Want to change your name, but not sure where to start? Your first step should be researching how to change your name in your state. Requirements and restrictions vary by state jurisdiction. So, depending on where you live and the reason you want to change your name, the process could be easy or intricate.
Generally, changing your name can be broken down into a five-step process. Let’s take a look at what’s involved.
Step 1: Fill out a petition
Like most legal processes, changing your name means filling out forms. The exact types of forms required depend on where you live. At the very least, you should expect to have to complete an application and/or a petition, both of which you can acquire through your state court system. You might also need to pay a filing fee. Depending on your state, the entire process could cost between $100 to more than $500, not including legal fees if you hire a lawyer.
Step 2: Submit to a background check
Many states require you to undergo an FBI background check before a name change. This prevents people from escaping active warrants and other charges against them. You’ll have to pay a fee for this, the cost of which depends on the extent of the background check. In Illinois, for instance, expect to pay $13.25 for an FBI check and $20 for a state check.
Step 3: Publicly declare your name change
Some states require you to publish a public notice of your name change in a local newspaper. Similar to the background check, this is to prevent people from escaping debts or other obligations. The public declaration opens a window for any objections to be submitted to the courts. However, the court may waive the public notice requirement, depending on your circumstances.
Step 4: Attend a hearing
Most court matters require a hearing before they can be settled and changing your name is no different. You may need to attend a hearing during which the judge reviews your petition as well as any objections. The judge may also question the reason for your name change. Barring any complications, the judge will issue a court order approving your name change. You should be able to get a copy of the order from the court clerk, which you’ll need for the final step.
Step 5: Updating your documents
Once you’ve received the court order approving your name change, it’s time to update all of your official documents. Your first priority should be your identification documents, including:
- Birth certificate
- Social Security number
- Driver’s license
You will also need to update your name on bank accounts, insurance policies, property deeds, voter registration, and medical records — essentially, any place where your old name is used to identify you.
How to change your name on your birth certificate
Updating your birth certificate to display your correct name means filling out another application, this time for your local Department of Health or Department of Vital Records. You’ll need proof of your name change, including a copy of the court order. Depending on your place of residence, you might need to include other supporting documents as well.
How to change your last name after marriage
There are many reasons why you might want to change your name. One of the most common reasons is marriage. This process looks a little different than what’s outlined above. If you choose to take your spouse’s last name, or merge both your last names, you’ll need to file paperwork with the Social Security Administration. In addition to the proper form, which can be found on the Administration’s website, you’ll also need a copy of your marriage certificate and proof of identity and resident status.
Some states have different rules for instances other than a woman taking a man’s last name, such as a couple selecting a new last name. A formal name change petition might have to be filed, so check your state guidelines for more information.
How to change your name as a transgender person
Legally changing your name is also a common step trans and gender non-conforming (GNC) people take as part of their transition. In this case, the process should look the same as the five steps listed above.
Whatever the reason for legally changing your name, you might want to consider working with a family attorney. They can help you prepare your petition, gather all the necessary documents, and assist you throughout the process. If your employer offers legal insurance, you might be able to find an attorney via that network.