• Can I change my name?

    Date: 09.05.07 | by Judge Tom.

    Once in a while, you might think about changing your name. Some parents have saddled their kids with terrible, embarrassing names. For any number of reasons, a different first, middle, or last name might seem like a good idea.

    Before state laws were passed regarding name changes, any person, including a minor, could change his or her name simply by using the new name. Today, in most states you must be eighteen to obtain a legal name change. Other states allow underage persons to apply if parental consent is given.

    Photo by Matt McGee

    You can apply to your local court—it may be the family, juvenile, or probate court, depending on your state. The judge will consider your reasons for seeking a name change. If you′re doing it to avoid paying bills, for example, your request will be denied. As long as you′re not breaking the law or attempting to hide something, the name change will be allowed. The court will issue an order indicating the new name, with a copy to you.

    Other opportunities to change your name occur when you get married or adopted. Marriage often results in a change of last name for the bride. However, she may choose to keep her maiden name, or use both names—her husband′s with her maiden name, sometimes in a hyphenated form. Your marriage license and/or certificate will reflect any name changes.

    When you′re adopted, you have the opportunity to obtain an entirely new name—first, middle, and last. Your adoptive parents will decide on the names for you, but if you′re a teenager, you′ll most likely have a say. At the final adoption hearing, the judge will go over your new name with you. That′s the time to speak up. If you don′t agree or you want something different, tell your parents first. Once the adoption is granted, a new birth certificate will be issued stating your new legal name.

    Recent court cases show that there are a number of other circumstances for changing your name. A change of last name may be appropriate where a parent′s misconduct (criminal acts, for example) places a child at risk. A child may be allowed to add his or her stepparent′s last name to his or her name, to reinforce a new identity and relieve anxieties.

    Sometimes the courts have ruled against name changes for teens. In a 1992 Pennsylvania case, a mother′s attempt to change her son′s last name following a bitter divorce was denied. The name change wasn′t considered to be in the boy′s best interests.

    If you legally change your name while you′re a teenager, either you and/or your parents need to notify all parties who have you officially listed under your old name. Provide a copy of the court order changing your name to your school, doctor, bank, insurance company, and employer. You′ll also need to get a new driver′s license and credit cards if they were issued in your previous name. Changing your name carries with it an obligation to avoid confusion by letting the appropriate people know your new name.

    See here for the story of a 19-year old girl who took her cause regarding animals seriously.

    On the lighter side, in July, 2008, a New Zealand family court judge took legal custody of a 9-year-old girl because he was tired of the bizarre names parents were giving their children. He entered an order changing her name which was ”Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii” to an undisclosed name to protect her privacy.  Other names blocked by the country’s registration officials included “Fish and Chips,” “Yeah Detroit,” and “Sex Fruit.”

    24-year-old Daniel Michael Miller II, an Ohio rapper and musician changed his name in 2008 to “The” Dan Miller Experience. After appearing in court and explaining why he wanted to do this and that he was serious, the court granted his request. You’re reading this right – his first name is “The” Dan, with the quotes as you see them!

    superman1

    Photo by Adjustafresh (Flickr)

    And in the summer of 2007, a New Zealand couple named their newborn son “Superman.”  This wasn’t their first choice, however.  When they saw the ultrasound scan and realized their baby was for real, they wanted to name him ”4Real.” But the name was rejected by the government registry, so they agreed on Superman for the record books but call him 4Real.

    Talk about fun? When Courtney Blair Schwebel was a teenager he was picked on because of his name. At 15 he started to think about changing it and finally did in his early twenties. Living in Texas at the time, he officially changed his name to one word – Fun. He did the same as he moved around – in Louisiana and then again in Arizona in 2005. Fun stated that “It helps me cheer up and gives me something to look forward to. . . .people are very happy to see me.”

    There is the Chinese couple who named their baby “@” -  the e-mail ‘at’ symbol. They explained that the letters a and t when translated into Chinese mean “love him.” And in June, 2008, 57-year-old Steve Kreuscher, a school bus driver and artist in Illinois officially changed his name to “In God We Trust.”

