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Palm Springs Law Blog

Friday, April 12, 2019

What's in a Name?

I’m occasionally asked to file a petition for legal name change for a client, and I’m always interested in why people want to take on a new moniker. Both famous people and ordinary folks change their names, and they usually have some very good reasons to do it. Let’s take a look at some of them:

Most of us are not celebrities, and want to request a name change when there are changes in life situations that require a new social and legal identity:

  • Take back a maiden name after a divorce
  • Take a natural father’s name after out-of-wedlock-birth, or adoption by a new parent
  • Change to a pen name, or maintain a maiden name after marriage
  • Simplify a name that is complicated, hard to spell or hard to pronounce
  • Change a name when there is a change in gender identity
  • When one simply dislikes the name he or she was given at birth

Celebrities often change their birth names to something that has more impact, is easier to remember and sets them apart from others in their line of work. Many legally change their names before they become famous, preparing for themselves an identity that will be unique and memorable in the public eye. Here are a few of the many celebrities who have changed their names. Did you know all of these?

  • Judy Garland - Frances Ethel Gumm
  • Woody Allen - Allan Stewart Konigsberg
  • John Wayne - Marion Robert Morrison
  • Joan Crawford - Lucille Fay LeSueur
  • Kirk Douglas - Issur Danielovitch Demsky
  • Elton John - Reginald Kenneth Dwight
  • Ralph Lauren - Ralph Lifshitz
  • Michael Kors - Karl Anderson Jr.
  • Vin Diesel - Mark Sinclair
  • Whoopie Goldberg - Caryn Elaine Johnson
  • Lady Gaga - Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta
  • John Legend - John Roger Stephens
  • Lorde - Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor

And, of course:

  • Marilyn Monroe - Norma Jeane Mortenson

The court can’t deny a name change to anyone 18 years or older, unless the name is being changed for fraudulent purposes. You can’t take the name of a celebrity or anyone else, for example, if the intent is to defraud others. You can’t change your name to avoid debts or liens. You can’t change your name to hide from the law or police, or for any other illegal reason.

If you are on probation or parole, the court may deny your application unless you have written permission from your parole officer. Individuals who are in state or federal prison may apply for a name change, but must secure written permission from state or federal officials in the prison systems.

In California, it is possible to change your name by the “usage method”, which is your common law right. You simply start using a new name for every purpose, 24 hours a day from now on, and never use your original name again. But in our current environment, this is not a very practical method. Nearly all state and federal agencies, banks and other institutions require a court order legalizing the change.

You can’t get a new social security card, passport, driver license or bank account without that order. Your common law usage of a new name won’t fly with all the regulations that are designed to defeat identity theft, fraud and terrorism.

How to Change your Name 101:

  • File a Petition for Name Change with the Supreme Court in the county in which you live. The filing fee in Riverside County, California is $450. The entire process from start to finish will take 3 months or so from the date of filing.
  • An Order to Show Cause for Change of Name form with a hearing date will be issued. You must publish it in a newspaper of wide circulation in the county. Publication fees will likely be $100 or more. The purpose of publishing the hearing date is so everyone in the area can learn of your plans, and have an opportunity to object. It is very rare for anyone to attend the hearing or to object to a name change.
  • There are a few petitioners who will not be required to publish the form: individuals in the State Witness Protection Program and in the address confidentiality program who are victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault may file additional paperwork to avoid publication. Also, those who are requesting a name change to conform to gender identity are not required to publish.
  • Attend the hearing and if all goes well, the Judge will sign and issue a Decree for Name Change. This order is the official document legalizing your new name. It is a good idea to ask the court clerk for several certified copies of the Decree. You will likely need them for the last steps in the process of changing your name.
  • The final step in the process is to apply for a new social security card, driver license, car registration and passport. Certified copies of the Decree must usually be provided to state and federal agencies. Request a name change on your bank, retirement and investment accounts, credit cards, and utility and other routine household accounts. Update your Will and your Trust documents. And once all the legwork is done, throw yourself a little party to celebrate the brand new you!

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