There are two different ways to change your name in California. Sometimes an individual merely starts using a name that is different than their legal name. Although this may be sufficient with unofficial, non-legal matters, most people will find it difficult or impossible to change their name on a driver’s license, passport or Social Security card without going through a formal name change proceeding. In order to obtain a legal name change, an individual must file for a name change with the California courts and obtain a court order changing their legal name.
In the case of a minor child, where both parents agree, changing a child’s name can often be as easy as changing the name of an adult. One or both parents can also petition the court to change the name of their minor child. Where both parents request the change, courts normally grant the request automatically. When one parent alone files a petition to change a child’s name, the other parent must be given proper notice of the proposed name change. If the other parent does not object or if the absent parent has abandoned the minor child, the court will most likely grant the name change.
If a minor child is being adopted, the minor’s name can be changed through the adoption proceedings without having to file a separate court action.
An adult residing in California can petition the court for a California name change to legally change their name. The process involves filing several forms and following the court’s name change procedures. The result is a court order recognizing the new name. The court process for an adult name change takes approximately two months.
If a woman was divorced in California and did not change her name during that proceeding, she can later request the family law court to restore her birth or former name at any time after the divorce becomes final. Returning to a maiden name after divorce is a much more straightforward process than a formal adult name change and can be accomplished relatively quickly through the family law court (See Changing Name During or After Divorce below).
Special considerations pertain to adults who want to change their name and who are in prison, on parole or registered as sex offenders. They include:
If you are in State prison, the court will not hear your petition unless you have written approval of the Director of Corrections. Whether or not permission is granted is entirely at the discretion of the Director. [CCP Section 1279.5(b)]
If you are on parole, the court will not hear your petition without the written approval of your parole agent or probation officer. By state law, your parole agent or probation officer must determine whether your name change would pose a security risk to the community. [CCP Section 1279.5(c)]
If you are a registered sex offender under California Penal Code Section 290, the court will change your name only if the court determines that granting your petition “is in the best interest of justice” and will not adversely affect public safety. If the court grants your name change, you must notify local authorities of the change within five days [CCP Section 1279.5(d)].
If you seek to change your name through a court Petition, the judge can refuse to grant your new name if a substantial reason exists for the denial. Under California law, “substantial reasons” include:
You may not choose a name for “fraudulent purposes” (meaning you intend to do something illegal).
You may not “interfere with the rights of others” which generally means choosing the name of a famous person with the intent to somehow profit from doing so.
You may not use a name that would be “intentionally confusing.”
You may not choose a name that could be considered “fighting words,” which includes threatening or obscene words, racial slurs or other words likely to incite violence.
Unless the judge is aware of a substantial reason to deny your request for a change of name, the judge has a duty to approve your name change.
Some women desire to change a name after divorce. Changing your name after a divorce is a very personal decision. If the parties have children, often the woman does not desire to change her name because of the children. Furthermore, the process of changing records such as driver’s license, social security card, credit cards, etc. can be very time consuming, and some individuals may not feel the need or importance to revert to their former name after a divorce.
In California, as in most states, you can request that the judge handling your divorce make a formal order to restore a former name or restore a birth name. If your divorce decree contains such an order, you will only need to obtain a certified copy of the Judgment. Once you have this official documentation, you can use it to have your name changed on your identification and personal records.
If you did not request your name change through a divorce proceeding, you can make a special request after the divorce is final by applying to the court where your divorce case was heard.
After a divorce is finalized, a mother cannot change her children’s last names to her maiden name without special court petition for change of name. This is because historically courts have ruled that a father had an automatic right to have his child or children keep his last name if he continued to perform his parental role actively.
California law allows each person who obtains a marriage license to decide to change either their middle or last name or both names. When you apply for a marriage license, there is a place for you to provide your new middle and/or last name to be used after you get married. A person getting married cannot change their first name.
Social Security and the Department of Motor Vehicles will not allow a person to change their name using the marriage certificate unless the new name is shown in the new name fields. These agencies require you to get a court order to change your name after marriage.
Each person getting married may adopt any of the following middle names:
1. You can use your current last name or the last name of the person you are marrying;
2. You can use the last name you were given at birth or the last name given at birth of the person you are marrying;
3. You can hyphenate your current middle name with your last name or hyphenate your current middle name with the last name of the person you are marrying; or
4. You can hyphenate your current middle name with your last name given at birth or hyphenate your current middle name with the last name given at birth of the person you are marrying.
Each person getting married may adopt any of the following last names:
1. You can use the current last name of either person getting married;
2. You can use the last name given at birth for either person getting married;
3. You can combine into a single last name all or a portion of your current last names or your last names given at birth of each person getting married; or
4. You can hyphenate the two last names.