What to Do When Changing Your Name

Sometimes people need to change their birth name. Explore how we suggest you go about getting your name changed.

October 25, 2021

reviewed by Angelique Geehan
What to Do When Changing Your Name

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People change their name one or more times for reasons that can include marriage, divorce, and gender transition. Any American adult can change their name through a court order. Changing your name may not require a court order if you do so because of marriage or divorce. Other laws and procedures vary by state.

In California, the nation's most populous state, people cannot change their name to avoid lawsuits and other legal proceedings. States also do not allow people's new names to include numbers, punctuation marks, or profanity.

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What to Consider When Choosing a New Name

Changing your name involves significant planning and paperwork. People doing so because of marriage or divorce experience the fewest hurdles, as states waive some requirements. These individuals may also keep their middle and last names, which can make it easier to update accounts and prove their identity.

If you're considering changing your whole name, expect a months-long process and one or more court appearances. State governments require this process and give judges complete authority on approving name change requests. As a result, prepare to explain your request to a judge. A well-reasoned answer may improve your chances.

How to Change Your Name

Changing your name in most states involves gathering the necessary documentation and making an official request with a court. Individuals who successfully change their name must then provide it to stakeholders, including their employer and financial institutions. Failing to do so may result in negative consequences, such as not qualifying for a job or loan.

Before changing your name, gather one or more official forms of identification that state your current name. These documents include a birth certificate, state-issued ID or driver's license, Social Security card, or passport. You should also collect your marriage certificate or divorce papers, if necessary.

Adults do not need someone else to speak on their behalf when requesting a name change in court. But a lawyer or legal service may provide assistance to people who need help with forms. Minors cannot change their name on their own and need one or both parents' permission. Minors must also present acceptable identification during a legal name change.

Changing your name may not require going to court if the reason is marriage. For other individuals, the process includes filing forms with a court clerk, publishing the name change in local newspapers, and paying a fee. They must also attend a court hearing. The process may take up to three months. Judges approving name change requests issue a signed decree. People who change their names use a judge's decree to update their Social Security card, driver's license, and immigration papers. People also use the decree to update passports and other government forms. These documents should take priority, as employers and financial institutions need one or more of them to process changes. Consult official government websites for the latest advice and guidance. New government identification allows individuals to update their bank accounts, credit cards, and utilities. Do not forget about any professional accounts or licenses, such as a teaching license. Making a list of these and other accounts before changing your name ensures an orderly and stress-free transition. While updating your financial accounts and licenses, inform your employer or school about your name change. You may need to meet with an advisor or human resources professional and fill out forms. Doing so ensures that you continue to receive benefits, such as health insurance or a pension.

Changing your name may involve updating many services not related to bank accounts, employment, or education. Leases, deeds, mortgages, and loans should come first, as they affect credit score and long-term financial health. Visit or contact a banking center to learn more about the process. You should also update your car title and any insurance plans.

When updating your driver's license, do not forget to change your voter registration. Not doing so on time may make you ineligible to vote in the next election. Finally, update your name on alumni associations or social media.

Questions About Changing Your Name

true Q. Will a name change affect my credit score?

A name change does not affect credit score. Credit agencies consider married couples as separate entities unless they apply for a joint account or loan.

true Q. Are name change documents public record?

Name changes enter the public record. But domestic violence or sexual assault survivors may appeal to keep their information confidential. Doing so can help protect them from abusers.

true Q. How much does a name change cost?

The fee varies by state, with California charging over $400. People should expect to pay more if they hire a lawyer or agency to file paperwork on their behalf.

true Q. Can you get a name change without a court order?

Changing your name because of marriage or divorce may not require a court order, depending on the state. Please consult your state government website for the latest requirements.

Reviewed by:

Angelique Geehan works to support and repair the connections people have with themselves and their families, communities, and cultural practices. A queer, Asian, gender binary-nonconforming parent, Geehan founded Interchange, a consulting group that offers anti-oppression support. She organizes as part of several groups, including the National Perinatal Association's Health Equity Workgroup, the Health and Healing Justice Committee of the National Queer and Trans Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance, QTPOC+ Family Circle, and Batalá Houston.

Angelique Geehan is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.

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