To change your legal name, other than by marriage or divorce, you must file a name change petition in state court. When your petition is granted, you obtain an official name change order from the court, and you can request duplicate name change records from that court at any time.
Name Change Petitions
People change their names for many different reasons, including just disliking their given name. It used to be possible to change your name by usage: use a name long enough and it just becomes your official name. While this is still technically possible in many states, it is no longer practical. In these days of identity theft, most government agencies like Social Security and Homeland Security won't accept anything but a legal name change.
Fortunately for those longing for a new name, it's not difficult for an adult to change her own name legally and officially. You must file a petition asking court approval, and a few general restrictions apply. The reason for your name change cannot be something criminal or illegal, like avoiding taxes or debts. And you may not get far if you select the name of your favorite movie star or political figure.
Some states require that you publish notice of the proposed name change to let creditors know and/or object. But most legitimate name-change petitions are granted by the court without having to jump through too many hoops. When the court case is done, you'll end up with a court decree changing your name.
Read More: How to Publish a Petition for a Name Change
Replacing Legal Name Change Records
You'll need more than one copy of the court decree changing your name, since you'll want to forward one to institutions you deal with to make your name change official in their records. Start with the Department of Motor Vehicles, and get a new license issued. After that, send documentation to Social Security and obtain a card in your new name. After that, you probably won't have much trouble with other businesses.
If you find that you need more official copies of the court decree, contact the court clerk in the court that granted your name change. Bring your case number, and you can obtain as many copies as you like of the decree or any other name change records.
The court charges a fee for the copies – and fees vary among states and courts. Note that you likely need extra certified copies of the decree (often required by institutions with whom you have dealings), and courts usually charge more for certified copies.
- Request more than one copy of the record and store copies separately as back-ups.
- Always take along your identification when requesting official name-change documents. Some court systems will not provide this information unless they can record who requested the document. This procedure helps protect individuals who change their names after domestic violence situations.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. 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 MA and an MFA in English/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.