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Name change generally refers to the legal act by a person of adopting a name different from their name at birth, marriage or adoption. The procedures and ease of a name change vary between jurisdictions. In general, common law jurisdictions have loose procedures for a name change while civil law jurisdictions are more restrictive.
A pseudonym can be regarded as a name adopted to conceal a person's identity, and does not always require legal sanction. Additionally, there are other reasons for informal changes of name that are not done for reasons of concealment, but for personal, social or ideological reasons.
In the United States, State laws regulate name changes. Several federal court rulings have set precedents regarding both court decreed name changes and common law name changes (changing the name at will).
Usually a person can adopt any name desired for any reason. As of 2009, 46 states allow a person legally to change names by usage alone, with no paperwork, but a court order may be required for many institutions (such as banks or government institutions) to officially accept the change. Some states allow transgender persons to change names either before or after sex reassignment surgery. Although the states (except Louisiana) follow common law, there are differences in acceptable requirements; usually a court order is the most efficient way to change names (which would be applied for in a state court), except at marriage, which has become a universally accepted reason for a name change. It is necessary to plead that the name change is not for a fraudulent or other illegal purpose, such as evading a lien or debt or for defaming someone else.
The applicant may be required to give a reasonable explanation for wanting to change her or his name. A fee is generally payable, and the applicant may be required to post legal notices in newspapers to announce the name change. Generally the judge has limited judicial discretion to grant or deny a change of name, usually only if the name change is for fraudulent, frivolous or immoral purposes. In 2004, a Missouri man succeeded in changing his name to They. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that a name change to 1069 could be denied, but that Ten Sixty-Nine was acceptable (Application of Dengler, 1979); the North Dakota Supreme Court had denied the same request several years before (Petition of Dengler, 1976).
In nearly all states, a person cannot choose a name that is intended to mislead (such as adopting a celebrity's name), that is intentionally confusing, or that incites violence; nor can one adopt, as a name, a racial slur, a threat, or an obscenity.
Under the federal immigration-and-nationality law, when aliens apply for naturalization, they have the option of asking for their names to be changed upon the grants of citizenship with no additional fees. This allows them the opportunity to adopt more Americanized names. During the naturalization interview, a petition for a name change is prepared to be forwarded to a federal court. The applicant certifies that he or she is not seeking a change of name for any unlawful purpose such as the avoidance of debt or evasion of law enforcement. Such a name change would become final if within their jurisdiction, once a federal court naturalizes an applicant.
In some states, individuals are allowed to return to the use of any prior surnames (e.g., maiden names) upon divorce. Some states, such as New York, allow married couples to adopt a new surname upon marriage, which may be a hyphenated form of the bride's and groom's names, a combination of parts of their family names, or any new family name they can agree upon adopting as the married name.
To maintain a person's identity, it is desirable to obtain a formal order so there is continuity of personal records.
The "open and notorious" use of a name is often sufficient to allow one to use an assumed name. In some jurisdictions, a trade name distinct from one's legal name can be registered with a county clerk, secretary of state, or other similar government authority. Persons who wish to publish materials and not have the publications associated with them may publish under pseudonyms; such a right is protected under case law pursuant to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
A common law name (i.e. one assumed for a non-fraudulent purpose) is a legal name. In most states a statutory method, while quick and definitive, only supplements the common law method, unless the statute makes itself exclusive. Note that although a person may sue under a common law name, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) have a higher standard and must use the "real" information, allowing the case to be dismissed.
In California the "usage method" (changing the name at will under common law) is sufficient to change the name. Not all jurisdictions require that the new name be used exclusively. Any fraudulent use or intent, such as changing the name to the same name as another person's name, may invalidate this type of name change.
Specifically in California, Code of Civil Procedure § 1279.5 and Family Code § 2082 regulate common law and court decreed name changes. Code of Civil Procedure § 1279.5 (a) reads, "Except as provided in subdivision (b), (c), (d), or (e), nothing in this title shall be construed to abrogate the common law right of any person to change his or her name." Subdivisions b through e preclude one from changing their name by common law if they are in state prison, on probation, on parole, or been a convicted sex offender. If a person is not in any of these categories, then a common law name change is allowed. Family Code § 2082 also specifically states, "Nothing in this code shall be construed to abrogate the common law right of any person to change one's name."
