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How You Can Legally Change Your Name: First, Last, Middle, or All

Updated on March 12, 2012

Have You Ever Wanted (or needed) to Change Your Name?

This article will guide you through the process used to legally change your name, as well as provide some common reasons why people might want to do so. When you are done reading this, you will understand how it's done, why it's done, and if this process is one you are willing to go through with. After all, not everyone was born with a name they can live with, but alas, I digress.

Regardless of anything you have ever heard to the contrary, the name you are born with need not be the name you carry with you the rest of your life. Of course, you already know this to be true, as many stars change their names to something more catchy - so why can't you? That fact is ... you can. 

So let's move on with this discussion, eh?

Meet Virginia Swank, the Bride

Virginia is about to be married - can you tell?
Virginia is about to be married - can you tell?

Virginia is about to marry a nice man by the name of Morty, who you will meet later. She's ecstatic over the marriage, but uncertain of changing her last name.

Swank has been her last name all her life and changing it now will mean losing her identity ... or will it?

Legally, she can keep her last name. There is no law that states a woman must take on a man's last name when she marries him. In fact, this is something done out of tradition and not because any federal or state law that exists on the books. Virginia can keep your last name (should you chose to do so), or you could hyphenate your surname onto his.

For example, If Morty's last name were Smith, she could keep the name Virginia Swank, change it to Virginia Smith, or go with Virginia Swank-Smith. Now, that's not all the options available to her, but those are the ones generally accepted upon marriage.

Meet Morty Heimybauch, Her Husband to Be

An awful name can lead to lasting ridicule and depression throughout your life
An awful name can lead to lasting ridicule and depression throughout your life

Morty was well-loved by his parents, but not well-liked by the first man who took upon Heimybauch as a surname. Through generations, all of the men have held onto this last name in shame, bringing their own little Heimybauchs into the world to share in their sorrow.

There is hope, however, as Morty can legally change his name. If he wanted to, he could take on Virginia's last name, which would make him Morty Swank. It's uncommon, but not without precedent. Why he's at it, he could also give his first name a makeover. Why not Martin? Ah yes, Martin Swank ... had a kinda nice ring to it, eh?

Then There is This Guy, Who We Can't Legally Name

We will call him louie
We will call him louie

Louie (this is not his real name) is planning on being Morty's best man at the wedding. A gambler at heart, he ran up quite a debt in Vegas and now has the mob after him. Unfortunately, the witness protection program refused to accept him as a candidate, as he squealed on the little guys, but refused to name the kingpin. As such, he's lying low, and in dire need of a new (and less conspicuous) name.

Luckily, Louie can legally change his name, and you can too. How? I thought you would never ask ...

The Rules of the Name Game

If you are getting married, then your name will legally change when the wedding ceremony is complete, as your new name will be placed on your marriage license - but what if you're not getting married?

If you're not changing your name due to a marriage, then you will need to consult a lawyer and have them petition the courts to allow the change. Before doing so, here's some important things you must know:

  1. You can't change your name to get away with a crime, to escape debt, or to avoid being sued.
  2. You can't chose a name that might be considered offensive to others. i.e. Adolf Gassem Hitler
  3. You can't chose numbers or punctuation marks for a name (which makes one wonder how Prince got away with changing his name to a symbol)
  4. You can't change your name to that of someone else to perpetrate a fraud. i.e. You can't change your name to Michael Jackson, claim to have faked your death, then go on tour
  5. You can't change your name to something that could insight anger in others. i.e. Ima B Slapper

What's Next?

Once the court accepts your name change, you will be sent a document stating you will be recognized by this name from this day forward, and that your old name is no more (in the case of marriage, this is your wedding certificate). You now have a new name, but how do you get everyone else to recognize it?

This part is actually easy ... You contact all important parties and ask them what they need to make the change on their end. For most, they will need a photocopy of the document mailed to them, but some might actually make you appear in person (after 9/11 and all). Do as you must, as you want your name change to be complete.

Here is a partial list of those you will want to contact about your name change:

  • Your employer
  • Your bank(s)
  • Anyone who you have a loan through
  • Your creditors and debtors
  • The utility companies (cable, lights, phone, etc)
  • The post office
  • Your insurance agent
  • The Social Security office
  • The Department of Motor Vehicles
  • The Department of Works or Vital Statistics
and there could be many more ... 
Basically, if you are receiving mail under your previous name, you need to contact the originator to let them know that your name has changed. After all, does one want to be known as Morty Heimybauch the rest of their life?

So, What Ever Happened to Morty and Virginia?

Well, Morty became Jack Swanson, and Virginia took on this new last name as her own, adding her own to the mix. She is now known as Virginia Swank-Swanson, and they live in upper Wisconsin with their five kids, two dogs, and a hamster.

and Louie???

Ah, poor Louie ...
Ah, poor Louie ...

The mob caught up to him before he could legally change his name, so now he is swimming with the fish. Our heart goes out to him, for if he had read this article sooner it might have saved his life.

So for anyone who ever wondered how to change their name, there it is. And the best part ... If you grow bored of your new name, you can change it again!

So, for all of the Morty's, Virginia's and Louie's of the world, I offer this article so that others might know just how easy it is to change your name. Now, all you need to do is decide what new name you would like to have. Chose wisely, as your new surname will get passed onto your children and grandchildren, and your lack of judgment could leave a mental scar on them, as it did in Morty's case.

Good luck!

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