Guide to Legally Changing Your Name

Man asking about a guide to legally changing his name

Many people change their name due to marriage or divorce, and this is usually a very simple process. However, some individuals change their name for other reasons, and in this situation, it can get a little more complicated.

If you are in the second category, you should view the change as a process, rather than a one time event. You’ll have to follow the correct legal proceedings to ensure that the change is valid, which vary depending on the reason for the change. After you begin the process, you’ll need to learn things like how to change the name on your birth certificate.

We’re here to answer that question and many others that people commonly ask when changing their name. We’ll also give you step by step instructions and let you know which agencies you’ll need to contact after your name change is official.

Common Reasons for Changing Your Name

Most people change their name because of a major life event or decision, such marriage, divorce, adoption, or a change in gender identity. However, some people simply do not like their name and have decided to take the necessary steps to change it.


Most states allow both men and women to change their surname after marriage. Some adopt their spouse’s last name, while others change their name to a hyphenated or new combination of both of their last names. If you want to change your name after you get married, you should keep in mind that:

  • Different states have varying name change laws, so you should verify the rules for your location.
  • You can change your name after marriage without petitioning the court, you just have to fill out a few forms.
  • To change your name on your IDs and documents, you’ll need your marriage certificate.
  • If you are going out of the country for your honeymoon, you may want to keep your maiden name until you return, as name change applications on passport can take several weeks to process.


If you are getting divorced and want to go back to your maiden name, you can ask the judge to change your name during the divorce proceedings. Your Decree of Dissolution will then show your maiden name, instead of your married name, and you can use it as proof of your name change when updating other documents.

If you wait until your divorce is final to change your name back, it can make the process more complicated. You’ll need a court order and have to fill out several forms and pay a processing fee. However, you should be able to complete the process on your own, without a lawyer.


If you are adopting a child and want to change their name, it is easy to do so after the adoption is finalized. An amended birth certificate will be issued, swapping out the child’s biological parents’ names with the names of the adoptive parents, and if you are changing the child’s name, it will be updated as well.

Many states seal the original birth certificate, and the rules and regulations for accessing it vary by state.

For more information you can check out: How do i get my original birth certificate if I was adopted?

Gender Identity

Transgender individuals often change their names as well, in order to more accurately reflect their gender. Some non-binary people choose to do this, as well. However, some states have restrictions if you have not undergone sexual reassignment surgery. The laws vary by state, so you will have to check the rules and requirements for your location. If you are a transgender individual who wants to change your name, you should:

  • Be careful and take steps to avoid any confusion that may result in a loss of coverage when you update the name on your health insurance plan.
  • Check with your local court to find out what the process is for getting a Decree of Name Change.

Read more on: Transgender Birth Certificates by state

Things you should consider before changing your name

It can take a fair amount of time and effort to file for a legal name change. While the process does not typically require you to hire a lawyer, it does require you to follow a lot of regulations and can be a long, drawn out experience. Some states, for example, still require you to publish a notice in a local newspaper about your potential name change.

The name change laws vary by state, so you will have to verify the rules and regulations in the state where you live. In addition, some states require you to have lived there for a certain amount of time first.

You can file the name change documents with your local court clerk. They will also be able to give you more details about the name change process and requirements in your area. Some states require you to go before a judge, while others do not. If you do have to go before a judge, they will ask why you want to change your name. You will also have to swear an oath that you are not changing your name to commit fraud or escape debt or legal issues. If the judge approves, then your name will be legally changed.

You should also check out the naming laws for your state, to make sure that your new name is legally allowed.

Even in the most lax states, like California, which allows you to begin using a new name at any time, you may still need to provide a court order showing that your name is legally changed when dealing with financial or government institutions.

Standard rules for name changes

There are a few universal rules concerning names and name changes that apply everywhere in the U.S.

  • You can not change your name for fraudulent or criminal reasons, to escape debt, or avoid legal actions.
  • You can not change your name to a celebrity’s name.
  • Your name cannot contain a trademarked word or phrase, a number, a punctuation mark, or anything offensive or obscene.

The process to change your name

While different states may have slightly different processes, you will generally follow these steps to change your name:

  1. File a petition for a name change through the county clerk’s office.
  2. Pay any associated fees
  3. Attend a hearing before a judge
  4. The judge or clerk will sign your name change order and you will receive a certified copy after the name change is approved
  5. Use the Decree of Name Change you receive to update your Vital Records with your new name

Necessary documents:

  • Proof of your current name (Social Security card, birth certificate, driver’s license, etc.).
  • Your state’s petition form for a legal name change.
  • A court order stating the reason for the name change.
  • An sworn affidavit stating that you are not a convicted felon and do not have any outstanding warrants (must be notarized).

Who should be notified after a name change?

After your name change is official, you must notify the appropriate agencies and services, as well as family and friends, and give them your new name.

We recommend updated your name with the following entities when applicable:

  • Department of Records or Vital Statistics
  • Social Security Administration
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
  • Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
  • Banks and Other Financial Institutions
  • Creditors and Debtors
  • Utility Companies
  • Public Assistance (Welfare) Office
  • Veterans Administration
  • Post office (via change of address form)
  • State Taxing Authority
  • Insurance Agencies
  • Registrar of Voters
  • Passport Office
  • Employers
  • Schools

Documents that should be updated after a name change

After your name change is complete, you’ll need to learn how to update the name on your Social Security card, as well as other important documents that state your former name, including your:

  • Passport
  • Driver’s license
  • Medical records
  • Birth certificate (only in the event of adoption or gender reassignment surgery)
  • Insurance
  • Checks and credit cards
  • Legal documents, such as a wills, trusts, or power of attorney
  • Estate planning documents

You may also be interested in reading: How to correct an error on a Birth Certificate?

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