A legal name change is merely the first step in the name-change process. A person must officially register the new name with the appropriate authorities whether the change was made as a result of a court order, marriage, divorce, adoption, or any of the other methods described above. The process includes notifying various government agencies, each of which may require legal proof of the name change and that may or may not charge a fee. Important government agencies to be notified include the Social Security Administration, Bureau of Consular Affairs (for passports), the United States Postal Service, and the Department of Motor Vehicles (for a new driver's license or state identification card). Additionally the new name must be registered with other institutions such as employers, banks, doctors, mortgage, insurance and credit card companies. Online services are available to assist in this process either through direct legal assistance or automated form processing.
Although state requirements differ, it is generally recommended to first register a new name with the Social Security office as some state motor-vehicle departments require updated social security cards to make changes; Arizona is one of these states.
Most states require name changes to be registered with their departments of motor vehicles (DMVs) within a certain amount of time. For example, South Carolina, and Wyoming require a name change be registered with their office within ten days. Illinois and Texas require it be registered within 30 days, while North Carolina allows up to 60 days. New York State requires visiting a local motor vehicle office to change the name on all records and documents, but without a definite deadline to do so. The fees for registering a new name vary from state to state. The forms, along with the state-specific requirements, can generally be obtained for free.
Many states will require reasons for wanting a name change. For example, in Florida, a court will not grant a petition for a change of name if it finds that (i) the petitioner has ulterior or illegal motives in seeking the name change, (ii) the petitioner's civil rights are suspended, or (iii) granting the name change will invade the property rights (e.g., intellectual property rights) of others.
In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland citizens and residents have the freedom to change their names with relative ease.
In theory anyone who is at least 16 and resident in the United Kingdom can call themselves whatever they wish. However, over the past hundred years or so, formal procedures that are recognized by record holders such as government departments, companies and organizations have evolved, which enable a citizen legally to change the name recorded on their passport, driving licence, tax and National Insurance records, bank and credit cards, etc., provided that "documentary evidence" of a change of name is provided. Documents such as birth, marriage and educational certificates cannot be changed because these documents are "matters of fact", which means that they were correct at the time they were issued.
Documentary evidence of a change of name can be in a number of forms, such as a marriage certificate, decree absolute, civil partnership certificate, statutory declaration or deed of change of name. Such documents are mere evidence that a change of name has occurred, however, and they do not themselves operate to change a person's name. Deeds of change of name are by far the most commonly used method of providing evidence of a change of name other than changing a woman's surname after marriage. A deed poll is a legal document that binds a single person to a particular course of action (in this case, changing one's name for all purposes). The term 'deed' is common to signed, written agreements that have been shown to all concerned parties. Strictly speaking, it is not a contract because it binds only one party and expresses an intention instead of a promise. 'Poll' is an old legal term referring to official documents that had cut edges (were polled) so that they were straight.
People whose births are registered in England & Wales can optionally have their deed poll enrolled at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
People whose births are registered in Scotland (or who were adopted in Scotland) can change their name in the same way as people from the rest of the United Kingdom. However they can optionally apply to the Registrar General for Scotland to have their birth certificate amended to show the new name and have the respective register updated.
From September 1995, New Zealanders can change their name by making a statutory declaration and, if approved, the new name is registered with the Births, Deaths and Marriages section of the Department of Internal Affairs (Identity Services). Prior to September 1995, they changed their name by deed poll.
In Canada a person can informally call themselves whatever they want. In all provinces except Québec, when someone gets married they can change their last name without legally changing their name by using their Marriage Certificate as verification of the name change. It is almost impossible for married women in Québec to take their husbands' names. Like the United States the requirements for a formal name change varies from province to province. With the exception of Ontario, British Columbia and New Brunswick, Canadians must be 18 to change their names and have lived in the province they are changing it in for at least 3 months to a year, depending on province. (In New Brunswick and British Columbia, Canadians must be 19 to change their names, in Ontario 16.) People younger than the province's age of majority can change their names if they have their guardians' consent, are legally married, or have a common law marriage. To change a name, a Name Change application must be submitted to either the Ministry of Government Services, Court of justice or Registrar of civil status. A document such as a birth certificate must be submitted. A statement as to why the name is being changed is needed in most areas and the reason has to be serious. In Canada, a name cannot cause confusion, be used for misrepresentation or fraud and in most cases the name change is announced in newspapers. There is a fee involved and it ranges from $10 to $185 depending on the territory or province. British Columbia and Alberta need fingerprints to be submitted before one changes their name. 
