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Deciding on a name for your child can be tough. And even after you think you've picked just the right name, you may find it wasn't quite so perfect after all.
In a survey of our site parents, 11 percent admitted that they regretted the name they gave their child. Why? Most said the name had become too popular. Other reasons included frequent mispronunciation and the chosen name just not suiting the child's personality.
If you're serious about changing your child's name, it's best to get the process under way as early as possible. A baby doesn't start responding to his name until he's about 7 months old, so you have a window of time before it would be confusing to call him something else.
(Of course, you can always call your child by his new name well in advance of starting the legal name change process if you decide to go that route.)
Common usage or legal name change
"Common usage" is the easiest way to change your child's name. This means you just start using your child's new name and introducing her that way to other people. Soon friends and family members will also call her by that name, and before long, the name sticks.
Giving your child a nickname is the simplest example of common usage. Say you named your child Isabella, but you prefer to call her Bella. You also ask your family members and friends to call her Bella, and from then on, that's the name she's known by.
The biggest upside of common usage is that it spares you the hassle and expense of making a legal name change. If you're only slightly changing your child's name, common usage might be your best option.
However, if you're completely changing her name – from Isabella to Addison, for example – common usage won't quite cut it. This can also be confusing to a child if people continue to use her original name.
Even worse, you will be creating an administrative headache that can last a long time. All your child's legal documents (birth certificate, Social Security card, school records, savings bonds) will still be in her original name. So every time she opens a bank account, applies for a job, or does anything requiring her legal name, she'll have to use Isabella, even though everyone knows her as Addison.
The legal process
A legal name change officially recognizes and authorizes your child's new name. It allows you to change the name that's printed on your child's Social Security card and, depending on his age, on his birth certificate.
If you can afford it, contacting a lawyer is the easiest way to get started. The lawyer will know the specific rules and requirements in your state, provide all the appropriate forms, and file the forms with the court.
Otherwise, you may be able to navigate the process by yourself. Your first step would be to contact your local county court to find out the exact process because name change procedures vary by state. In Minnesota, for example, your child must be a state resident for at least six months in order to qualify for a legal name change. In California, if you're filing for the name change as a single parent, you're required to provide the other parent with a copy of the paperwork at least 30 days before the court date.
If you and your spouse are applying together, both of you will need to sign the forms.
Many states, including California, Colorado, and Utah, explain the whole process online and provide free forms you can download. If the forms aren't available online, call your county court to find out where to get them and whether a fee is required.
Although requirements vary slightly by state, here's a list of basic forms:
- Petition for a name change
- Court order approving the name change
- Petition giving public notice of the name change
- Final decree from the court authorizing the name change
You need to sign these forms in front of a court clerk or notary, also called a notary public. You can find notary services at your bank or a retail shipping location. (If you're working with a lawyer, she will know a notary.)
Be sure to make several copies of the documents for your own records and to use when you apply for a name change on your child's Social Security card and birth certificate.
Along with completing the paperwork, you need to pay fees, which also vary by state and sometimes by county. (Most states have waivers for people who can't afford them.)
Once you've filled out all the paperwork, some states require you to attend a hearing so a judge can make a ruling to grant the name change. In other states, once you've submitted the forms and paid the fees, it just takes a month or so to receive the court order approving the name change.
What happens next?
Once the court legally recognizes your child's new name, her Social Security card (if she has one) and birth certificate need to be changed. If you've already ordered your child's Social Security card, it's very important to report any name change so that her future wages will be accurately recorded, and she'll be able to receive the correct amount of Social Security when she retires.
To report a legal name change to the Social Security Administration, you need to fill out an application for a Social Security card. Obtain the application by visiting your local Social Security office, calling the SSA's toll-free number, (800) 772-1213, or downloading the online form.
To change the name on your child's birth certificate, contact your state's Office of Vital Records (typically part of the Department of Health). Many states allow new parents six to 12 months to make changes on a child's birth certificate without requiring a court order. The fee is usually between $15 and $40, and some states waive fees for low-income applicants.
Resources for your state
The links below have general information by state on changing your child's name. If your state isn't listed here, contact your county court for more information.