    Douglas Allen Smith, Jr. of Eugene, Oregon, changed his name in December, 2010 to Captain Awesome. Before the court granted his request for the name change, he had to swear that he wasn’t doing it for fraudulent reasons. The 27-year-old, unemployed cabinet installer explained that he was inspired by the TV show “Chuck” and the character Dr. Devon Woodcomb. Smith was also granted permission to sign his name as a right arrow, a smiley face and a left arrow. His bank, however, refused to accept the signature because it could be easily forged, but the Department of Motor Vehicles accepted it. You can see the signature here.

    Gary Mathews loved the 1980s TV series “Here’s Boomer,”  about a dog that rescued people.   He asked a Pennsylvania court for permission to legally change his name to “Boomer the Dog.”  In August, 2010, the court denied his request stating that it could lead to confusion in the marketplace, business records and in public documents.

    And finally, in 2001, a New York couple attempted to sell the naming rights to their soon-to-be-born son. They posted the sale on eBay and Yahoo auctions attempting to raise $500,000 for their son’s college education and a new house. Hopes were for a corporation to buy the rights, so the child could have been called anything from Heinz to Coke, or Microsoft to Kraft. No bids or sale has been reported.

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    5 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • deb
      Mon, 14 Sep 2009 at 05:24

      i have gotten remarried, my two children wish to change their names or want him to adopt them.their real dad is a deadbeat and pays no child support at all and they know who raises them and supports them and wish to do this for their step-dad and make it official, for they are embarassed of their real dad plus he was abusive! when can they change their names and what is the route to go, when you know their real dad will not give approval.
      Judge Tom’s response:
      Every state has its own laws regarding name change. The law will specify the minimum age, whose consent is needed, and which court to apply to. Try Googling “change of name” and your state for more information.

    • J
      Fri, 25 Dec 2009 at 07:56

      I live in CT with one parent. The other lives out of state. Do I need both parents’ consent to change my name? I need to know EXACTLY how to change my name (how long it will take, how much, who do I send the application to) I tried Googling it and got nothing, so I am asking you to tell me.
      Dear Julie: Every state has its own laws regarding the changing of names. Check with your local court for current information and forms to apply. We do not provide legal advice, only information leading you to the answers of your questions. That is because laws change and are different all over the country. If you Google “Connecticut name change” there is specific information about the process. Try http://www.jud.ct.us and search for name change data.
      Good luck.
      [This is information only - not legal advice].

    • D
      Thu, 20 Sep 2012 at 09:36

      I want to add my mothers Maiden name to my last name. There is no one to carry on the name and now I want to. Would the Judge allow this?
      Dear D: If you are a minor, your parents may need to file the petition requesting a name change for you or at a minimum, consent to your request. Click here to find the specific name change laws in your state (click on your staten’s name). Most likely a judge would grant your request, but again, your parent(s) will also need to consent to the name change if you’re a minor. You could also call your local juvenile or family court and ask how to begin the process to petition the court for a name change. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • Matt
      Thu, 14 Nov 2013 at 12:46

      Hi Judge. I hope you answer this. My wife and I feel we inadvertently gave our child a mildly embarrassing first name. It sounds like a verb and our last name is a noun. We feel extremely guilty and he is only 5 years old. We want to request a name change. Imagine a name Seymour Fields, etc. That is not the name, but it stirs mildly similar connotations. We want to change it but am afraid the judge still might deny our request. If both parents agree they want their young minor’s name change is there usually an issue preventing the change?
      Dear Matt: Every state has a specific law or laws regarding name changes. You can Google the name of your state and “name change” for the details. Generally, courts grant such petitions unless the name is offensive or what’s called “against public policy.” If you both consent to the change and it’s not detrimental to the child, there shouldn’t be a problem. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Matthew Jenkins
      Tue, 25 Mar 2014 at 08:09

      Hello Your Honor and thank you for your time,

      Almost 20 years ago I got in a shoving match with my ex-spouse and received a misdemeanor charge for this thoughtless action. To date, I have had an otherwise clean background and live a pretty good life. My question is in general, would such a case be denied for name change or such I seek an expungement of the misdemeanor first? I would like to change only my last name to satisfy our religious beliefs.(our kids are now grown and are also joining in on this process)
      Dear Matthew: We suggest you first check to see if there’s a record for this past incident. There may not be a record to expunge due to the passage of twenty years. If a record does exist then apply to have it expunged and you might be able to do this online. Go to the court’s website and see if there’s an online application. Once it’s expunged then you can apply for a name change without worry. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

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