous other requirements to obtain a court-ordered name change.
Can I Really Change My Name Without an Attorney?
Yes. Visit our detailed legal name change instructions page for the specifics for both children and adults (the process can be more complicated for children, especially if both parents do not agree on the name change).
Hundreds of thousands have used our website to help them find the appropriate information to do so. Indeed, a survey conducted by the American Bar Association yielded the following interesting results: “Self-represented persons are more likely to be satisfied with the judicial process than those who are represented by attorneys.” Also, it was reported that “[a]lmost 75% of those who represented themselves in court said they would do it again.” You can read more about the ABA report here.
Now there are certainly situations where you should not represent yourself, including when you believe that someone will contest your name change, you are changing your name because a spouse was abusive, you are changing your child’s name and believe the other parent may object, or you have a prior felony. But if your name change is undisputed and common, obtaining a court order granting your name change should not be a problem if you file the correct legal documents and follow the appropriate steps.
After reviewing the free material on this website, you may decide that you want to use another service to help you through the process, or may seek out an actual attorney for additional counsel. We encourage this, as we mention throughout this website, some situations require the assistance of an attorney.
Select your State for the specific requirements:
This site provides you with more free legal name change information than any other. But it is important that you take notice that this website is not a law firm. Although much of the material has been reviewed and developed by attorneys, WE ARE NOT ATTORNEYS AND NONE OF THE MATERIAL ON THIS WEBSITE IS INTENDED TO REPLACE THE COUNSEL OF AN ATTORNEY.
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.
Name Change Forms
This website contains the general forms that you can use to obtain a name change through court order. The forms do not conform to each state or county’s requirements. They are intended to provide you with a detailed understanding of what to expect and what you will need to accomplish the name change, but they are not tailored to your precise situation.
After reviewing the free forms and information on this website, you may decide that you want to use another service to help you through the process, or may seek out an actual attorney for additional counsel. We encourage this, as we repeatedly mention throughout this website, some situations indeed require the assistance of an attorney. Do not be penny-wise and pound foolish. It is better to spend what you may believe to be too much money now, to avoid being forced to spend much more later.
General Requirements for a Legal Name Change through Court Order
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.
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. It is the same as a “Marriage Name Change” or “Divorce Name Change,” but you will be using your Court Order as your legal proof of name change document in the five steps that follow.
Choose your state here to complete the process: