People change their names during many life stages. Marriage and divorce are the most common time people change their names. You may no longer wish to have your former spouse's last name. You may be transgender and would like a name that better fits your gender identity. Or you could simply have personal reasons for not liking the name assigned to you at birth.
New York State's processes for a name changes are different during marriage, divorce, or for other personal reasons.
Read on to find out:
- The right process for changing your name in the State of New York
- What paperwork needs to be completed and where
- How to start using your new name
- How to give appropriate notice of your new name
Identify and Follow the Proper Process for a Name Change in New York
While we have the freedom to change our name, the law needs to keep track of the changes.
Going through the legal process in New York ensures that your new name is recorded and recognized by the state.
Marriage: Changing Your Name
Marriage is the easiest time to change your name. New York permits any person to change their surname (last name) while filling out a marriage license application.
This applies to either party in a marriage. Simply write down a new name when filling out the form.
You can only change your surname, however, and are limited to four options:
- You can take the other spouse's surname
- You can take the former surname of either spouse
- You can combine all (or a segment of) premarriage surnames or former surnames
- You can combine premarriage surnames or former surnames into a hyphenated name
Name changes become final once the marriage ceremony is performed. The marriage certificate itself provides the record of the change of name.
You will need a certified copy of the marriage certificate as proof of the name change. The New York State Department of Health maintains these records. You will need to order a certified copy through the Department.
Divorce: Changing Your Name
You can change your name during divorce as part of the normal process. New York's divorce laws permit a court to change a party's surname back to a former surname.
You can generally indicate your desire to change your name during the divorce process. The court handling your divorce will include the name change as part of the divorce decree dissolving the marriage.
Name Change Petition Process
For other situations, you'll want to go through New York's legal name change process. The process is set down in state law.
Typically it includes a petition, your personal history, and paying fees.
Adult Name Change for Personal Reasons
You'll need to go to a local court and file a petition to assume another name. This will require the payment of a filing fee.
The courts will grant a fee waiver for specific circumstances, but you will need to file a Motion to waive the fee first.
Extensive personal information must be included, such as your name, birth information, age, and residence. A birth certificate is required too.
You'll also need to list:
- Any child support obligations
- Any spousal support obligations
- Any criminal convictions (especially violent felonies)
- Any bankruptcies
- Any judgments or liens, actions, or proceedings pending against you
Then, once the law is satisfied, the court clerk of the county court can issue a name change order.
New York requires publication of a name change before the order is finalized, however, except in limited circumstances. You will have to publish the order in a local newspaper at least once within sixty days.
The newspaper will give you an Affidavit of Publication to take to the clerk's office – this is your proof of publication. Once the affidavit is filed, your name change is complete.
Child's Name Change for Personal Reasons
Minor children can have their names changed. It is similar to the process for adults.
There are some added safeguards under the law. A parent or guardian must file the petition, and notice of the petition must be served on other parents or guardians.
The court will also consider:
- Whether a name change is in the child's best interest
- Taking into account what the child wants
- How a name change would affect the child's relationships with the parents or legal guardian
- The motives or interests of the parents
Note: Depending on the court, the child's consent may be required.
File the Appropriate Paperwork with Government Agencies
You're not done once your name change is legal and final.
Many essential parts of modern life require accurate identification and records. Several government agencies are involved in maintaining these documents and records.
Updating Your Social Security Card
You should contact your local Social Security Administration (SSA) office to get your name changed on your Social Security card.
An appointment with the SSA is needed, though you can start the process online.
The SSA will require you to provide proof of three things:
For the proof of identity, acceptable documentation include a certified copy of one of the following:
- Marriage certificate
- Divorce decree
- Name change order
Updating Your Driver's License
You should change your name on Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) documents. This includes your driver's license and vehicle registration.
The DMV requires an in-person meeting to prove your name change. After this meeting, you can get a new license with your new name.
Other Documents to Update After a Name Change
There are likely many other legal documents that should be updated with your new name.
These depend on your unique situation but may include insurance cards, vehicle registration and title, voter registration, and any court orders. Child support is a common example of a court order.
Start Using Your New Name
Once your name change is complete, start using it! Inform family, friends, employers, and other acquaintances of your name change.
This helps them update emergency forms, estate planning documents, business documents, permissions, and other records.
If you have an online presence, such as a Facebook profile or email address, you'll want to update that as well.
Get the Forms You Need in New York
Figuring out what to do to change your name, assembling the right paperwork, and contacting government agencies can be tiring and confusing. The good news is that you don't have to do this by yourself.
Fortunately, you can use our New York name change forms to guide you through the process. If you have detailed questions or need legal advice, FindLaw's attorney directory can help connect you with a lawyer in your area.