There are all kinds of reasons that people change their names. One of the most common ones, of course, is due to a marriage or a divorce. However, people may also change their names because they’ve never liked the name they were given or because it has negative connotations for them for some reason. Some people even change their names for spiritual reasons. Whatever your reasons may be, if you’re wondering how to legally change your name, don’t worry. It’s actually pretty simple, and we’ve got a handy guide for you that will make it even simpler.

Do it When You Say “I Do”

As you can imagine, one of the most common times that people change their names is when they get married. Traditionally, the woman changes her last name to her husband’s last name. Of course, nowadays, it is becoming common for both spouses to hyphenate their names.

No matter what you decide to do or whether you just want your marriage to coincide with your new first name or new middle name, it’s easy to change your name at this point. In fact, when you get your marriage certificate at the courthouse, you will typically be asked if you’d like to change your name. If you say yes, the clerk will give you the right forms to fill out, and you’ll be on your way to getting a brand new name.

Put Out a Petition

Another option that you have for changing your name is to petition for a name change. You actually do this via a form that is a petition to change your name. Typically, you will fill out this form along with a decree to change your name and an order that shows a valid reason for changing your name. Keep in mind, however, that the exact forms you will need to fill out do vary from state to state. Thus, make sure you know the laws in your state and fill out all the right forms.

When you have done that, your next step is to take these forms to the clerk of court, pay any required fees, and file the forms. As long as the judge approves your request, it will be granted and you will soon have a new name.

Do it When You Divorce

Another common time when people wonder how to legally change your name is when they are preparing to divorce. A lot of people know that, after their divorce, they would like to go back to their maiden names.

If this applies to you, then go ahead and include your request for your new name in your divorce petition. This is a viable option in most states, but do check the specific laws for where you live before you try this tactic.

As long as this option is allowable in your state, the judge will issue an order restoring your old name as part of the divorce. Thus, when you are officially divorced, you will also officially revert back to your old name.

Work it Out with the Social Security Administration

Another option that you have in terms of how to legally change your name is to do it through the Social Security Administration. Typically, this won’t be enough in and of itself to change your name, but it will likely be a required step after a name change.

To do this, you’ll need to either visit the local Social Security Administration in person or online. In either case, you’ll fill out a form for a new social security card, which you will submit along with important documents, including a marriage certificate if applicable, a birth certificate, and a picture ID.  

It typically takes about ten days from the days you file the form to receive notice of your new social security card and that your new name is now reflected on that card. If you want “instant gratification,” you can make an in-person appointment to change your name through the Social Security Administration.

Get it Done After the Divorce is Finalized

What happens if you’ve already gotten divorced but, in the process, you didn’t request a new name? Don’t worry. You’re not simply stuck with your old name forever. Instead, you can still request a new name. You just have to go a slightly different route.

One option that you have for how to legally change your name is to go back and have your original divorce order amended to show that you wish to change your name. You can’t do this in every state, and it generally only works when the divorce is fairly recent. However, it’s an easy option for some people.

Of course, even easier, you can just start going by your former name and using it consistently on every form you fill out. Some states actually allow this as a way to change your name but only if you are reverting back to your former name. You can’t just start calling yourself some whole new name because you feel like it. As is always the case, make sure you know the specific laws in your state before you try out this tactic.

Have a Lawyer Handle it for You

It’s fairly easy to secure a name change, as discussed above. However, if you don’t want to go through it yourself or if you consider it a hassle, don’t worry. You can always just hire an attorney to do it for you. Chances are they’ll use one of the methods above, most likely the petition method. But, if it’s worth it to you to pay someone to do it for you, then you do have that option.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind  

While just about everyone has the right to change their name, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First of all, if your goal is to change your name in order to escape some kind of debt, don’t even think about it. Not only is this illegal, but it won’t work, at least not for long.

The same thing goes for trying to escape a criminal past. You can change your name, but your past will still follow you as soon as you change your other documents, which you are required to do by law.

Most courts also will not allow you to take on a “celebrity” name or a name that is deemed immoral or even just plain “silly.” If you do not have a legitimate, valid reason for your name change and it’s an odd name in some way, be prepared to have your request for a name change flat out denied.

If all goes well and your name is changed, then you’re ready to start using it. Bear in mind that it can take people awhile to get used to your new name, and they may accidentally call you by your old name for awhile. Try not to get frustrated. Just use your new name consistently, and, pretty soon, others will too.

In addition to changing your driver’s license, social security card, and all other identifying documents, bear in mind that there may be other forms you need to go back and change. A will is a big one. If you have changed your name and you want your will to remain legally binding, you will need to revisit it, preferably with an attorney, and make changes that reflect your name change.

Deeds, titles, and other documents that show ownership of property will also need to be changed to reflect your new name. Not doing so could cause confusion or problems in the future, especially if your new name is very different from your old name.

In addition to all of this, you also have to think about your children. In many cases, parents want to have the same names as their children, and reverting back to a maiden name after a divorce often renders that impossible. Thus, you may want to refrain from changing your name if you have children with a different last name. Or, you may want to hyphenate your child’s last name or consider changing the child’s last name, which will often require the approval of both parents.

Say Hello to a New You!

As you can see, learning how to legally change your name is easy. There are just a lot of things surrounding that name change to think about. By keeping what we’ve discussed in mind, however, you can make a smart decision regarding your name change.

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