Applying to change your name is a fairly straightforward process, with rules and procedures set down by state law and local courts. In all states, you will need to provide identification and establish that you are a legal resident; you may not change your name to carry out fraud or elude a criminal investigation. In most cases, you can carry out a name change without the use of an attorney.
Verify the residency requirements in your state. The law will allow you to change your name as long as you have established yourself as a bona fide resident by living there for a minimum length of time -- in Minnesota, for example, for six months. You can check this requirement by contacting the local county court, where you will also file the necessary paperwork. Ask for the clerk's office, or visit the court's information desk. You can also find this information online at the court's website or searching "[your state] name change law."
Gather your Social Security card, current valid birth certificate, and driver's license or other form of valid photo identification. These provide proof of your current legal name. Although not all these documents are necessarily required in every state, it's a good idea to have them ready when you go through this process, in case the court clerk, judge, or magistrate asks to see one or all of them.
Complete a Petition for Change of Name. This is the form that you file with the court clerk that includes all information required by state law. You can find a blank form online from one of numerous websites that provide legal forms, or from the state or county government website. Make sure you have your own state's form. You can download the form and print it out, or fill it out online and then print it. You will need to provide your current and proposed names, your residence address, your Social Security number, and your reason for changing your name. You may also have to sign an affidavit that you are not a convicted felon or currently have any outstanding warrants. Don't sign the form until you bring it to a notary public, who will verify your identity and witness your signature.
Bring the petition and your documents to the clerk of court, and file the paperwork by handing it over along with a filing fee. Every court sets its own fees, although this fairly simple petition should run no more than $100. The clerk will date-stamp the petition and enter it into the public records, and return a copy to you. You may also have to fill out a proposed Order for the judge or magistrate to sign. The clerk will schedule you for a hearing docket, which for this matter may allow you to attend a hearing on the same day.
Attend the hearing, over which a judge or magistrate will preside. The judge may ask you questions about the reason for your name change, and will also ask for any objection to the change by the other parent if you are filing on behalf of a minor. When the hearing is closed, the judge or clerk will sign the Order, and the clerk will provide you with a copy. You can also obtain certified copies of the Order at the clerk's office. You must provide the Order to anyone who needs to have your legal full name on file, as well as the vital statistics department if you wish to obtain an amended birth certificate.
Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.