How to Legally Change Your Name


Did you ever think of changing your name? Do you have any idea how many people actually do change their names, and why? How many of your favorite celebrities’ names are actually their birth names? For example, how many of the following people do you know (without looking them up):
  1. Archibald Alexander Leach
  2. Barry Alan Pincus
  3. Dino Paul Crocetti
  4. Marshall Bruce Mathers III
  5. Audrey Faith Perry
  6. Eric Patrick Clapp
  7. Nathan Birnbaum
  8. Cassius Marcellus Clay
  9. Cordozar Broadus
  10. Anthony Dominick Benedetto
  11. Allan Stewart Konigsberg
  12. John Ratzinger
Let’s take a look on the next page to see if you know these people after their name changes.

Popular Celebrity Name Changes

Now, how many of these people do you know (or at least have heard about):
  1. Cary Grant
  2. Barry Manilow
  3. Dean Martin
  4. Eminem
  5. Eric Clapton
  6. Faith Hill
  7. George Burns
  8. Muhammad Ali
  9. Snoop Dogg
  10. Tony Bennett
  11. Woody Allen
  12. Pope Benedict XVI
Well, as you can probably tell, these are the same people respectively listed on page one of this article who legally changed their names. Talk about a difference!

You likely got a few names correct like Eric Patrick Clap or Cassius Clay. Celebrities often change their names to enhance their image. Even the popes of the Roman Catholic Church change their names, but this is based on tradition dating back over one and a half centuries.

But celebrities are not the only people who change their names. In fact, thousands upon thousands of people change their names for many different reasons. Individuals often change their names for such reasons as marriage, divorce, adoption, career enhancement, escaping from an abusive spouse, getting rid of a difficult name to pronounce, or just to be different.

So, do you want to change your name? Or maybe you’re just interested in learning how the process works. Well, you’ve come to right place. Legally changing your name is likely easier than you think, but there are some rules you must follow. Otherwise you could be in violation of the law.

In this article, we’ll go over how to select a legal purpose for a name change, what you cannot legally change your name to, the process to change your name, and what to do after you change your name.

Next, we’ll go over some legitimate purposes for changing your name.

Legal Change of Name

The Romans first made name changing a viable option. Under Roman law, individuals were allowed to legally change their names if and when they wanted to, as long as it was not for a fraudulent purpose. These Roman laws still hold true today.

First, you must have a legitimate reason for changing your name. Or, to be more precise, you cannot try to defraud the government by changing your name. For example, you cannot change your name in order to avoid law enforcement officials searching for you due to criminal acts, debt obligations, or any other legal issues. If you change your name to avoid any legal difficulties, you’re likely creating an illegal "alias" which is a separate crime altogether.

In general, individuals can change their names for any legitimate reason including, but not limited to:
  • Desire
  • To enhance a career
  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Adoption
  • To avoid an abusive spouse
Next, we’ll go over what you cannot legally change your name to.

Illegal Change of Name

You cannot change your name for illegal purposes and for many other reasons. Here’s a list of some reasons why you cannot change your name:
  • For fraudulent or illegal purposes (of which there are many)
    • E.g. you cannot change your name after committing a crime, in an attempt to commit a crime, to avoid debt obligations, to hide from law enforcement officials, etc.
  • To take advantage of a trademark name
    • E.g. you cannot call yourself Michael Jordan in the hopes of benefiting from Michael Jordan’s status.
Here’s a list of some things you cannot add to your name:
  • Numbers
    • Exception: you can use Roman numerals to indicate a next generation (e.g. George Foreman III)
  • Racial or derogatory slurs
Here’s a list of some things you might not be able to call yourself:
  • Celebrity names, e.g. James Dean
  • Single words, e.g. King
  • Just initials, e.g. WKR
NOTE: Minor children cannot legally change their names unless their parents or guardians give their consent through a court order.

Next, we’ll go over the legal process to change your name.

The Process of Changing Your Name

You can legally change your name in one of two broad ways:

1. Through "common usage."

You simply change your name and use that name consistently. Under this method you do not have to go through the court system. HOWEVER: this is likely not the best way to change your name because all of your documentation would be wrong – not to mention that no one would likely believe you. For example, imagine attempting to buy a new car with a name that you started calling yourself. The car dealer would ask you for your identification and your documents would not match your new name. Good luck!

2. Through a formal court process.

This is definitely the preferred way to change your name. This method will take a little time and some money, but overall it is the best way to go.

Changing your name is a state law issue (as opposed to federal law), so the process listed below is only an outline of what generally occurs. You will have to follow the specific rules in your particular state to change your name.

The Court Process to Change Your Name (general steps to follow, as each state differs):
  1. File a Name Change Action.
    You need to file a name change petition with the court in your county of residence. Some states require you to be a resident for a minimum number of months before you can file a name change petition (e.g. 6 months to one year). Some forms may require you to have a notary public sign them.

  2. Publish Public Notice of Your Intent to Change Your Name
    Most courts will require you to publish you name change in a local newspaper or some other form of medium to indicate your intent to officially change your name. The notice generally must include the name of the court in which you filed for your name change. Technically, anyone who objects to your name change would then be able to bring that to the court’s attention – such as for a fraudulent reason.

  3. Appear in court
    A court appearance may be ordered, at which time any persons objecting to your name change may come forward. The judge will also likely review your name change petition to ensure that you are not changing your name for a fraudulent reason. You may even be required to attend a hearing where you go before the judge to state why you are changing your name. As long as you have a legitimate reason for your name change, you’ll likely be granted the right to change your name.

  4. Pay Filing Fees
    You’ll likely have to pay filing fees associated with changing your name. Fees vary from state to state. Sometimes you might be able to get your fees waived if you can show a strong reason why you need your name changed and how you cannot afford to do it. For example, if you want to change your name to avoid an abusive spouse, and you cannot afford the fees, the court may waive your fees or ask you to pay a reduced rate.

  5. Publish Your Name Change
    After the judge signs and grants your name change petition, you’ll likely have to publish your name change in a newspaper or some other form of medium. This is generally a formality to show the public that you’ve officially changed your name. Aliens must generally notify the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, while ex-convicts must generally notify the court system.

NOTE: You’ll have to obtain the proper forms from your particular state and location to change your name. Some of these forms might include:
  • a petition (to change your name)
  • an order (for the judge to grant your name change)
  • a notice of your intent to change your name for the general public
Next, we’ll go over what to do after you change your name.

After You Legally Change Your Name

After you have changed your name you will likely have to change many records, including:
  • Driver’s license
  • Social security card
  • Bank accounts
  • Credit cards
  • Post office records
  • Passport
  • Voter registration
  • IRS and state tax records
  • Medical records
  • Insurance records
  • Employment records
  • Membership or club records
  • Pension or retirement plans
  • Contracts, including, but not limited to:
    • Wills
    • Trusts
    • Power of attorney
    • Business contracts
    • Etc.
As you can see, there may be a lot of paperwork for you after you change your name. In fact, the formal court process of actually changing your name is generally much easier than all the work you’ll have to do after you change your name. Make sure to take this into consideration before you change your name.

Finally, we’ll conclude this article with some things to remember.


In this article we explored how to change your name, including some legal and illegal ways to change your name, the general process to change your name, and what to do after you change your name.

Changing your name is not just something that celebrities do. Thousands of people change their names for many different reasons. As you can see, changing your name is likely not too difficult once you understand the general process. Just make sure to follow the rules of your particular state and location when changing your name.

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