How to Legally Change Your Name

By Robyn Lynne Schechter
a court, your new name, your legal documents

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A court order is not technically needed to change your name, as mere use is enough. However, many government offices, financial institutions and creditors require a court order before they will change the titling on an account. Having a name change approved by a court is a relatively simple procedure that can be handled without the assistance of an attorney.

Choose a new name. In general, courts are liberal in granting a petitioner's requested name change. However, some guidelines must be followed when choosing a new name. Your selection may not interfere with the name and likeness of someone else. For example, a request to use the name Barack Obama would be denied. Names cannot be confusing like numbers or punctuation marks, contain racial slurs or fighting words, or be chosen for a fraudulent purpose, such as to evade your creditors.

Petition the court for a name change by submitting a written application. In the petition, state your current name, place of birth and residence, as well as the name you would like to adopt and the reason why you are seeking to change your name. Reasons may range from professional to marital status change or personal preference. The petition must be signed, dated and filed with the clerk of the court. Contact the clerk's office to determine the amount of the filing fee. In some states, such as California, the law requires the request be published in a local newspaper for a certain period of time to give community members the right to object, though such objections are rare.

Attend the hearing. After you have filed your petition with the court, the clerk will assign you a hearing date. The hearing should not cause you anxiety, as these are merely routine and administrative in nature unless the judge sees a problem with your proposed name or reason given. The judge will review the petition with you and decide to grant or deny an order regarding your new name.

Advise governmental, financial and business institutions of your new name. Once your name change is granted, it your moral and legal responsibility to inform your creditors and account holders of your new name. A name change does not allow you to evade creditors under your former name or to discharge obligations, such as property taxes. A short letter will do the trick; simply inform the addressee of your new name and enclose a copy of the court order approving the name change.

About the Author

Robyn Lynne Schechter is a freelance writer currently living in Los Angeles, Calif. She has been an online contributor since 2007 on brandchannel.com, covering branding developments in the fashion, music, sports and entertainment industries. Schechter graduated from Hood College with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and is also a graduate of Albany Law School.