How to legally change your name

Whether it’s due to marriage, divorce or another reason, changing your name may be easier than you think.

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What's Inside

What's Inside

Legally changing your name is a significant decision that often follows marriage, divorce or other major life events. The specific procedures for doing so may vary depending on your jurisdiction. However, most states follow the same basic procedure, and name-change seekers usually have the same questions, regardless of the state in which they reside. 

Read on to learn more about how to legally change your name in the United States and what to look for when you check the specific requirements for a name change in your state.

How long does it take to legally change your name?

How long it takes to legally change your name depends on where you live. For instance, a name change may take as little as two weeks in some states and as long as four months or longer in others.

The steps to legally change your name

Rules differ from state to state, so it’s important to research the name change laws and procedures in your specific jurisdiction. You can usually find this information on the official website of your state government or local court system. You need to follow your jurisdiction’s specific steps; failure to do so may result in your petition being rejected and may lengthen the name-change process.

Typically, most jurisdictions require you to complete the following steps to accomplish a name change.

1. Choose a new name

Before initiating the name change process, decide on the new name you want to adopt. You may wish to take some time to think about this decision, as it’ll become your legal identity. 

2. Be prepared to present the reason for your name change

You may need to provide a valid reason for changing your name. Common reasons for name changes include:

  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Gender transition
  • Personal preference
  • Escaping a history of abuse

Some jurisdictions may require you to provide a written statement explaining your reasons.

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3. Check for name change restrictions

Some states have restrictions on name changes. For example, you may be prohibited from taking on a name that could cause confusion with a public figure. Many states also prohibit changes to names that contain express or implied obscenities.

Furthermore, some states prohibit using symbols like umlauts and accents in names. So if you were planning to change your name to something like Zoë or Sánchez, you may need to leave any accented letters off the paperwork.

Additionally, you’ll likely need to confirm you’re not changing your name for illegal purposes. For instance, states typically bar individuals from changing their names to escape legal liability, like avoiding child support obligations. You also can’t change your name to avoid creditors or commit fraud. Depending on your state, you may need to confirm in writing that you’re not changing your name to avoid civil or criminal liability before a court will approve the change.

4. Obtain and complete the necessary forms

Once you understand the requirements and restrictions in your state, you need the appropriate name change forms. These forms are usually available on your state’s court website or at your local courthouse. Alternatively, you may contact the court clerk’s office for guidance on obtaining the correct forms.

Fill out the name change forms accurately and legibly. The forms typically require personal information, such as your current name, the new name you wish to adopt, contact details and the reason for the name change. Follow the instructions provided and ensure that you provide all the necessary documentation and supporting materials as required by your state.

5. Gather the required documents

To complete your name change, your jurisdiction may require you to provide at least some of the following documents:

  • Identification: You’ll likely need a government-issued photo ID—such as a driver’s license, passport or state ID card—to prove that you are who you say you are.
  • Proof of residence: Some states may require documents showing your current address, like utility bills or a lease agreement.
  • Birth certificate: A certified copy of your birth certificate may be necessary to prove your current name.
  • Marriage certificate: If you’re changing your name due to marriage, in many states, you need a certified copy of your marriage certificate.
  • Divorce decree: If you seek a name change after divorce, you’ll likely need your divorce decree. Check to see if your state has any special requirements about this legal document. In some states, you may need the clerk of court in your county to notarize your divorce decree.
  • Criminal background check: In certain states, you may undergo a criminal background check to ensure you’re not changing your name to escape criminal liability.
  • Fingerprinting: In some jurisdictions, you may need to provide fingerprints to accompany your name change application. You typically need to pay for this yourself.

Some states may require name change forms to be notarized. This involves having a notary public witness you signing the documents and then affix their official seal to confirm their authenticity. Check your state’s requirements to see if notarization is necessary.

6. File the name change petition

Submit the completed name change forms and necessary documents to the appropriate court or government agency. In many cases, name changes are handled by the county court where you reside. Often, submission is made to the clerk of court. Pay any required filing fees, which may vary depending on your location.

7. Publish a notice 

In some states, you may be required to publish a notice of your name change in a local newspaper. Publication requirements notify the public of your intent to change your name and allow any potential objections. Some states may allow electronic publication, so check what’s required in your area and follow the guidelines provided by the court.

Local publications may have a form on their website to help you publish your notice for a small fee. Otherwise, call your local paper and see if they can help.

8. Obtain a court order, if required

A frequent concern for name change candidates is obtaining a name change without going to court. 

In some places, no court intervention is required for a name change as long as the change is due to marriage, divorce or other day-to-day usage of your name.

In other jurisdictions, after submitting your name change petition, you may be required to attend a court hearing to present your name change petition. Ensure you appear at the scheduled time and date. Be prepared to explain your reasons for the name change if the judge asks. 

If the court approves your name change request, you’ll receive a court order or judgment granting the name change, and you should obtain certified copies. You’ll need these certified copies to update your identification documents and records.

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9. Update your identification and records

Various state and national agencies require you to notify them of any name change so they can update their systems and so you can obtain accurate identification cards and documents. This includes:

  • Social Security card: Use your copy of the court order and any other required documentation to request a new Social Security card reflecting your new name.
  • Driver’s license or state ID: Visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office to update your driver’s license or state ID with your new name. Bring your court order, old ID and any other required documents.
  • Passport: If you have a passport, you must apply for a new one with your updated name. Follow the procedures outlined by the U.S. Department of State for name changes on passports.
  • Bank accounts: Contact your bank or financial institutions to update your account information, including checks, debit cards and credit cards.
  • Employer and payroll: Inform your employer of your name change so they can update your payroll and employment records.
  • Credit cards and loans: Contact your credit card companies and lenders to update your personal information on their records.
  • Insurance policies: Notify your insurance providers of your name change, and update your policies accordingly.
  • Medical records: Inform your doctors, dentists and other healthcare providers of your name change to update your medical records.
  • Utility companies: Notify your utility companies, like the electric, water and gas companies, of your name change to update your billing information.
  • Professional licenses and certifications: If you hold any professional licenses or certifications, contact the issuing authority to update your name.
  • Educational records: If you’re in school or need to ensure all your academic credentials have the same name, share your name change documentation with your academic institutions.

How an attorney can help with name changes

An attorney may be helpful in completing your name change by assisting you with obtaining court documents, completing forms according to state requirements and, in some places, notarizing forms. Often, attorneys have the experience needed to help you complete the name change process quickly and accurately. That way you don’t have to struggle with the time and expense of re-filing paperwork or seeking additional certified or notarized copies of things like your birth certificate or marriage license.

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Frequently asked questions

How do I update my identity documents?

Each state’s requirements for updating identity documents may differ. However, all states will soon require you to obtain a REAL ID for domestic travel. You can use the Department of Homeland Security website as a guide and click on your state to find out what identity documents you’ll need to obtain new identification documents in your home state.

What happens if I make a mistake when filing my name change documents?

If you make a mistake when filing your name change petition, the court or clerk will likely inform you. You may need to re-file your documents. An attorney may be able to help you.

What if I need to change the name of a minor?

Changing the name of a minor may be more complicated than changing the name of an adult, because you’ll likely need the consent and signature of all the child’s legal guardians. The process may also depend on whether you’re changing the child’s first name or last name and the reason for the name change. For instance, if the change is due to adoption, one type of paperwork may be required. But if the change is due to personal preference or a mistake on a birth certificate, additional information—like an affidavit confirming your reason for the name change—may be needed.

Disclaimer: This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.

This page includes links to third party websites. The inclusion of third party websites is not an endorsement of their services.

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