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Frequently Asked Questions FAQ

What is involved in a court ordered name change?

There are three basic steps to having your name changed by a court. The first step is filing an action in the proper court with the applicable forms and fee. In most states, the petitioner (the individual making the request) must publish a notice in a local newspaper stating that the action for name change has been filed. Also, the petitioner may be required to notify specific individuals affected by the name change.

Why would a name change petition be denied?

A petition would be denied if you were changing your name to avoid judgments, legal actions, debts or obligations. A person cannot change his or her name to defraud any other person.

Will a name change affect my alimony, child support, social security, or other entitlements?

No. You will still be entitled to those privileges and benefits established under your former name. You must, however, properly inform the necessary agencies of the name change to avoid interruptions in entitlements.

What are the basic legal requirements for a name change?

 Residency: Most states require residency in the county and state for a certain time prior to filing the action (often at least 6 months).

  • Legal grounds: A person cannot change their name to defraud any other person.
  • Jurisdiction: An action for name change must be filed in the proper court, which is usually in the petitioner’s county of residence.

How is a name change for a minor be different from an adult name change?

When a name change is sought for a minor, any parent or adult who retains parental or custodial rights over a minor has a right to be notified and must provide consent or a waiver of consent to legal actions regarding the minor. The general rule is that both parents must consent to a name change for a minor.  As a result, there could be controversy over whether the minor’s name should be changed, and a hearing in front of a judge is likely. Ultimately as stated above, the judge will decide what is in the best interest for the child.  Therefore, the reason for the change should be significant, such as adoption or bringing a stepchild into a family.

Where is the name change petition filed?

The petition is generally filed in the appropriate court in the petitioner’s current county of residence.

 Do I have to go to court to file a name change?

State law and procedures differ regarding court appearances. Depending on your state, after filing the initial forms, you may be required to return to the courthouse to file forms establishing or proving that notice of the name change has been given to the public and individuals as required by the court. This is usually done by an affidavit supplied by the newspaper stating the publication dates (i.e., dates you publicized the notice of your name changes in the part of the newspaper for legal notices).

Who must be given notice of the petition for a name change?

After the name change petition has been filed with the court, you must provide “notice” to anyone who might object in order to prevent fraudulent name changes.

Notice requirements fall into two categories:

  • Public Notice through publication in a newspaper in your county where it has a general circulation. This notice informs the public that the petition has been filed and specifies the court.
  • Notice to affected individuals and agencies, such as the petitioner’s children or spouse; the natural parents or guardian of a minor seeking a change of name; or state agencies that keep criminal records.

Can individuals object to my petition for a name change?

Yes. Any reasonable objections made to the court may influence the court’s findings as to whether the change of name is consistent with the public interest.

 When does a name change go into effect?

The time frame varies depending on the court and its schedule. A name change can typically be completed in a 30-90 day period.

I’m a woman who is planning to be married soon. Do I have to take my husband’s name?

No. When you marry, you are free to keep your own name, take your husband’s name or adopt a completely different name. Your husband can even adopt your name, if that’s what you both prefer.
Can my husband and I both change our names to a hyphenated version of our two names or to a brand new name?
Yes. Some couples want to be known by a hyphenated combination of their last names, and some make up new names that combine elements of each. For example, John Doe and Mary Smith might become John and Mary Doe-Smith or Mary and John Smith-Doe. Theoretically, you can also pick a name that’s entirely different from the names you have now.
What if I do want to take my husband’s name? How do I make the change?
If you want to take your husband’s name, simply start using the name as soon as you are married. Use your new name consistently, and be sure to change your name on all of your identification, accounts and important documents. To change some of your identification papers  (your Social Security card, for example) you will need a certified copy of your marriage certificate, which you should receive within a few weeks after the marriage ceremony.

How do I legally change my last name back to my maiden name following a divorce?

If you wish to return to your former last name after a recent divorce, the legal document which permits you do to so is the divorce decree.  It is recommended that during your divorce proceedings you specifically request the judge handling your case to make a formal ruling restoring your former or birth name in the divorce decree to ensure that your last name change is properly documented.

Do I need to change my last name if I am only hyphenating it with my spouse’s? 

Yes. Any modification of your last name is considered a name change that will need to be processed.

I do not like my birth name and I want to change it. Can I choose any name I want?

There are some restrictions on what you may choose as your new name. Generally, the limitations are as follows:

1.         You cannot choose a name with fraudulent intent — meaning you intend to do something illegal. For example, you cannot legally change your name to avoid paying debts, keep from getting sued or avoid being charged with a crime.

2.         You cannot interfere with the rights of others. For example, you cannot choose the name of a famous person with the intent to mislead or confuse the public.

3.         You cannot use a name that would be intentionally confusing.

4.         You will not be allowed to choose a name that is profane or a racial slur.

5.         You cannot choose a name that could be considered a “fighting word,” which includes threatening or obscene words, or words likely to incite violence.
After my divorce is final, can I change the last name of my children from my husband’s last name to my last name?

Traditionally, courts ruled that a father had an automatic right to have his child keep his last name if he continued to actively perform his parental role. Although there is still some bias in this direction, it is no longer strictly true.  Now a child’s name may be changed by court petition when it is clearly in the best interest of the child to do so.


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