Getting your name changed. How to?
November 19, 2013 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Do any of you have experience with changing your name for non-marriage/divorce reasons. As far as I understand, it involves filling out a form, getting your fingerprints taken and requesting a hearing with a judge. It's the hearing that concerns me. On what basis might a name change be denied? What helps your case? Florida here, if that's an issue. I know, I know. Talk to a lawyer. I plan to do so but it's also important to just hear "I never thought of that" real experiences from everyday, non-attorney people. Thanks.
posted by caveatz to Law & Government (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've had a couple of friends go the "hey lets pick a third, unrelated name when we get married" route, which usually happens as the husband legally changing his name, then the wife using the expedited marriage process to make hers match.

Anyway, the only real things the judges care about is whether you're changing your name to escape a criminal record or some bad debts. You may be asked for a "reason", but something like "I never felt close to my father" or "my wife and I want a fresh start" seems to be good enough.
posted by Oktober at 9:17 AM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

They don't want you changing your name in order to commit fraud (to skip out on debts or impersonate a famous person in order to get free stuff, for instance). The judge isn't going to grill you for a "good enough reason." Just wanting a new name because you like it better is enough.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:22 AM on November 19, 2013

You may also find that the name itself gets rejected--e.g., calling yourself Jesus Christ, Adolf Hitler McSnugglesnout, The Seven-Fingered Keeper of Fweem, or whatever.

But if you're not trying to skip out on debts or elude the police or something, I don't think changing your name from John Smith to Frank Jones is going to get much judicial resistance.

You might want to confirm whether you will be entitled to make more than one change; I think in some jurisdictions, you get only one bite at the apple (but you may be able to change back to your birth name).

Good luck.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:26 AM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

in california, there are statutory name changes and the (rare, except on occasion of marriage) common law name change.

statutory name change: you file a petition in the superior court and get an order to show cause issued (slam-dunk). you publish the OSC in a "newspaper of general circulation" once a week for four weeks. the order directs any who may object to appear at the hearing and state their grounds (i practiced law for 15 years and nobody ever showed up to object).

it is extremely rare that the judge will deny the name change. i heard of the roman numeral III being rejected. back east, the cabots, who talk only to god, will appear and apparently successfully object to hoi polloi assuming their illustrious name. i know of a proposed name containing a racial slur that was rejected, and that's about it.

common law name change: done entirely in the privacy of your own head, with only two requirements; consistent use of the new name in the future, and not done to defraud anyone. when i was eight years old, identity was a matter of assertion, and i did a common law name change to what you see below. today, identity is ever more a matter of documentation, and there's nothing like a certified copy of a court order as the first piece of your documentation.
posted by bruce at 9:31 AM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

I changed my name in Ohio and didn't need a lawyer. All the instructions on how to file/fill it out were laid out on the county website. I paid some money, filed a petition, then waited for them to send me a letter in the mail so that I could send them more money to run it in the paper for a few weeks. Then I showed up at the courthouse again and got legal documentation of the name change.

One thing I didn't think of was to keep a name change copy in case of a class action lawsuit check. I lost my paperwork awhile ago because all the legal stuff was taken care of. Then I got a check in the mail under my old name, which I haven't cashed yet because I haven't wanted to go all the way down there to get a copy of the old name and prove it's me.

Also, if you're not currently in school but planning to return in the future, or you need your educational credentials for any reason, make sure you change any relevant transcripts/degrees/certificates/etc. I didn't do this and it turned into a hassle in the long run.
posted by Autumn at 9:47 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's a list of what you might need to verify to change your name.

My parents changed my name when I was in a minor in New York State, which was a bit complicated, but they did not need an attorney and it was granted without an issue.

