Although changing your name is a personal choice, when you can make that change depends on your age. Adults can change their names at any time; minors must wait until they reach adulthood to do so, unless they are legally emancipated or have parental consent. Regardless of age, certain restrictions apply; for example, those with criminal records often don't qualify. A hearing takes place where a judge either approves or denies the request for a name change.
In every state, a person can legally change his name when he becomes an adult. The law confers adult status when a person reaches the age of majority, which is 18 in most states. This does not mean that all minors have to wait until they are 18 to legally change their names. Many states make allowances for minors who are emancipated -- they have adult status although they have not yet reached the age of majority. This is only possible in limited circumstances. Typically, a minor must petition the local court, join the armed forces or get married; the options for becoming emancipated depend on the laws of the state where the minor resides. If a minor is not emancipated, the only other way he can legally change his name is by obtaining parental consent.
If a minor's parents agree to a name change, the youngest that child can be to get his name changed depends on the laws of his state. Typically, there is no lower age limit; an infant's name can be changed if his parents so desire. In many states, the process of changing a minor's name is the same, regardless of whether that child is 2 years old or 13. If a name change, including a surname, is desired in connection with a custody or divorce case, the procedure may be slightly different and is likely to be handled by the family court overseeing the custody or divorce matter. The court will change the child's name only if it is in his best interests. In cases of typographical errors, such as misspellings on a birth certificate, parents can typically get these resolved by working directly with the office of vital records in the state where the child was born.
Although name change rules vary between states, the process is relatively similar everywhere. First, the person requesting the name change files a petition with the local court and pays a filing fee. In a few jurisdictions, like Rutherford County, Tennessee, an attorney must file the petition. If the name change is for a minor, the child's parent files the petition on his behalf and attaches a signed consent form, if applicable. In some states, such as New York, the minor's consent must also be provided if he is of a certain age, usually 14. Other requested items may include a birth certificate and identification. Once the court receives the petition, it sets a hearing date. Depending on the circumstances, the petitioner may be required to provide notice to other parties. For example, in the case of a minor, the parent filing the petition is usually required to notify the other parent of the name change. Once approved, the petitioner must publish notice of the new name in a local newspaper for a set number of weeks; some states, like Wyoming, also require publication after a petition is filed and before the hearing.
Even if a person wants to change his name, it is not always possible. This is because many states place restrictions on eligibility. For example, a name change will not be granted if the purpose for doing so is to commit fraud or other illegal activity or to avoid creditors, fines or criminal sentencing. Many states, like Utah, will also deny a name change request if the petitioner is involved in a lawsuit or on probation or parole. Persons with certain criminal histories, such as registered sex offenders, are also routinely barred from changing their names. Many courts run background checks to screen for these possibilities; some, like Colorado, even check the criminal history of minors.