What's in a name? A lot, actually. We are identified from birth by a name on our birth certificate that gets tied to our Social Security number, which eventually appears on our driver's license or state ID or passport, which links to our jobs, loans, education, banks and much, much more. So if you've just gotten married and are looking to take your spouse's name, you've just gone through a divorce, you're transitioning to a new gender, or you just want a new name for an undisclosed reason, there are multiple steps for making the "new you" a legal thing.
So...where do you start? Don't worry, we've got you covered! We won't sugarcoat it, though—changing your name can be a complicated and exhausting process and sometimes you may need to find a lawyer to help you with some legal matters.. Our suggestion: It might be a good idea to take a day or two off work to get everything figured out after you complete steps one and two. Ready to change your name?
1. Get Your New Name Legally Approved
If you've gotten married, the first legal document you need is a certified copy of your marriage certificate. Many county clerks will either automatically send you a copy after your wedding or ask you when you're applying for your license if you'd like to purchase a copy of the certificate. Get a couple certified copies of this—many places will probably only need a photocopy, but some might require the certified copy, so it's best to have a few on hand.
If you've getting divorced, you can usually ask the judge during the divorce proceedings to take care of that by making sure your maiden name appears on your divorce decree. For any other types of name changes, you'll need to fill out a Petition for Name Change and go before a judge to get a court-granted petition.
2. Head To The Social Security Administration
Your Social Security card is basically your link to obtaining your other legal documents. You can fill out an application on the Social Security Administration's website and take or mail your application to your local Social Security office.
3. Take A Trip To The DMV
We know, it's everyone's least favorite place. But you'll have to visit the DMV to get a new license or state ID. Check your state's DMV website for specific paperwork needed, but you'll probably need your old license, your marriage certificate, your new Social Security card, proof of insurance and possibly proof of residence (especially if you're changing your address as well).
4. Focus On Your Money
The next place to go with your name change is your bank and your employer. Likely your employer is already aware of your impending name change and will tell you what documents they will need and what forms you will have to fill out, but chances are they will need a copy of your legal document from step one and your driver's license. The same goes for your bank. Don't forget to get new checks and new debit/credit cards with your new name. Divorce might make the bank step a little trickier, so check with your lawyer before you do anything involving money.
5. Contact...Well, Everyone Else
Now comes the fun part—contacting anyone or any office you deal with that has your old name! Don't start on this step until you've gotten the documents from the first four steps. While not an exhaustive list, here's a good place to start:
- Post office
- Car registration
- Insurance companies (health, renter's, home, life, auto)
- Credit cards not through your bank
- Utility companies (gas, electric, cable, phone, internet, water)
- Voter registration
- Landlord or mortgage company
- Student loans
- Doctors' offices
- Schools and alumni associations
- Investment accounts and wills
- Subscriptions (magazines, streaming services, box subscriptions)
- Social media accounts
Whew, you made it!
Changing your name is a huge decision, so don't rush the process. You'll likely run into hiccups along the way (misspellings, lost/forgotten documents, etc.), but just be patient. So what's in a name? As Shakespeare wrote, "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Or in other words: It's just a name.