A person is generally allowed to change their first name, last name, middle name, or full name—provided the name change is not for a fraudulent purpose or to avoid creditors. The process is often initiated by filing a name change petition in court and providing notice of the name change to government agencies such as (1) the state department of motor vehicles or department of public safety that issues driver’s licenses and (2) the U.S. Social Security Administration.
State voter registration records and passport information (U.S. Department of State) will also need to be updated to reflect a name change.
Some states—such as California—allow a person to change their name simply by using a different name in all aspects of their life. This is known as the usage method for name change. But government agencies will often require a court order as official proof of a name change, so it is generally best to follow that process.
A person may seek a name change for a number of reasons. Following marriage, one spouse will often change their last name to the other spouse’s last name. And one or both spouses generally may change their name following divorce. A person may also change their name to match their gender identity. And the name of a minor child may be changed—often when a parent remarries and the parent’s new spouse adopts the child.
Name change laws vary from state to state and are usually located in a state’s statutes—often in the family code or domestic relations code.