How to Change Your Name: 5 Steps to Avoid Legal Pitfalls

Some states allow you to change your name and gender at the same time, others require a court order.

What's in a name? Well... everything. A name can be an expression of identity, family history or relationship status.

It can also be something that you don't like or doesn't properly reflect who you are.

So if you're getting married, divorced, unhappy with your name or changing it for any other reason - this is for you. Here are five things you should know before starting the name-changing process.

Get Ready for Hand Cramps

The process of changing your name varies from state to state. But one thing you'll have to do, regardless of where you live, is fill out paperwork - and lots of it.

"It's just a long, tedious process that you typically only do once or twice, so you're inexperienced," said Danielle Tate, CEO and founder of MissNowMrs. "We know how to file our taxes, we know how to find help if we don't want to file our taxes and make mistakes. But a name change is the same number of pieces of paperwork and if you make a mistake, it can be a permanent mistake."

Every state will have an initial Petition for a Name Change. Some states have Verification forms, others have Release Request forms, and some states even require background checks. Many states also require a Notice of Petition, which means you'll be required to publish notice of your new name in a local newspaper.

All of these documents will be submitted to court and some will need to be notarized. So be sure to make several copies.

If you're changing the gender marker on your legal documents, that process varies state by state as well. Some states allow you to change your name and gender at the same time, others require a court order.

To find out what your state requires, you can reach out to your local county clerks office.

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Your Cost Will Vary

Depending on where you live, the cost to get your name changed can vary from less than $100 to around $500.

That price includes things like court filing fees, lawyer fees and replacement documents. Remember that Notice of Petition we mentioned earlier? Most newspapers charge for that, and the cost varies.

Don’t worry though, some things are free of charge.

"Social Security is free to file. If you already have a passport and you've had it for less than 12 months and file, it's free to change your name," Tate said.

The Process Takes Time

Chances are you won't be able to get a name change hearing the day you submit your documents, so you'll need to wait for a court date. If you had to complete a background check, you'll be waiting for those results.

Once your name change is approved by a judge, you can get the ball rolling on updating all of your personal documents like a Social Security Card, Driver's License and passport. But, that will all take time too.

"It definitely took, I think, more time than maybe I was expecting, like overall, just because there are so many different appointments and things," said Stephanie Bellman, who married her husband Brooks in 2019.

"It is a time commitment. I mean, we spent a couple of hours on the Social Security office one day. We spent a couple of hours at the passport office," Brooks Bellman said. "The DMV was actually the quickest and that's because we went first thing in the morning on a Saturday."

In total, it'll take about 2 months to finalize the name changing process.

No...You Can't Change Your Name to Beyoncé

Of course if you're getting married, you don't have to change your last name. You have the option to keep your maiden name, add another last name or combine last names.

If you're not getting married, you can change your name to anything you want - but there are a few stipulations.

Your new name can't be the same as a famous person (sorry Beyoncé stans), a trademarked name, a racial slur or a profane word.

There's Help Out There

Even though changing your name is a pretty straight-forward process, it can be tedious, so there are people out there to help.

Websites like MissNowMrs, Hitch Switch and Newly Named exist to help streamline the name changing process for couples.

There are also variety of lawyers and organizations that help take people through the process as well, some can even help with fee waivers, if needed.