How to Change Your Name in California

Want to change your name? Many people do so at some point during their lifetime. How to change your name in California does vary depending on why you want to make the change, though. So whether you've gotten married, gone through a divorce, adopted a child, been adopted, or just want to take a new name, the Golden State has a process to navigate.

Fortunately, we know exactly how to change your name in California:

  1. identify and follow the correct California legal name change process;
  2. file the appropriate paperwork with government agencies; and
  3. 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 – and a few reasons you can’t.

Marriage

Most commonly, people change their name after getting married. California makes this process relatively simple. A valid marriage certificate is the only legal document required. 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.

Divorce

The process differs for divorce. California requires a court order to restore a former name, birth name, or maiden name following divorce. But this can be done during the normal divorce process, and a court is required to restore a former name upon request. So while you have to ask, the answer will generally be yes. You can ask a court to restore a former name during the divorce proceedings or, should you want to change your name later on, file the application after a divorce is finalized.

Hey, I Just Want to Change My Name!

Changing your name in other circumstances 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 birth place;
  • residence;
  • current name;
  • proposed name; and
  • a reason for changing your name.

A court appearance is required and some notice must be published, generally in a local newspaper for four weeks in order to inform a community of an intention to change names.

California does permit name changes under the common law, also known as the 'usage method' – you can simply start using a new name. However, some government agencies may require a court order as official “proof” of a name change.

Changing a Child’s Name

For minor children, a parent or legal guardian must consent and be involved in the process as well. First, the parent must file the 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.

Gender and Name Change

Changing your gender and name in California is a more lengthy process. You will have to fill out a petition and possibly undergo a criminal background check, have a doctor sign your forms, and appear in court.

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. Those under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections will need to consult their 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 is also a wise idea to contact friends and relatives. You should consider taking the following actions:

  • Changing your driver license through the California Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Applying for an updated Social Security card through the Social Security Administration at your local Social Security office to ensure federal benefits aren’t disrupted
  • Informing any financial institutions such as your bank, loan holder, 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.

Get the Forms You Need in California

Changing your name, whether after marriage, divorce, adoption, or otherwise, is a major life event. Take the time to do it right! And best of all, you don't need a lawyer to change your name. You can use our California name change forms tailored specifically for your situation. Start the process by picking out a package which includes a petition to file with the court and the relevant state and federal agencies.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.