How to Change Your First Name Legally

By Laura Payet

How to Change Your First Name Legally

By Laura Payet

The process to legally change your name is the same whether you want to change your first or last name. Although the steps vary by state, almost every state requires you to file a petition with the county court where you live, seeking the court's permission for your proposed change. Once you've obtained a court order authorizing your name change, you can use it to update your name on your birth certificate and other forms of identification. Here are the basic steps you need to follow.

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1. Obtain a petition for name change form.

Check your state government's website or search "name change petition [your state's name]" to find out where to get a name change petition form for your state and what your state's procedure is. You should be able to find a form online or get one from the clerk's office at your county court. Find out what fees your state charges for filing the petition.

2. Complete the petition.

Fill out the petition form. These forms typically ask for your current name, address, date of birth, your proposed new name, and your grounds for requesting the change. You may also be required to swear to certain facts, such as the amount of time you have been a state resident, whether or not you have been convicted of a crime, and whether you have any current judgments outstanding against you. In most cases, you sign the petition and have your signature notarized.

3. Assemble any necessary supporting documents.

You may need to attach additional documents to your petition, such as a certified copy of your birth certificate. In some states, you must have a criminal record check performed or submit copies of any bankruptcy judgments or child support orders you are subject to. If your state requires proof of residency, bring that as well. And it's a good idea to bring along current forms of ID, such as your Social Security card and driver's license. Be sure to make at least two copies of your petition and all supporting documents—one for the court and one for you.

4. File the petition with the court clerk.

Take the petition, the supporting documents, your copies, and the filing fee to the clerk's office at your county courthouse. When you submit your paperwork, the clerk will date stamp the petition and assign it a case number. Ask for a date-stamped copy of the petition if the clerk does not give you one.

5. Schedule a hearing and publish notice.

The clerk schedules a hearing for you before the judge or magistrate. Depending on your state's procedure and how busy the court is, you may have to wait a few days to a few weeks for your hearing. Some states, such as Massachusetts, require you to publish a notice of your intended name change in a newspaper before your hearing and to file proof of publication with the clerk's office. This is to give your creditors notice and the opportunity to object. If you are a convicted felon or registered sex offender, you may also have to give notice to the state department of corrections, parole board, prosecutor's office, or the sex offender registry board, any of whom can object.

6. Attend the hearing.

At the hearing, the judge may ask you some questions, such as why you want to change your name. Note that the law does not allow you to change your name to commit a crime or to a celebrity's name or a racial slur. Afterward, the judge issues an order authorizing your name change. Ask for several certified copies of this order from the clerk's office to use in changing your name on your birth certificate, your Social Security card, your driver's license, and any other identifying documents. And don't forget to change your name with your bank, your mortgage lender, your credit card companies, your medical providers, your insurance companies, and so forth.

Although you don't need a lawyer's assistance with this process, meeting all your state's requirements can be confusing. An online service provider can help you complete all the necessary paperwork and file your documents with the right court, so you can be sure everything will go smoothly.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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