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (June 2010)|
It is a common practice for ethnic Chinese residents of Hong Kong to adopt a western-style Chinese name in addition to their phonetic English name. As they often adopt western-style English names after being registered on the birth register, the fact that they want to include a western-style English name as part of their legal English name is regarded as a name change which usually requires a deed poll.
However, the Immigration Department which is responsible for processing applications for name change allows applicants to submit such applications without deeds poll; anyone who has a phonetic English name only and wishes to include a western-style English name as part of his or her legal English name can apply to the Immigration Department without a deed poll. Only one application of this kind is allowed for each applicant; any application for subsequent change(s) must be made with a deed poll.
Individuals may legally change their names so long as they are not doing so for criminal purposes, such as committing fraud.
Institutions such as banks, the Passport Office and transport authorities require proof of identity, so people who change their names need to have proof of the change.
Adults (people more than 18 years old) may register a change of name only once every 12 months unless a magistrate's court approves the change because of exceptional circumstances.
Children between one and 18 years old may register a change of name for the child's first name once between one and 18 years old and surname once every 12 months unless a magistrate's court approves otherwise.
A child less than one year old may register a change of name for the child's first name before the child turns one year old.
A change for a child's surname may be registered once every 12 months unless a magistrate's court approves otherwise.
If a person's birth or adoption was registered in Australia, the change will also be noted (in most cases) on the person's birth or adoption registration. Following the notation, any birth certificates issued will show the name registered at birth together with the new name. If requested the birth or adoption can be re-registered, thereby allowing the certificate to be issued without reference to the name registered at birth. Re-registration is a separate process requiring a formal application to be made and a fee paid.
In general, unlike in common law countries, names cannot be changed at will in civil law jurisdictions. Usually, a name change requires government approval and is only rarely granted. Though legal name changes have become more common in some of these countries over the last years. The reason given for this system is usually the public interest in the unique identifiability of a person, e.g., in governmental registers, although with the advent of personal identification numbers, that rationale may be in need of reconsideration.
Although as in other jurisdictions a resident of Quebec may informally use whatever name he or she wants, procedures for formal name change are very strict as Quebec (unlike the rest of Canada) operates under a civil law system. The decision must be authorized by the Director of Civil Status, and requires a valid reason for changing the name, including long-term use of the new name (in the Montreuil case cited below, the Quebec appeals court has considered five years' use to be a sufficient reason), difficulty of use due to spelling or pronunciation, or bearing a name that another person has made infamous.
This has occasionally led to controversy. A lawyer named Micheline Montreuil, a non-operative male-to-female transgender, had to undergo a lengthy process to have her name legally changed. Initially, the director of civil status refused to permit the change on the grounds that a legal male could not bear a female name. According to Quebec law, Montreuil could not change her record of sex because this requires proof of a completed sex reassignment surgery, which she has not had. On November 1, 1999, the provincial court of appeal ruled that nothing in the law prevented a person who was legally male from legally adopting a woman's name. (Montreuil was initially prevented from changing her name despite this ruling on the grounds that she had not established general use, as normally required for a name change; the Quebec appeals court finally authorized the change on November 7, 2002.)
The Director of Civil Status will amend a Quebec birth certificate if a name change certificate is issued by another province. Some have used that loophole by temporarily moving to one of Canada's other provinces, which follow the more permissive common-law rules, in order to get the legal documents.
In Switzerland, a name change requires the approval of the respective Cantonal government, if there are important reasons (wichtige Gründe / justes motifs) for the change, according to article 30 of the Swiss Civil Code. When aliens apply for naturalization, they have the option of asking for their names to be changed upon the grants of citizenship with no additional fees. According to the case law of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, such requests must be granted only if the petitioner shows that they suffer substantially from their present name, e.g., if it is the same as that of a notorious criminal.
