Your given name is selected by your parents but reflects on the person who bears it: you. All states recognize the right of an individual to change her name for almost any reason, yet most seek to eliminate applicants with fraudulent motives or those whose proposed new names could cause problems for others. A name change hearing in civil court is the judge's opportunity to weigh these factors by asking questions directly of the name-change applicant.
The process of altering your name legally begins with an application or petition. State rules and procedures regarding name changes differ somewhat, but most require some explanation of your motive for the name change, as well as a description of any criminal record you might have. Often the name change petition must be published in a newspaper or otherwise made known to the public so interested parties receive notice. A court hearing is the final step in the name-change process.
When you file a petition or application to change your name, the court clerk assigns you a hearing date and time. You must appear in court on that date and time to answer the judge's questions about your name change. When you provide public notice of your request for a name change, you also give notice of the date and time of the hearing so that anyone objecting to the change can appear and offer testimony.
At the name-change hearing, the court is likely to ask you questions to make sure your name change is appropriate and consistent with policy in your state. No two states have identical name change statutes, but many jurisdictions put the same general restrictions on name changes. No name change is permitted if the court finds that the applicant's purpose is to defraud creditors or commit crime, and evidence of past criminal convictions will weigh against an applicant. If you have a criminal record, the court may ask questions at the hearing to determine your true intent. Use of celebrity names are also restricted. For example, if you seek to change your name to Michelle Obama or Elvis Presley, you will need to offer convincing personal reasons unrelated to the celebrity.
The name change hearing is an opportunity for people objecting to the change to present their positions to the court. The vast majority of name change hearings pass without any objections whatsoever, but occasionally problems arise. For example, if you are divorced and seeking to change the last name of your minor child to your own or that of a new stepparent, your ex-spouse may well contest the action. Likewise, if you ask the court to allow you to assume the last name of an ex-spouse or the father of your children after a split-up, that person may appear and object. The court will hear the objections and all other testimony before it makes its ruling. Sometimes the judge won't decide whether to grant your name change during the hearing but subsequently mails the decision and order.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.