Legally changing my name was the easy part. Getting a new license, social security card, passport, school records, employment records, etc. changed the correct name was the difficult part.
posted by inertia at 10:23 AM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Like so many other things, every state has its own rules and regulations. (In chaos lies freedom, I guess.) Washington State has the same rule as California, so well described by bruce: done in the privacy of your own head, consistent use, no intent to defraud -- call yourself whatever you want. Although Adolf Hitler McSnugglesnout might be a tough sell. However, he's also right that identity is ever more a matter of documentation. I've run into a snag involving a passport issued when I was young being different than my drivers license. I'd recommend getting some Official Papers to go with the name change.
posted by kestralwing at 10:25 AM on November 19, 2013

I can't speak for the laws in Florida, but as far as it goes in Colorado, you submit the request, get fingerprinted, and may be required to see a judge to verify the validity of the name change. And by that I mean, ensuring you're not changing your name to evade taxes, bill collectors, ect.

When I changed my name I was not required to see a judge. The process when very smoothly as long as nothing on your application/form sends up red flags.
posted by stubbehtail at 10:41 AM on November 19, 2013

I was a witness for someone who did this in Minnesota, so I attended the hearing. It was brief, private and not very invasive. They needed two witnesses and had a lawyer, but they said it wasn't required to retain counsel. Specific questions were asked, like "Are you doing this to escape debt?", "Do you know anyone else with this name?", etc. We had to say how long we knew the applicant, how we knew them and if they were trying to commit fraud.
posted by soelo at 10:53 AM on November 19, 2013

It's the hearing that concerns me...Florida here, if that's an issue

Florida lawyer here, although what I am about to tell you is just information. I was once at court and had the opportunity to watch just the sort of hearing you are describing where someone had his name changed. Obviously, he had filled out the paperwork some time before - this was his final hearing before the judge. The big concern, as others have already discussed, was to ensure that the man wasn't trying to evade law enforcement or creditors. It took about five minutes, and the judge granted the name change.

Here is the particular statute. I don't handle this sort of work, but if you are interested in a referral, let me know.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:54 AM on November 19, 2013

I have changed my first name twice in Washington State.

The easiest way to get the name you want is to say you are changing it for spiritual reasons if they object (to an unusual name). Make this true in your heart before you do it, though. Lying in court is very bad. This is not hard, though - one's spirit is depressed if one does not have the right name. I know this personally because of the horrendous nickname my 5th grade teacher (!) gave me, based so closely on my real name that it stuck with me until I escaped my hometown.

I did not say the spiritual bit at my second hearing, but I wish I'd known about it because I currently have a quite unusual first name and the judge told me I could not have it as a name. I said I can have any name I want as long as I am not trying to commit fraud (which is what the forms I filled out actually said). I was second or third in line of about 20 very restless people so she gave up and signed my form. ;)

Both times I had to swear I was not wanted by law enforcement (first time, when I was 15, the judge listed ALL the law enforcement, including KGB, to my delight), insurance companies, or any other legal entities.

And do get certified copies right there on the spot if possible. You will need them later. I have my paper trail from birth to an expired passport in my current name stored in our fire safe.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 12:38 PM on November 19, 2013

It's different in every state. IANYL TINLA but for a simple first time name change a lawyer is basically never needed. If you want to make your life very easy, there may be paralegal services that will do the paperwork and filing for you, but there should also be plenty of forms and instructions online for DIY.

FIY I did it for myself in VA just out of college (super easy there, no appearance required).
posted by Salamandrous at 4:10 PM on November 19, 2013

Non-marriage-related name changer here (plus a marriage-related one 5 years after the wedding)--Washington state. I changed middle and last, but not first. No fingerprints required, just some quick questions about why I was doing it and was I wanted under [that name].

It really was pretty painless, no lawyer required, and I third the advice to get certified copies of the petition to change name or whatever it's called right away and then keep them in a safe place.
posted by marmot at 6:24 PM on November 19, 2013

I did it on a lunch break, went to the courthouse downtown, filled out the paperwork, paid a small fee, and voila.
posted by prototype_octavius at 11:35 PM on November 19, 2013

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