Changing your name refers to the legal act of adopting a new name, different from the one you were given at birth. The procedures you must follow and the ease of changing your name vary by the state and county where you live. One jurisdiction may have loose procedures regarding a name change, while others are more restrictive.
Depending on where you live, the cost can range from $150 to a few hundred dollars — typically not something that requires digging deep into your savings or putting a lot of debt onto a credit card. You may have to pay:
- Court filing fees
- Fees for certified copies
- Fees to place a newspaper notice
- Attorney or online service preparation fees
- Fees for changing your name on your birth certificate
Reasons to change, reasons for rejection
The most common reasons for changing a last name involve happy life events like marriage or adoption. Other reasons can include:
- You dislike your birth name and prefer something different.
- You have gone through a divorce and no longer want to share a name with your ex-spouse.
- You have gotten married and want to keep your name, but hyphenate to include your spouse’s name.
- You want to make your name more or less ethnic. You may want a name that is easier to pronounce or spell, or you may want to go in the other direction and reclaim your ethnic heritage by returning to a surname once used by their family but lost over the years.
- You may have converted to a new religion and want a surname that reflects your religious affiliation.
- You may want to share a surname with a longtime partner, even if you are not married.
Be warned that a court may reject your name-change request:
- If you are changing your name to escape debt liability or to hide from criminal liability.
- If you are hoping to change your name in order to commit a crime.
- If you are changing your name in order to mislead people. Normally, this involves wanting to adopt the name of a famous person. For example, if you have decided to convince the world you are Albert Einstein’s great-grandchild and request that your last name be changed to Einstein, your request can be denied.
- If you request a confusing name that includes numerals or punctuation. Asking to be “Joe!” or Sally????” probably will not fly.
- If the name you request would intimidate, offend or be considered obscene.
- If the name you request is a racial slur.
Although the process may feel intimidating, you do not need to hire an attorney to file name-change paperwork. Companies like LegalZoom, I’m a Mrs. and HitchSwitch simplify the process by putting all the forms together and offering step-by-step instructions.
In most states it is a rather simple process to change your name, and state government websites will have the forms you need to print and use. The questions aren’t complicated: You may be asked for your old name, new name, Social Security number, the reason for your name change request, and a promise that you are not changing your name to escape debts or criminal liability. Once you fill out the forms, you take them to the court clerk’s office in your jurisdiction and pay the required filing fees.
As long as you are not trying to skirt your financial responsibilities, break the law or offend anyone, changing your name is a fairly straightforward process.