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What’s in a Name?

Published January 19, 2021

Your name defines you and is one of the very few things in life you can truly call your own. Considering a name is yours for a lifetime, it’s important you are happy with it. Marriage and divorce are the two leading causes for individuals to petition a name change, but there are several other motivations for one to request a new and improved first name, middle name, or surname.

Laws surrounding a name change vary by state, but most courts follow a standard procedure of requiring the individual to complete paperwork, file a petition with the court clerk, and pay all associated fees. A court hearing may also be required prove cause for the name change. Some titles, like names intended to mislead or names that contain derogatory language, for example, can be denied by the court.

So, what are some circumstances that could prompt a legal name change?

1. Adoption

Whether you’ve adopted your daughter through an agency or recently adopted your stepson, making them feel like family is priority. One way to create a cohesive family dynamic is allowing your child to adopt your surname. This can be done when your adopted child is a baby, or when he or she is old enough to make the decision themselves.

Note: When adopting a baby, you are legally permitted to change the child’s birth name, as well as their middle and last names.

2. A New Identity

We aren’t talking James Bond stuff here with multiple passports and pseudonyms, rather a name change that fits your new identity. Those who identify with a different gender than their birth name reflects may petition for a change, as well as though who want to anglicize their name or update their title to include religious references.

Obtaining a new identity could be as simple as removing a middle name too, or making a spelling correction.

3. Marriage or Divorce

Spouses typically assume the same surname as a part of the marriage process, or hyphenate their married name with their maiden name. The same parties are likely to abandon a shared surname when filing for divorce. Because these name changes are more common than most, the need to petition is not required. You can simply contact the SSA, complete Form SS-5, and present your marriage certificate and other necessary ID to complete a name change by marriage, for example.

4. Restore lineage.

Surnames can change or even disappear over time. If an individual or family places significant emphasis on a long-gone surname, they can petition to restore it and adopt is as their own.

Regardless of your need or desire for a name change, anyone who modifies their legal name should update all personal and legal documents immediately thereafter. An attorney can help initiate the change and point you in the right direction when notifying institutions such as banks, employers, schools, insurance companies, and more.