You might want to change your name for any number of reasons, including:

  • You're getting married.

  • You're getting divorced.

  • Your parents named you "Eminem," and you're getting sick of the jokes.

  • "Pee Wee" was cute when you were 5; now it just sounds lame.

  • You want to reclaim your original family name that was shortened decades ago by those jerks at Ellis Island.

  • You're interested in a career in weather forecasting, and you want that edge (e.g., Dallas Rains, Stormy Plains).

  • You want to avoid jail time. (Quick note: this won't work, but we'll explain why later).

Regardless of your motive, you can thank the Romans for making name changes possible. Under Roman law, which in this instance oddly still applies to the United States, people are allowed to change their name whenever they want to… unless it is for a fraudulent purpose. That doesn't stop people from doing it anyway, in which case it is called an "alias."

The process of changing your name does involve a lot of paperwork, but it's nothing you can't handle if you go in prepared. Remember: if thousands of women can do it daily when they tie the knot, so can you.


Names can be changed in two ways:

  1. Pick a new name and consistently use it. This is called "common usage."
  2. Go through a more formal court process.

Both are equally legitimate. However, you can't just change your name to anything you want. Here are the main limiations:

  1. You can not change your name if you have "fraudulent intent," meaning that you're trying to avoid bankruptcy by becoming someone else.

  2. You can not change your name in the hope of messing with a trademarked name. For instance, you can't rename yourself Merrill Lynch and open a stock brokerage house. This also applies to giving yourself the name of a famous person. You can't legally change your name to Meryl Streep and then try to make money off of your new name.

  3. You can not use numbers in your name, like 911, in order to intentionally confuse people. You also can not use symbols (ampersands, percent signs, whatever). However, you can add Roman numerals to the end of your name if you want a pretentious one like Winthrop Winterbottom IIIVVXXI. (It is unclear whether the artist formerly known as Prince is aware that his symbol is far from legitimate.)

  4. Naughty or violent words are not allowed by the courts, nor is anything with a racial slur. Yes, there are porn stars who give themselves rather questionable names, but these are often stage names and are treated as nicknames.

  5. If you're a minor, you need to have a court decision. This often occurs when parents get divorced and a child wants to join his/her mother in using her maiden name.

Should you go with common usage or a court proceeding?

There are positives and negatives to both. Common usage is incredibly easy to implement: just start using it. So if someone writes a check to "Mike" instead of "Michael," it's not a problem. However, if you are going to dramatically change your name (such as, you are going to completely change your first name), common usage will give you headaches. Will Citibank really want to put a new name on your credit card account without having proof that you are indeed the same person? What about your medical insurance? What about Aunt Tilda's will? Having some sort of proof really helps.

A court proceeding leaves you with a public record of the change and an indisputable right to your new name. So no matter what Citibank, insurance company, or dead Aunt Tilda say, your new name will be completely legitimate. That's what we'll help you accomplish.

But before you go any further, we ask you to really think this through. Changing a child's last name to match yours does not mean that you have adopted him. Changing your name will not expunge or excuse mistakes in your past. Changing your last name to match your boyfriend's does not mean that you are legally married.