Changing Your Name: Ten Things You Should Know

Whether you are getting married or divorced, are changing sexes, or simply feel “Dorcas” or “Wilbur” never expressed the real you, changing your moniker is relatively easy.

1. You don’t need a good reason, just a legal one. You can change your name for any purpose short of breaking the law— and you can do it without a lawyer.

2. Getting hitched? You don’t need a court order to change your name, just your marriage certificate.

3. If you’re simply tired of your old name, go to court and get a new one. You'll have to fill out some court papers, but they’re fairly simple. The hard part is deciding what you want to be called—will it be sunflower? Just jack?

4. Filing court papers won’t be scary. You'll probably never even have to appear before a judge.

5. You can choose (almost) any name you want. There are only a few restrictions: Don’t change your name for a fraudulent purpose. Don’t take a famous person’s name. Stay away from names that are overtly offensive. Copyrighted or trademarked names are also off limits—so sorry, you can’t be harry potter. Finally, it’s best to avoid numerals and punctuation—in other words, don’t call yourself “?” or “3.”

6. You can change your name to a single word. If you’ve always wanted to be like Madonna, Now’s your chance. You can’t take her name, but you can choose one word, or even just initials, as your name.

7. You might have to pay a few hundred dollars for the new you. Unless you qualify to change your name as part of another legal proceeding, such as a divorce, the fees may run as high as $500. (twice as much if you hire a lawyer to do the job.)

8. One-stop shopping. If you’re changing genders, some states allow you to change the sex on your birth certificate at the same time you change your name.

9. The one easy thing to get in a divorce is your former name. In most states you can simply ask the judge to make a formal order restoring your name as part of the divorce decree.

10. Don’t keep it a secret. Besides advising agencies and businesses that you’ve changed your name, you’ll want to encourage your family and friends to use only your new name— and be sure to use it consistently yourself to avoid practical, administrative, and personal hassles.

Do you think the name made all the difference?

These famous people started life with the monikers in parentheses after their names:

  • Alan Alda (Alphonso D’Abruzzo)
  • Woody Allen (Allen Konigsberg)
  • Lauren Bacall (Betty Joan Perske)
  • Jon Bon Jovi (John Francis Bongiovi)
  • Bono (Paul David Hewson)
  • George Burns (Nathan Birnbaum)
  • Chubby Checker (Ernest Evans)
  • Elvis Costello (Declan Patrick McManus)
  • 50 Cent (Curtis Jackson)
  • Whoopi Goldberg (Caryn Johnson)
  • Hulk Hogan (Terry Gene Bollea)
  • Ben Kingsley (Krishna Bhanji)
  • Ralph Lauren (Ralph Lifshitz)
  • Ludacris (Chris Bridges)
  • Marilyn Manson (Brian Warner)
  • Meat Loaf (Marvin Lee Aday)
  • Demi Moore (Demetria Gene Guynes)
  • Mother Teresa (Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu)

The article was excerpted from Nolo's Little Legal Companion. You can get a free copy by signing up for one of Nolo's Legal Newsletters.

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