How to Change Your Name

by Team eLocal
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Reviewed by Carina Jenkins, J.D.

Maybe you're trying to get a fresh start or feel more like yourself. Perhaps your friends all know you by a name that doesn't match the one on your birth certificate. People change their names for many reasons, and you may already know that a new name is the right decision for you.

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The next step is learning how to change your name officially.

How Do You Legally Change Your First Name?

Many people choose to go by nicknames and middle names, and you can introduce yourself by any name you choose. However, you'll need to take additional steps to change your first name legally. In most cases, you'll want to file a name change petition with the court in the state where you live.

Procedures for requesting a name change vary by location. You can usually find information about local requirements on your state's website or at the courthouse. You may need to complete additional steps or submit other documents with your petition. For example, you may need to:

  • Get fingerprinted
  • Obtain a long-form copy of your birth certificate
  • Submit documentation regarding court cases, civil judgments and criminal warrants

Some states require you to run a public notice of your potential name change through a local newspaper advertisement or court bulletin. A judge will consider the petition and determine how to proceed. You may need to attend a court hearing before the court will grant your name change.

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How Do You Legally Change Your Last Name?

There's usually a simplified process if you change your name due to marriage, divorce or naturalization. However, if you're changing your name for any other reason, you'll probably need to file a petition in court. The procedure for changing your last name is usually the same as the procedure for changing your first name.

You can change your first, last or full name, but some legal restrictions exist. You can't change your name to avoid debts, civil liability or criminal charges. And courts may look more closely at these issues if you're changing your last name. Additionally, your new name typically can't:

  • Be misleading or confusing
  • Match the name of a famous person
  • Contain symbols, be unreasonably long or create other practical problems
  • Contain racial slurs, profanity or other offensive content

You may want to consider meeting with a lawyer if you think there may be a problem with your name change.

How Much Does It Cost to Change Your Name?

Filing fees for a name change petition can vary quite a bit by location. In California, filing fees for these petitions are between $435 and $450, while the filing fee in Massachusetts is only $150. You can check online or call your local court to learn more about the filing fees your state requires.

There may also be additional costs involved, including:

  • Fees for a public notice or newspaper advertisement
  • The cost of obtaining an official copy of your birth certificate
  • Fees for background checks and court records
  • Attorney's fees if you need help with the name change

Remember that after a court grants your name change, additional expenses could be associated with obtaining a new driver's license and other legal documents. These costs can also vary by state.

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What Documents Need to Be Updated if You Change Your First or Last Name?

Updating legal and financial documents after a name change can help avoid problems and confusion. You may want to update the following:

  • Driver's license and other ID cards
  • Passport
  • Social security card
  • Personal checks
  • Credit cards
  • Wills and other estate planning documents
  • Utility bills, mortgages or rental agreements
  • Voter registration
  • Birth certificate
  • Insurance policies

You may be unable to use certain documents if you don't update them. For example, you may be unable to use personal checks if they no longer match the name on your driver's license. It's a good idea to notify institutions of your name change, even if you don't need documents immediately. You may want to report your name change to:

  • Banks and creditors
  • The Post Office
  • Your employer
  • Schools
  • State and federal tax authorities
  • Medical providers

Consider keeping a certified copy of the court order changing your name with you in case you need to address a discrepancy.

Do You Need to Legally Change Your Name to Use a Different Name on Documents?

Most U.S. states allow people to change their names by using a new name openly and consistently. This method is sometimes known as a name change through common law.

The United States Supreme Court has recognized the common law method as valid if permitted by the state where the person resides. Some states suggest that people changing their name this way carry a notarized affidavit explaining their name change. This affidavit could be used at state offices or other institutions to obtain identification or other documents.

While most states technically permit a name change without a court order, this usually isn't a practical way to change your name. The federal government, banks and other institutions may not accept a name change without a court order. Agencies concerned about fraud, terrorism or other criminal activities may be especially skeptical of a common-law name change. Ultimately, obtaining a court order is the easiest way to ensure you can use a new name.

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