Many couples desire to change their last names to reflect their being a family. You may change your last name to the your partner’s last name, you both may change your last name to a hyphenated last name or to a totally new name altogether.
In the U.S., state laws regulate name changes. Contact your state’s department of records and licenses — in some states, the circuit court clerks process name changes — and ask what they require.
In all but a few states, to legally change your name, Federal law allows a name change by common usage. All you need to do is use the new name in all aspects of your personal, social and business life — such as on credit cards, driver license, social security card, etc. No court action is necessary. However, minors and prison inmates are generally exceptions to this.
Practically speaking, however, an official court document may make it much easier to get business and governmental agencies to accept your new name. Because many people and agencies do not know that a usage name change is legal, they may want to see something in writing signed by a judge. Also, certain types of identification — such as a new passport or a birth certificate attachment — are not readily available if you change your name by the usage method.
Further, because of identity theft and paranoia about terrorism, many government agencies won’t change your records without seeing a court order.
There are some limits on what you may choose as your new name:
Usually, petition for a name change must be filed in the proper court, located in the county where you will have resided for a certain time prior to filing, often at least 6 months.
- Fraudulent intent — that is, intent to do something illegal. For example, you cannot legally change your name to avoid paying debts, keep from getting sued, or get away with a crime.
- Interfere with the rights of others — which generally means capitalizing on the name of a famous person.
- Intentionally confusing — a number or punctuation. For example, “10,” “III,” or “?.”
- Racial slur.
- “Fighting words” — includes threatening or obscene words, or words likely to incite violence.
Whether you change your name by usage or by court order, the most important part is to let others know you’ve taken a new name. While it may take some time to contact government agencies and businesses, be persistent — it’s a common, if tedious, procedure.
Some practical steps of implementing a name change are:
Most agencies and places of business will accept a name change if shown on a driver’s license or Social Security card that has your new name. Once you have these identifications, it’s usually fairly simple to acquire others or have records changed to reflect your new name.
- Advise the various government and business agencies with which you deal that you have a new name, and ask them to change their records.
- Enlist help of family and friends that you now want them to only use your new name. Those close to you may take a while getting used to the new name. Some of them might even object, fearing that you are personally changing into someone else. Be patient and persistent, and only use your new name.
- Go by your new name in your place of employment or in school.
- Introduce yourself to new acquaintances and business contacts with your new name.
Places to notify of your name change:
If you’ve made a will or other estate planning document (such as a living trust), it’s best to replace it with a new document using your new name. Your beneficiaries won’t lose their inheritances if you don’t, but changing the document now will avoid confusion later.
- Banks and other financial institutions
- Creditors and debtors (credit cards)
- Department of Motor Vehicles
- Department of Records or Vital Statistics (issues birth certificates)
- Friends and family
- Insurance Agencies
- Medical Workers - clinics, doctors, on physician’s directives
- Memberships - Clubs
- Passport Office
- Post Office
- Public Assistance (welfare) Office
- Registrar of Voters
- Retirement Plans
- Social Security Administration
- Taxing authorities (city, state, federal)
- Utility services (telephone, gas, electric, water, garbage, recycle, yard waste)
- Veterans Administration
Finally, change your name on other important legal papers, for example, powers of attorney, living wills and contracts.
Some businesses or institutions may be reluctant to accept a name change — particularly if made without a court order. If you live in a state where no court order is required, however, you should be able to persuade them to make the change.
Provide documentation that shows both the old and new names. If you recently obtained a passport, it would be useful as it may show your old name as well as the new name as an AKA (“also known as”).
If you meet with resistance, you may want to give the impeding party a summary of the state law that supports your position. Local law libraries at universities would have the pertinent laws for your state. If the person with whom you are dealing remains uncooperative, ask to speak to his or her supervisor.
You have the legal right to change your name, even if the people you’re dealing with don’t know it. Keep going to higher authorities until you get results. For instance, if you have trouble at a local government agency, contact the main office. If you still get nowhere, enlist your local elected official.
Finally, if you are completely thwarted, consider going to court and getting a signed order from a judge. It costs more and will take a bit of time, but an official document usually makes it easier to handle people and institutions who refuse to accept your new name.
“Name change” - article from Wikipedia
A Legal Guide for Lesbian & Gay Couples by Hayden Curry, Denis Clifford, Frederick Hertz (13th ed. April 2005), $29.74 +shipping, Nolo Press, 950 Parker St., Berkeley, CA 94710; 800-728-3555. Complete, accessible guide with detailed methods and forms.
How to Change Your Name in California by Lisa Sedano, Emily Doskow (11th ed. January 2006), $25.49 +shipping, Nolo Press, 950 Parker St., Berkeley, CA 94710; 800-728-3555. Reflects the latest rules and regulations stemming from the Patriot Act and the rise of identity theft, and provides the latest forms as tear-outs.