Two of the most common reasons for changing your name are marriage and divorce, although plenty of people also change their names simply because they've never liked the one they have. In general, as long as you are not trying to defraud anyone, avoid debt or get away with anything else illegal, you are free to change your name. Most states allow you to change your name by the usage method, in which you simply start using your new name. Your local court clerk's office can tell you if this is legal in your state, but even if it is, it may not be the best method to use. In today's security-conscious world, you may have trouble convincing many businesses to accept your new name just on your say-so.

Changing Your Name after Marriage

Taking your new husband's name after marriage is not required, but most women still do it. Others choose to take an entirely different name, perhaps by combining the two last names in some way. Your husband many also decide to adopt this new name, or even take yours. If you decide to take your husband's name, all you need to do is start using it. This is similar to the usage method, but your marriage certificate serves as legal documentation for the change. If you and/or your husband want to take a completely different name, you should go through the courts to get an official name change.

Changing Your Name after Divorce

When you get divorced, you may want to make a clean break from that part of your life and change your name back to your maiden name, or even an entirely different name. If you know this is what you want to do, ask the judge to include a formal name-change order in your divorce decree. Get certified copies to use as proof of your new name. Even if you don't get a name change documented in your divorce papers, you may still be able to simply start using your previous name. This is easier if you have documentation of that name, like a birth certificate. If you want a completely new name, or have trouble getting your 'new' previous name accepted, you may still need a court order.

Getting a Court-Ordered Name Change

If you do need a court-ordered name change, you can hire a lawyer to help, but the procedure is quite simple and you can do it yourself by taking the following steps:

Step 1: Get the appropriate form from your county clerk's office. You will need to supply:

  • Your current name
  • The new name you want
  • Your reason for changing your name

If you are changing your name after a divorce, you may also need to provide:

  • Your divorce case number
  • Your dissolution judgment date

Step 2: Submit the form and filing fee

Step 3: Publish a name-change notice in a local newspaper, if necessary

Step 4: Attend a court hearing to consider your name change. This is not usually necessary for a name change after marriage.

Step 5: Once you receive final judgment authorizing your name change, inform any people and businesses who need to know of your new name. This can include:

  • Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Social Security Administration
  • US Passport Office
  • Banks
  • Insurance agencies
  • Your employer
  • Any other entity you do business with

You may also want to revise any legal documents like wills and powers of attorney.