Want to change your name? Many people do so at some point during their lifetime. The steps you'll need to take to legally change your name in California will vary depending on why you want to make the change. Whether you've gotten married, gone through a divorce, adopted a child, been adopted, are in the process of a gender transition, or just want to take a new name, the Golden State has a process to navigate.
Fortunately, we know how to change your name in California:
- Identify and follow the correct California legal name change process
- File the appropriate paperwork with government agencies
- Start using your new name
1. Identify and Follow the Correct California Legal Name Change Process
Here are a few of the most common reasons and ways to change your name in California, along with a few limitations.
Most commonly, people change their names after getting married. California makes this process relatively simple. A valid marriage certificate is the only legal document required. With your marriage certificate in hand, you can change your name with state and federal agencies (see below). You won't even need to go to court. Your marriage license is all you need.
The name change process differs for divorce. California requires a court order to restore a former name, birth name, or maiden name following divorce. However, this can be done during the normal divorce process, and a court is required to restore a former name upon request.
You can ask a court to restore a former name during the divorce proceedings or, if you want to change your name later on, you can file the application and a civil cover sheet with the court clerk after your divorce is finalized. You will have to pay the filing fee, unless you obtain a fee waiver.
Changing your name in other circumstances, such as adoption or a gender transition, will generally involve petitioning a court. First, you must file a petition for a name change with a court in the county where you reside. California law requires a petition to include your:
- Current name
- Proposed name
- Reason for changing your name
A court appearance is required and some notice must be published, typically an order to show cause for change of name, generally in a local newspaper for four weeks in order to inform a community of an intention to change names. The notice requirement doesn't apply if you're changing your name to conform to your gender identity, but there will be an additional section for you to fill out on your name change petition.
When you file the required forms, including your name change documents, you will get a hearing date with the California superior court. At the hearing, the judge may ask you questions about why you want your name change. Assuming you have complied with all legal requirements, the court will issue a decree changing name. Make sure to get a certified copy (or better yet, copies) of your decree, which you will need to change your name with, for example, government agencies, financial institutions, schools, and employers.
Changing a Child's Name
An adult name change is generally a straightforward process. For a minor child to change their name, a parent or legal guardian must consent and be involved in the process.
First, the parent must file a petition for change of name with the court and get a court date. Next, if a judge grants the request, the parent will get a court order called a "decree" changing the child's name. The entire process may take several months, particularly if one parent objects to the child's proposed name change.
Prohibited Name Changes
There are certain names that are illegal under the law. These include racial slurs, confusing names that include numerals or punctuation, or anything that is intimidating, offensive, or can be considered obscene.
Finally, special laws are in place for state prisoners and registered sex offenders wanting to change their names. If you're under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections, you'll need to consult your probation or parole officer for more information.
2. File the Appropriate Paperwork With Government Agencies
When the legal process is completed, you have a new name. The next step is to update official documents and identification. It's also a good idea to contact friends and relatives to let them know about your new name. You should consider taking the following actions:
- Changing your driver's license through the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
- Applying for a new Social Security card through the Social Security Administration (SSA) at your local Social Security office to ensure federal benefits aren't disrupted
- Informing any financial institutions such as your bank, credit card companies, loan holders, financial planner, or tax consultant
- Updating your personnel file with your employer's Human Resources Department
3. Start Using Your New Name
Once you've changed your name, feel free to use it. The law cares about publicizing a name change, and one of the best ways to do so is to use your new name in public. Whether that's at social gatherings or community events, making your new name known will make it easier for you. There are few, if any, restrictions in place once the legal requirements for changing your name in California are met.
Changing your name, whether after marriage, divorce, adoption, or otherwise, is a major life event. You can get more information about the process on the California court's self-help site. If your situation is unique, or you have additional questions about a California name change, contact a local attorney with a law firm who can give you legal advice and walk you through the process.
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.