By Elspeth Crawford
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare had a point; just ask Grammy award winner John Stevens or co-host of The View Caryn Johnson. Oh, you’re not familiar with them? Perhaps you may know the two by their current names; John Legend and Whoopi Goldberg.
The enhanced panache of a “stage name” isn’t the only motivation out there for changing ones name. In fact, the most common reasons individuals seek to change their name are:
Folks can change their name for just about any reason so long as it isn’t for fraudulent or deceptive purposes. Typically you need to be at least 18 years old and meet state residency requirements (6 months is common) to change your name.
State laws control the name change process. While the courts do give a great amount of discretion to individuals seeking to change their name, judges do possess the power to deny a name change if the proposed name is inappropriate, such as a number or obscenity. For example, a judge in New Mexico once ironically rejected a man’s application to change his name to “F*** Censorship.”
Checklist of Necessary Steps to Change Ones Name:
Common Law or Court Decree Name Changes
It may or may not be necessary to go to the courts to change your name. It depends on your states laws. In some instances, you may be able to change your name by just adopting or using your new name (common usage). For many people, the legal process for marriage, divorce or adoption consolidates within it the legal process for name changes. For example, upon marriage, spouses decide on their married name and start using it. In some cases, such as getting a new driver's license, showing a certified copy of your marriage certificate documents proves the change.
State law may require you to get a court decree or order for your name change, and doing so is the preferred way to change your name, even if common law change is an option. It's official and definite when there's a legal record behind your name change, and the issue isn't open to question. In some situations, a legal decree for your name change makes other legal changes easier, like updates to your driver's license or passport.
Fee Alert! The fees associated with name changes can rack up quickly. You may be able to fill out the appropriate forms on your own or find an attorney to draft them on the cheap, but that’s just the beginning. In the majority of states, the filing fee is in the hundreds of dollars. In addition, you may have to pay a publication fee as well. However, courts may waive these fees if you can make a showing of your inability to afford them. In sum, do not expect the process to be cheap.
File a "Petition for Change of Name"
Start the name change process by filing a Petition for Change of Name with the proper local court. Contact the clerk of the court for the county where you live. He or she can tell you where to file your petition (county courts are usually split into divisions), what the filing fees are and provide you with the needed forms.
Petition for Change of Name
The petition may be a short one-page form, which you complete, sign and have notarized. There are a number of resources out there to help you fill out these forms on your own. There may be more forms to complete if you have a criminal history and convictions. The form usually covers these key elements:
Publication and Notice
Part of the name change process is to publish a notice about it in the newspaper. Such notice will run several weeks, usually before the hearing on your petition. State laws vary on publication specifics, and a form may be available. The purpose is to give public notice and to allow, like creditors, interested persons to object.
State laws cover exceptions to publication for people who may be victims of domestic violence or other crimes. If an exception applies, there may be a separate form you'll need to fill out.
Hearing and the Court's Decision
You're assigned a hearing date when you file your forms. At the hearing, the judge reviews your petition, and may ask you questions before making a decision. Hearings are quick, and there may be little or no wait time for the judge's decision and the signed order that legally changes your name. If your petition is denied, get a copy of the judge's reasons so you can fix the problem and have your request granted the second time around.
One of the most important parts of this process is to get several certified copies of your Name Change Order from the court. These will be necessary to complete some other administrative tasks in order to put your new name to use.
There you have it. Getting a name change isn’t exactly an easy or inexpensive process. Perhaps for the more impulsive among us, that isn’t such a bad thing.