7 Things To Consider Before Legally Changing Your Name

7 Things To Consider Before Legally Changing Your Name

by Aug 14, 2019Family Law

Legally changing your name is a big step. Whether it’s for a marriage, divorce, gender reassignment, or some other reason, a legal name change is a more significant process than many people first realize. From a legal perspective, your new name won’t be official until you’ve notified the Social Security Administration, Department of Motor Vehicles, IRS, and other agencies.

Before you go through all of that; however, there are several other things about the legal name change process you should consider first.

1) You Can Name Yourself Pretty Much Anything

While there are a few exceptions when it’s time to choose your new name, you mostly have complete freedom to pick the name you want.

The only rules for legally changing your name are:

  • You can’t name yourself after a celebrity
  • No trademarked names (you can’t call yourself “Coca-Cola” for example)
  • Your name can’t be a number
  • Your name can’t be a punctuation mark
  • Your name can’t be offensive or obscene

So, if deep in your heart you feel like your name should be Swansong McGillicuddy or Queen Cleopatra, you go right ahead.

2) Marriage And Divorce Are The Easiest Times To Change Your Name

In California, both men and women can legally change their last name to their new spouse’s surname, hyphenate their two surnames, or create a unique amalgamation of their surnames.

If you do decide to change your last name when you get married, you don’t need a court order. All you have to do is write your new last name on your marriage license. You can then show your marriage certificate to the DMV, your bank, etc.

During a divorce, if you want to change your name back to your maiden name, you can ask the judge to take care of that for you. Your maiden name will appear on your divorce papers, and you can use it the same way you would a marriage certificate.

3) You Don’t Need A Lawyer, But It Really Helps

If you plan on legally changing your name at some time other than marriage or divorce, you can technically do it all on your own. However, many people have trouble with the process without professional assistance.

The forms and rules for a legal name change in California can be confusing and difficult to follow. If you don’t do it right the first time, you’ll have to start all over. It’s generally much easier to work with an attorney who knows how to do it right the first time.

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4) Changing Your Name Costs Money

The cost to file a petition to change your name in California is $435. Aside from the money itself, you’ll likely spend a considerable amount of time with paperwork and other details related to legally changing your name.

Keep in mind, if your paperwork isn’t correct, your petition can be rejected, and you may have to start all over. This may include paying a new petition fee. Avoiding this costly scenario is why most people who want to change their names legally choose to hire an attorney to help with the process.

5) You’ll Need To Notify A LOT Of Places

Once your legal name change is complete, you’re going to need to notify quite a few agencies and businesses about your name change. Just for starters, you’ll need to notify the:

  • Social Security Administration
  • IRS
  • DMV
  • Bank(s)
  • Credit card companies
  • Public utilities
  • Mortgage or loan companies

Don’t forget to apply for a new passport too, especially if you plan on traveling after your name change.

6) Don’t Start Notifying Anybody Until It’s Official

If you get excited and start making changes before you have your final paperwork in hand, you could inadvertently end up causing yourself a lot of problems.

Don’t forget that changing your name may also affect your credit history and any insurance you may have. If you are planning any major life events (overseas travel, moving, buying or selling a home, major surgery, etc.), avoid trying to juggle a legal name change at the same time.

7) Different States Have Different Laws For Name Changes

All the information in this article is applicable in California, but every state has slightly different laws regarding legally changing your name.

If you want a legal name change, but don’t live in California, makes sure to do your homework first. If you have questions about the process in California or would like assistance with a legal name change, please contact our office at your convenience.


At Vonder Haar Law Offices, we offer every client a free phone consultation to discuss their unique situation and determine how we can help. To arrange a consultation, please fill out the adjacent form or call us at: (707) 529-3200.

We provide representation in California State and Federal Courts. We accept most major credit cards for your convenience.

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