What to Know About Changing Your Name

When people search for your name online, a plethora of information might pop up about you. They might be able to easily find your social media profiles, photos of you, employment information, and even where you live.

What happens when you change your name, though?

There are a lot of reasons to change your name, but you might be worried about how people will find you after you do so and what you need to do as part of the process.

The following is a guide to changing your name and the most important things you need to know before you do it.

Common Reasons People Change Their Name

There are many individual reasons someone might change their name. Common ones include:

  • They don't like their current name from birth. Some people change their names as a matter of preference.
  • If you get divorced, and you'd originally changed your last name to your spouse's, you might want to change it back to your maiden name. Some states have laws that make it easy to go back to the maiden name.
  • While we typically think about the traditional situation of a wife taking a husband's name when they get married, husbands might also take the surname of their wife.
  • You could need to change a child's last name to either the mother or father for various reasons.
  • Sometimes a couple will combine or hyphenate last names to make a new one when they get married.
  • Transgender people might change their names to reflect their gender. They might choose a new name completely or change their current name to a more masculine or feminine version.
  • When someone has a certain religion or converts to a new religion, they could change their name as such.
  • It's possible to change your name to make a political statement.
  • If someone has been in a situation where they were a victim of domestic violence, or something similar, they might change their name for safety reasons.

The Name Change Process

You will have to follow the guidelines in your state for changing your name, and all the policies can vary. Typically, you need to file a formal petition for a name change with your local court.

The court may supply the forms you'll need. If not, you might have to check online or talk to an attorney. You can finish your forms and then submit them to the court clerk.

The clerk might require you to get official fingerprints. You might also be required to do a background check through the FBI or local law enforcement.

Some states, once you've taken those steps, require you to set up a formal advertisement in the local newspaper or some other type of publication. You'll have to pay for this if it's required. The reason for this ad is to let creditors and any other interested parties know you're changing your name.

It's usually a formality that won't actually impact your ability to change your name.

You'll have to attend a formal hearing in front of a magistrate or judge, and during the hearing, a judge will probably ask why you want to change your name. You'll also have to certify under oath that you aren't changing your name to commit fraud or for any other illegal reason. If the judge is satisfied with what you say, the court issues a name change.

To implement a name change that you get from a court order, you need to let other people know first and foremost. If you start a new job, apply for credit or start school, use only your new name. You'll also be responsible for contacting individuals and companies with your past name and contact information to let them know about the change.

The individuals and organizations you may need to let know include:

  • Federal and state government agencies. You'll have to visit government agencies so that your name can be changed on your record. You'll have to show proof of your court order, the judgment of divorce, or marriage certificate, if relevant. Most of the time, the best first step is to get a new driver's license from the DMV and a Social Security card. After you have a photo ID and a Social Security card, you'll find it's easier to change your name elsewhere.
  • Family and friends. You'll want to let everyone know about your change, preferably ahead of time if possible.
  • Employer or business contacts. You may need to change your work email, your business cards, and anything else that has your old name related to your work. You'll want to let your employer's payroll department and human resources department know.

You'll also need to let the following know about the change:

  • Bank and financial institutions
  • Credit card and lending companies
  • Utility companies
  • Professional licensing agencies, for example, if you're a doctor or a lawyer
  • Public assistance agencies
  • Insurance agencies
  • Doctors
  • Post office
  • Schools
  • Voter registration (you can usually change this along with your driver's license)

You might also have to go through your online public records, such as your social media accounts, and make sure you update all of these.

Changing Your Name After a Marriage or Divorce

If a marriage certificate or judgment of divorce leads to your name change, you don't have to take additional steps. You won't need to go to court separately in this case, and typically you can show proof of your marriage certificate or judgment of divorce, and that's enough to make any changes.

If you want to hyphenate your name with your spouse or combine your last names, your state might require you to go through the formal name change process.

If your divorce judgment doesn't have a provision changing your name back to your original name, you might have to go to court and ask the judge to modify your court order.

If that isn't successful for you, you might have to go through the legal name change process in your state to change your name.

If you're able to get your new Social Security card, most agencies and companies aren't going to question your name change. You have a legal right to change your name, so if you have any trouble getting agencies or companies to comply with your request, you may need to talk to a supervisor.

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