What is a Name Change?


By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA)

Learn pros and cons to formal and informal name changes. Find free court forms for a formal name change.
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What is a Name Change?

A name change means just what you might think: You can change to a new name of your choice. You can get a name change in two ways: a formal (court-ordered) name change or an informal name change.

Why would I want a name change?

Here are some reasons you might change your name:

  • You did not change your name at the time of your divorce, and now you want to change it;
  • You want to have the same last name as your children;
  • You want to have the same last name as your partner but you are unmarried;
  • You do not like your name and would like a new one;
  • You want to reclaim a family name;
  • You want to escape a violent situation by creating a new legal identity.

Please note: This document does not apply to you if you are a married woman currently getting a divorce and you want your maiden name back. Usually, you can get your maiden name back by asking for it in the divorce papers.

Can I change my name for any reason?

You can change your name for just about any honest reason. However, you cannot get a name change to escape debt collection, criminal charges, or to hide from your other responsibilities. A court is not going to allow you to change your name formally unless you show that you are not trying to hide your own criminal activity or responsibilities.

I have a valid reason for changing my name. What do I do next?

Now you must decide if you want a formal name change or an informal name change. Here are a few pros and cons for both types.

Pros and Cons of Formal Name Changes

Many people change their name to escape violent situations. Some people escape a situation where they feel their or their children's lives are in danger through creating a new identity. The first step in creating a new identity is to get a formal name change from a court.

  • It will be easier to escape a dangerous situation.
  • An abuser or anyone trying to do you harm will have a harder time finding you if you have a new identity.
  • You get a new start, with a new name.
  • You can pick your own new name.
  • The court will seal your request for a new name, which keeps it confidential.
  • You can request a new birth certificate and social security number after the court approves your name change.
  • If you are trying to escape a dangerous situation, you may have to completely cut out contact with your old life. This means no contact with family, friends, and other people from your life before the name change. This is the only way to be certain that your abuser cannot find you.
  • You have to go through a court proceeding.
  • The court proceeding may cost money. However, you may qualify for a fee waiver if you can show that you cannot afford to pay court costs.

Pros and Cons of Informal Name Changes

  • You can pick your own new name.
  • You do not have to go through a court proceeding.
  • An informal name change will not cost much money.
  • You do not have to cut ties to your former life.
  • Your abuser or anyone who wants to find you can probably still find you.
  • You cannot get a new birth certificate or social security number without the formal court order.
  • You cannot change your name with the Department of Public Health and Human Services without a court order.

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