What’s in a Name?

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What’s in a name? Quite a bit, considering the number of people who legally change their names in the United States each year. Many choose to change their names after a marriage or divorce; still others decide to do so because they simply do not like the name their parents gave them at birth.

Once the decision to change their name is made many people are at a loss for how to get started. Although details of the requirements for a legal name change vary by state, in general the procedure is much the same. In fact, the common law rule technically allows a person legally to change names by usage alone. If the change is for any reason other than divorce or marriage, however, a court order may be required for banks or other institutions to officially accept the new identity.

Name Change After Marriage

A new marriage is perhaps the easiest situation in which to change names. Often all that is needed is the official marriage license (with a raised seal). Usually a person wishing to change names after marriage will take the official marriage license to social security and the DMV and have his or her name changed there first, then use the new ID and a copy of the marriage license to change names everywhere else.

Name Change After Divorce

If a person took his or her spouse’s name at the time of marriage and wants to revert back to his or her former name after a divorce, most often the judge can make this order as part of the divorce proceedings. If the judge does this, the divorce decree is all the paperwork needed in order to change names with social security, the DMV, employers, credit cards, etc. If the judge does not make such an order, some states (California, for example) will allow either spouse to petition the judge once the divorce is final to modify the decree and include the name change. In California for instance, the form necessary for such a petition can be found here. If the form is not available online, the local court clerk is a good resource.

Name Change for Other Reasons

Again, if a person wants to change his or her name and has no fraudulent intent in doing so, technically he may simply start using the new name without a court order. However, in today’s world it may prove difficult to get the government and other official agencies to begin using the new name without a court order. For this reason, it is generally easier to obtain a court-ordered name change. Once the order granting the request is obtained, it will be easy to change names on social security cards, driver’s licenses, etc.

Generally, a person wishing to change his or her name must draft a petition to the court outlining the reasons for wishing to change names and stating that there is no fraudulent intent – such as to evade debts. Many courts provide help with such petitions through Self Help Centers. Once the petition is filed, the judge may grant the petition right away or the petitioner may be required to go to court and state his or her reasons for desiring a name change to the judge. After the order is granted the petitioner may use it to request a new birth certificate and to change names on all other official documents as well.

Whatever the reason for a name change, Court Reference can help point a person in the right direction with links to various name change resources and contact information for local court clerks.

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