State laws govern legal name changes. You must file a petition to change your name in a civil court that has jurisdiction over your place of residence. Most states require a minimum period of residency; for example, one year is required in West Virginia. Often, you will have to certify that you have not been convicted of a felony. But even if you have a criminal record, you still may be able to change your name, but the process is more complex and will take longer.
Petition and Publication
Procedures for a legal change of name usually involve filing a petition and, in most states, publishing a notice in a local newspaper of your intention. You must certify to the court that you have no criminal record or no record of a felony conviction. If you do, you can still petition for the name change, but the clerk will run a thorough background check, which involves additional time and expense. In some states, like Minnesota, you must serve a copy of the petition on the state, federal or local authority that convicted you.
Once the background check is complete, the clerk will schedule a hearing on your name change petition. Public and private parties have the right to object to your change of name, whether you have a record or not. Anyone who objects can file a written objection or appear at the hearing to offer information and argue against it. If an objection is filed, you must provide a response. The judge will take any objections into consideration, ask the reason for the name change and review your criminal record. You must certify to the judge that the name change is not for the purpose of evading prosecution or to carry out any fraud or other criminal activity.
The judge has the discretion to grant or deny the name change petition. State law will not bar you from changing your name solely because of a criminal record, but the court can deny your petition on several grounds. The judge must weigh the evidence and testimony, and conclude that your name change is not for the purpose of evading arrest, escaping debts or child support, or perpetrating a fraud. A record of identity theft or financial malfeasance often provides sufficient grounds for a denial, which you may appeal.
If the court grants your petition, the judge signs the order approving your new name and the clerk enters it into the public record. A name change will not erase your criminal record; the clerk will submit the name change information to local and national law enforcement. If the court denies your petition, you have the right to file an appeal, to which you must bring additional evidence, or corrections of evidence and testimony, for a different judge to consider.
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.