People change their legal names for many reasons, most of them personal reasons. While anyone can adopt the informal use of a new name at any time (i.e., nicknames), if the name you are known by does not match your official identification documents, you must seek a name change legally through the court system. In an age of heightened security measures, it is important that official documents list one’s legal name and all matches. Some of the most common reasons people seek names changes include:
- Preferring another name: Many times, people legally change their name due to the dislike of their birth name or names that may be considered as embarrassing when mispronounced or misspelled or have become known by a different name than their birth name.
- Divorce: Women who take their husband’s name in marriage often choose to reclaim their maiden name following a divorce.
- Child’s surname: In cases where the child’s father is absent, the mother may choose to change the surname to her own, or when a previously absent father becomes involved, and the child’s surname is changed to his.
- Hyphenating surnames: Couples who wish to combine their names to form an entirely new surname or hyphenate the current surnames together to form a joint name.
- Less or more ethnic: Some individuals request changes form identifiably ethnic names, often due to mispronunciation or spelling. Some choose to change to a more ethnic name to honor their heritage.
- Gender Transitions: People who have transitioned to another gender often request a name change more reflective of their chosen gender or simply an altogether new name.
- Religion: Name changes for religious reasons are common and are typically requested due to religious conversion or to honor a particular religious deity.
- Same-sex partners: Though same-sex marriage is not universally legal in all states, partners sharing one surname is, which is beneficial for either partner to make medical, legal, and financial decisions for the other, the same as married couples.
- Political: Though rare, names can be legally changed to reflect an individual’s politics, morals, or beliefs. Examples of this might include changing your name if it is the same or similar to that of a controversial political figure with whom you do not want to be associated.
How Can I Legally Change My Name?
You can legally change your name at any time by applying through the civil court, as long as you are not seeking a name change in order to commit fraud or to avoid criminal charges or a conviction. Though an explanation is not always required when requesting a name change, it is best to include an explanation in your application. You must file the following documents with your application:
- Civil Case Information Statement: A statement summarizing your case for the court.
- Verified Complaint for Name Change and Certification: This document informs the court of your current name, the new name you are requesting, why you are requesting a name change, and whether you have current criminal charges or a prior conviction.
- Order Fixing Date of Hearing: You will only partially complete this document at filing, and the court will complete it following review of your application and return it to you with an assigned court date, 30 or more days following the judge’s signing of the order.
Though approved by the court, name changes are not considered fully legal until you have been reissued a social security card in your new name, so you should apply with the social security administration as soon as possible.
What is the Process to Change Your Name Following a Marriage or Divorce?
Changing your name following a marriage is not complex, but does require a few different steps after the wedding takes place, including:
- Social security card: You must first obtain a new social security card in your marriage name. When applying, you must provide a certified copy of your marriage license, a government-issued photo identification, such as your driver’s license, and birth certificate.
- Driver’s license: Once you receive your new social security card, you can apply for a new driver’s license or other government-issued identification card, along with your vehicle registration and title, and your registered voter card. You must provide the new social security card and certified marriage license when applying.
- Passport: If you have a current passport, you will need to apply for a new passport in your new name. The process to update your passport is dependent on when it was issued.
Following divorce, many people choose to return to their maiden name. The easiest way to do so in New Jersey is to include the name change request in the initial divorce complaint or counterclaim. A provision will be added to the final divorce decree stating your intention to resume your maiden name, and will be granted when the court signs and files the decree. You will only have to update your name with state and federal agencies, including obtaining a new social security card and driver’s license or other form of identification.
If not included in the divorce complaint or decree, you can request to reclaim your maiden name at any time following divorce proceedings by filing a post-judgement motion with the family court where your divorce proceedings took place.
What is the Process to Legally Change Names During One’s Gender Transition?
Legally changing one’s gender is a vital step in the transition process, and many choose to a new a name reflective of their chosen gender. The process to legally change names is the same, however, there are a few more requirements when also changing your gender regarding birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and social security cards, as follows:
- Driver’s license: Changing one’s gender on a driver’s license requires therapist or social worker’s confirmation of what gender you identify with on a Declaration of Gender Designation Change for New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission of Identification Card.
- Birth certificate: In order to change the gender on your birth certificate in New Jersey, you must have undergone sexual reassignment surgery. When applying, you must supply a letter from your surgeon and a copy of the surgical report verifying the surgery took place.
- Social security card: Though gender is not detailed on social security cards, it is present in the records and must be updated along with the legal name change. When applying, you must include:
- Court order recognizing the change of gender
- Birth certificate in the new gender
- Passport with new gender, if applicable
- Letter from your physician verifying the clinical transition
How Can a Lawyer Help Me Change My Name?
You are not required to hire an attorney to assist you with a legal name change, but the process is bureaucratic, document-intensive, and can be complex. Applications with incomplete information or documentation can cause your application to be denied. It is a wise decision to have a knowledgeable attorney by your side, which affords you faster processing times, less personal effort, and peace of mind that your application will be complete and accurate.
Monmouth County Legal Name Change Lawyers at Lyons & Associates Assist Clients Petitioning for Legal Name and Gender Changes
If you are interested in seeking a new legal name, the skilled Monmouth County legal name change lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. are available to help you through the process. Call us today at 908-575-9777 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Somerville, Freehold, and Morristown, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.