In Belgian law, a name is in principle considered fixed for life, but under exceptional circumstances, a person may apply to the Ministry of Justice for a name change. This requires a Royal Decree (French: Arrêté royal, Dutch: Koninklijk besluit) for last names, but only a Ministerial Decree for first names. The new name must not cause confusion or cause damage to the bearer or others. Examples of requests that are usually considered favorably:
According to the Brazilian Civil Code and the Public Registries Act, the name registered after birth is definitive and immutable. However, there are some circumstances under which a name change is allowed:
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (December 2012)|
Although it has always been relatively easy to change ones legal names in Norway, it used to require some kind of government approval. As late as 1830 local vicars was instructed to write both given (Christian) names as well as last names in the baptismal record. Earlier only the given name of the child, birth date, and baptismal date and sex was written down, together with the parents names. It was not before the beginning of the 20th century though that the authorities demanded everybody to adopt a family name (surname). Until about 1980 the government still required that a name change applicant apply to the government regional representative (fylkesmann). The law has been replaced twice since that. Nowadays it is as easy as in common-law countries, as you just write down the names you want (providing that the surname you choose is not in use, or is used by more than 200 persons). You still have to submit your new names to the local authorities for reasons of election rosters and census counts but there is no application process anymore.
In Taiwan, the government strictly regulates when one's surname, given name, or both may or may not be changed, under the Name Act (姓名條例) since 1953 with 10 articles, totally amended into 14 articles in 2001, and the Enforcement Regulations of the Name Act (姓名條例施行細則).
Legally permitted reasons to change one's given name are:
2001 RA 9048 amends Articles 376 and 412 of the Civil Code of the Philippines, which prohibit the change of name or surname of a person, or any correction or change of entry in a civil register without a judicial order. Administrative Order No. 1 Series of 2001, implemented the law.  It authorizes the city or municipal civil registrar or the consul general to correct a clerical or typographical error in an entry and/or change the first name or nickname in the civil register without need of a judicial order.
In case of controversial and substantial changes, Philippines jurisprudence requires full-blown court lawsuit, that must include the local civil registrar in the petition, since RA 9048 and Rule 108 (Cancellation or correction of entries in the Civil Registry)  of the Rules of Court, do not allow the change of sex in a birth certificate. The only landmark case in the Philippines on name and legal sex change is the Jeff case.
The Supreme Court of the Philippines Justice Leonardo Quisumbing on September 12, 2008, allowed Jeff Cagandahan, 27, who has congenital adrenal hyperplasia, to change his birth certificate name from Jennifer to Jeff, and his legal gender from female to male.
In India, the concerned person needs to file a request for name change. In return he receives a legal affidavit or a document reflecting the request to change his legal name. This affidavit should be attested by a first class magistrate or by a notary public residing in India.
South Africa, which uses a mixture of common law and civil Roman Dutch law, mostly uses common-law procedures with regard to name change. Name changes in South Africa are regulated by the Births and Deaths Registration Act (Act 51 of 1992, as amended). The personal information of all citizens and permanent residents is recorded on the Population Register, so any name changes must be registered.
A person can change their forenames by submitting a form to the Department of Home Affairs. An individual's surname, or that of a family, may be changed by applying to the Department and providing a "good and sufficient reason" for the change.
A married woman can change her surname to that of her husband or join her maiden name with her husband's surname, and a divorced woman may return to her previous surname, without applying or paying a fee; but she must notify the department so that the details in the Population Register can be changed. (It is possible that, if challenged, these provisions might be held to be unconstitutional because they apply only to women.)
South Africa has officially recognized same sex marriages since 2006 and in doing so now allows one or both partners to change their surnames in the marriage register on the day of the marriage. A new passport and ID book can then be applied for with the new married surname as well.
The surnames of minor children can also be changed under various circumstances involving the marriage, divorce or death of a parent, children born out of wedlock, and guardianship.
Adherents of various religions change their name upon conversion or confirmation. The name adopted may not have any legal status but will represent their adopted religious beliefs.