Changing Names Legally

Changing names is a rather straightforward process. However, there are pitfalls to avoid or else it would become arduous and expensive and would require for you to turn to experienced lawyers for trusted legal guidance.

The Reasons

Thousands of Americans change their names for a number of reasons. Some of the most common scenarios are the following.

Divorce, Annulment, After Marriage

A woman may choose to either keep her maiden name when she marries or take the surname of her husband’s. Moreover, in some states, a man can also want to adopt his wife’s name. A married couple can also decide to alter their last names altogether or use a combination of the two to form an entirely new name.

When a couple divorces or annuls their marriage, the spouse adopting the other spouse’s last name may opt to go back and change to their former or birth name. In states where same-sex marriage is legal, the same guidelines apply. A same-sex couple can combine their last names to form a new name, hyphenate their names, or choose either of their last names. Divorce lawyers can help you navigate this scenario.

Unmarried Couples

Marriage doesn’t have to be a factor for couples to use the same last name. For instance, same-sex couples often use the same last names to manifest their lifetime commitment. It can be the last name of one of the couples, a combination of the names, or an entirely different name.

Children

Divorce can also lead to the decision of changing the names of the divorced couple’s children. A Usually, the divorced parent with sole custody chooses to have the same last name as the children (if they don’t share it.) If the parent with sole custody also has altered the name since the marriage, then they may want the children to have similar names as well. Additionally, legal guardians will want the child they are looking after to use their last name. Children who have grown to be adults have the choice to change their names to what they prefer to use.

Immigrants

Some Americans who came from immigrant families discover their heritages and choose to use their old family names (if it’s different from what they are using due to a name change by their ancestors. On the other hand, some with intricate immigrant names may choose to change them to something easily comprehensible.

Self-Expressions

Others choose their names based entirely on self-expression. If you don’t want to be a Nicole, Nathan, Trent, or Melanie, you can choose a name that best suits your personality. There are some legal limitations, but for the most part, you can be as creative as you want.

Transgender People

Changing your sex means you will also want to change your name. Depending on what state you live in, different rules apply to the legal name change process for a trans person. You can check how to get a constitutional name change and update your state and federal records with your new identity.

Religious and Political

Some people changed their names to demonstrate their commitment to their political or religious beliefs.

The Restrictions

  • There are limitations to what you may choose as your new name. They are as follows:
  • You can’t change your name if you intend to escape paying debts, lawsuits, or getting away with a crime.
  • Your chosen new name can’t be that of someone famous especially if you have the intent to mislead others. For instance, you can’t use Benjamin Franklin, Audrey Hepburn, or any other renowned politician or celebrity names. Unless of course, you have a reliable and convincing reason.
  • Names that are intentionally convoluted, like including unnecessary punctuation, numbers, or symbols cannot be used.
  • No racial slurs and obscene words

The Process

First of all, check the legal requirements and restrictions of your state when it comes to name changes. Nevertheless, the restrictions we listed above are the standard. For legal proceedings such as adoption, divorce, and marriage, a name change process is included, and knowledgeable lawyers can give you the proper instructions for it. On the other hand, if the name change is not involved in a lawful proceeding, you can check state laws. Whatever the circumstances are, once you decide to update your identity, make sure to have the official court documents that support it and let the necessary people and institutions know of your name change.

Rhonda J. Alessi

Family law attorney in Phoenix, AZ. Married to my fantastic husband George. We are proud owners of our fennec fox, Fifi. Running marathons is my stress reliever. I'm a bookworm and initially wanted to use this domain to sell books online. I later changed my mind and decided to start this blog instead. Then an interesting thought came to me. Why not write about more than one type of law and provide the public with substantial material on the worth of attorneys?