Can I choose any new name for myself?
Yes, you can probably use any name you want. But there are restrictions on changing your name. You cannot:
• Change your name for the purpose of escaping debt or criminal liability or for fraud.
• Change your name for criminal purposes.
• Change your name for misleading others such as using the name of a famous or well-known personality. The court will not allow you to use such a name unless you can give a good reason.
• Adopt a new name that is confusing such as one that includes numbers or punctuation marks but courts can make an exception if you provide a valid reason.
• Adopt a name that is obscene, intimidating or offensive.
• Adopt a name that is a racial slur.
Do I have to go to the court to have my name changed?
In most states, it is not necessary for you to go to the courts to have your named changed. You can just select a name and start using it socially – with your family and friends and in your professional or business dealings. However banks and government agencies may require you to provide documentary evidence of the name change. This is not surprising given today’s security environment. Certain IDs such as passport, social security card and other government issued IDs can only be changed if you provide court documents evidencing the name change. If you have changed your name after marriage, your marriage certificate will be sufficient. Reverting back to you initial name in case of a divorce is easy. You just need to start using your initial name once again. The exact laws vary by state. Please check with your state law.
How can I legally change my name?
All you need to do to change you name legally is to start using your new name. You can use your new name in all social, business and professional interactions. Ask all family members, friends, business & professional associates to refer to you by your new name. Some organizations may require you to provide documentary evidence of your name change. The exact process for having a name change done through the court varies from state to state. Generally you will have to complete a few forms and submit them to the court. The forms will ask for certain information such as your name, address, social security number, your new name and the reasons for the name change. You must promise that you are not changing your name for avoiding debt or criminal liability. The forms will generally include a petition, an order to show cause and a name change decree. In some states, you may be required to advertise the petition. A judge will check to see if your petition is in order and if there are no objections to the name change, the judge will sign the name change decree. Having a court order for change of name can help you when certain agencies and organizations are reluctant to accept your new name without documentary evidence.
Do I have to notify anyone of my new name?
Once you change your name, make sure you change your name of all important documents such as property titles, bank accounts, wills, etc. Changing your name on your estate planning documents will ensure that your heirs do not have to go through a lot of trouble to get what rightfully should belong to them when you are gone. Besides you family members, friends, business and professional associates, you should inform the following entities of your name change:
• Post Office
• Social Security Office
• Department of Motor Vehicles
• Department of Vital Statistics
• Utilities companies including gas, electricity, telephone
• Debtors and Creditors
• IRS and other tax authorities
• Passport Office
• Veterans Administration
• Registrar of Voters
• Insurance companies
Public Welfare Offices
If they are reluctant to accept your new name, inform them that it is your legal right to change your name and provide them with a copy of the court order. If required, talk to the higher officials. Patience is the key. Given today’s security environment, most officially will be doubly cautious.