People change their legal name for many reasons. For the most part name changes happen due to marriage, divorce, gender change or court order.

Marriage and divorce are the most common reasons for legal name changes.

You need a marriage certificate if you’d like to take your spouse’s name after your wedding.

To get your maiden name back after divorce all you need is a divorce decree.

And most states allow you to obtain a court-ordered name change if you don’t like your current name. Each state has its own laws and restrictions but the general process of legally changing your name is pretty straightforward.

1. Marriage Name Change

To legally change your name through marriage, you must apply for a marriage license at your county courthouse.

After your wedding, you’ll receive a marriage certificate in the mail which serves as your official legal name document.

The first place to update your name after your marriage is with the Social Security Administration (SSA). You do this by submitting Form SS-5, your marriage certificate, and proof of your identity and citizenship.

You can then proceed to change your name on your driver’s license, passport, and other state and federal documents.

Note, each state is different. Some have specific provisions for anyone other than a woman to take a husband’s last name. In these situations, couples will often have to go through a court-ordered name change process.

Need help changing your name after marriage? We created a guide to help you navigate the process.

If you’d like to take the stress of your name change after marriage out of the equation check out NewlyNamed.

We provide personalized name change kits complete with everything you need to change your last name.

2. Divorce Name Change

The first step of a divorce name change is to go through divorce proceedings in your state.

After the state says your divorce is final, you will be able to obtain a divorce decree which serves as your legal name change document.

Your divorce decree authorizes your name change and allows you to return to your maiden (or former) name when you update your social security card, driver’s license, passport, and other documents.

If there are errors on your divorce decree or if you’d like a different surname, you can file a petition to modify it.

If the court does not allow modification, you will likely need to file a petition for a court-ordered name change.

You should always keep proof of your original name (birth certificate) in case you run into any difficulties with using it again.

3. Court-Ordered Name Change

A legal name change for reasons other than marriage or divorce is a court-ordered name change and is usually because of personal preference or gender change.

It’s a common misconception but not all states require you to file your name change in court if it falls under the state’s usage method. So make sure to do your research and check your state’s legal name change laws before you consider changing your name.

If you decide to go through and seek a court-ordered name change, the first step usually involves filing a petition with your local court clerk. If granted, you will begin the court-ordered name change process.

You can generally change your name to anything but most states have exceptions and don’t allow name changes if you’re:

  • Trying to hide from a crime or to escape debt liability creditors
  • Creating a new name to commit a crime
  • Asking for a name which has the intention of being misleading, typically done by taking the name of someone famous
  • Choosing a confusing name which may include numbers or symbols
  • Seeking a name that may be offensive to others (racial slurs, fighting words, viewed as threatening, etc.)

If your new name is granted, your court will issue you a decree with your new name.

Who do I contact after my name change is legal? 

After you’ve received your legal name change documents, start updating your identification and accounts with your new name.

Records you’ll need to update:

  • Social Security card
  • driver’s license
  • vehicle title and registration
  • passport
  • voter registration
  • banks
  • credit cards
  • investment accounts
  • and any additional federal, state and personal accounts
Questions about your name change? 

Our name change experts are standing by. Please contact us and we’ll help you out.

Best of luck with your name change!