FAQs

Adult Change of Name--Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How much does it cost to change my name?

A: In most cases, you have to pay a fee when you ask the court to change your name. People with very low incomes can get a "fee waiver' and do not have to pay the court fee. Click here to find out more about fee waivers.

On top of the court fee, you may have to pay to publish notice of the hearing on your petition (the Order to Show Cause for Change of Name) in a newspaper. Publishing the name change notice in a local newspaper is required in most name change cases.

Q: Why do I have to publish my Order to Show Cause for Change of Name in the newspaper?

A: The law requires that you publish the Order to Show Cause form showing you are asking to change your name, and the date of your court hearing, to help prevent fraud by letting people know you are changing your name, and giving them a chance to object. Normally no one objects, but the legal requirement means you cannot get a court order to change your name without publishing notice.

Q: Why would a judge not let me change my name?

A: The main reasons why a judge would not agree to change your name are:

  • If the judge finds that you are changing your name to commit fraud, or
  • If the judge finds that you are changing your name to hide from the law or the police or for some other illegal reason.

If you are on probation or parole, the judge may not agree to change your name, unless your probation or parole officer is aware of your change of name and gives written consent. If you are incarcerated in a California state prison, the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections  and Rehabilitation has to give permission to the court to let you change your name. If you are incarcerated in federal prison, get permission from the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Q: What if I am a victim of domestic violence and I do not want my abuser to find out my new name?

A: There are ways for your new name to remain confidential and not appear on the court records. You can register with the Safe at Home program to keep the information confidential. Ask your local domestic violence shelter, victim services unit in the local District Attorney’s Office, or family law facilitator for help. 

Click here for help finding your local domestic violence agency. 

Click here for more information on domestic violence and how to protect yourself.

Q: What if I am divorced, but I want to change my name to something different from my maiden name or a prior married name that I once used?

A: You have to file a regular change of name case in your local superior court. Click here for instructions.

Q: I am becoming a U.S. citizen. Can I change my name during this process?

A: It depends. Click here for an information guide from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and look for the most recent rules on name changes during the naturalization process.

If you have already become a U.S. citizen and you want to change your name, you will have to file a case in your local court. Click here for more information.

Q: I am getting married and want to change my last name to my spouse’s last name. Do I need to go to court?

A: It depends. Go to your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office and your social security office and ask whether you can change the name on your driver’s license and social security card to your spouse’s last name without a court order. Sometimes, they will change your name if you show them your marriage license or certificate and you will not have to go to court. But it is possible they will tell you to get a court order, so be prepared for that.

Q: Can I just change my name by using my new name (by the "usage method"), without going to court?

A: In California, you have the common law right to change your name by the "usage method." This means that you simply pick a new name and start using it consistently in all parts of your life. There are exceptions to changing your name by the "usage method" -- it cannot be used by people who are in state prison, on probation, on parole, or been a convicted sex offender. And it cannot be used to change a minor's name.

BUT, government regulations created to fight against identity theft, fraud and terrorism are making it almost impossible to have a new name without official documentation. So, practically speaking, government agencies like the DMV or Social Security Administration and most institutions (like banks) require a court order to change your name. And you will also need a court order to get a new birth certificate or a passport in your new name.

For this reason, it is much more common to file for a court order changing your name. With that court order, called a Decree, you will be able to change your government-issued identifications and prove to any institution that your new name is your legal name.

Click for instructions to get a court order changing your name.

Q: What should I do if I want to change my name AND my gender at the same time?

A: If you want to legally change your name AND your gender, there is a separate court process and forms for doing that. Read the information and instructions to change your name and gender. If you just want to change your name for now and intend to change your gender later, continue with the instructions in the section for changing your name. Later on, if you want to change your gender, red the information and instructions to change your gender only.

Q: What should I do if I want to change my gender only?

A: If you want to change your gender, read the information and instructions to change your gender only.

Changing a Child’s Name — Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How much does it cost to change my child’s name?

A: In most cases, you have to pay a fee when you ask the court to change your child’s name. People with very low incomes can get a "fee waiver" and do not have to pay the court fee. Click here to find out more about fee waivers.

On top of the court fee, you may have to pay to publish notice of the hearing on your petition (the Order to Show Cause for Change of Name) in a newspaper. Publishing the name change notice in a local newspaper is required in most name change cases.

Q: Why do I have to publish the Order to Show Cause for Change of Name in the newspaper?

A: The law requires that you publish the Order to Show Cause for Change of Name form showing you are asking to change your child’s name, and the date of the court hearing, to help prevent fraud by letting people know you are changing your child’s name, and giving them a chance to object. Normally, no one objects, but the legal requirement means you cannot get a court order to change your name without publishing notice.

Q: Why do I have to serve the other parent with a copy of the change of name papers?

A: Your child’s other parent, even if he or she has not been involved in your child’s life, has a legal right to know that you are trying to change your child’s name. The other parent will have the chance to go to court and tell the judge if he or she is against changing your child’s name. The judge will make a decision based on the best interest of your child.

Q: What if I do not know where my child’s other parent is?

A: You will have to ask the court for special permission to get the name change without letting the other parent know.

To do this, the judge will ask you to look for the other parent, and you have to look as hard as possible, asking friends and family and looking up public records. Ask your court clerk or self-help center what the judge in your local court will want you to do to try to find the other parent.

You will have to file papers explaining everything you tried to find your child’s other parent, when you did it, and what the result was. The judge will take this very seriously (to make sure you tried everything possible) before changing your child’s name without the other parent’s knowledge.

Q: What if I do not know who my child’s father is?

A: You will have to file papers explaining to the judge why you really do not know who the father is and what you tried to find out who he is. Then you will have to ask the judge for permission to go ahead with your child’s change of name without the father.

If your child was conceived through artificial insemination with an anonymous donor, then let the court know that. You still have to serve the other parent if your child has another legal parent other than you.

Q: What if I am a victim of domestic violence and I do not want my abuser to find out where my child and I live?

A: There are ways for your address to remain confidential and not appear on the court records. You can register with the Safe at Home program to keep the information confidential. Ask your local domestic violence shelter, victim services unit in the local District Attorney’s Office, or family law facilitator for help. 

Click here for help finding your local domestic violence agency. 

Click here for more information on domestic violence and how to protect yourself.

Q: Why would a judge not let me change my child’s name?

A: If the judge finds that changing your child’s name is not in the best interest of your child, the judge can deny the name change.

Q: Do I need to get a new birth certificate for my child with the new name?

A: It depends. It will probably be easier in the long run if you have your child’s birth certificate changed. But you do not need to because the court order is enough to get any government-issued documents changed or to prove you changed your child’s name.

Also, even if you do ask for a new birth certificate, it may take many months (even a year) to get a new one, so in the meantime you can use the decree from the court to prove that your child’s name is changed.

Q: My spouse or domestic partner wants to adopt my child. Does changing my child’s last name to my spouse’s or domestic partner’s name work the same as an adoption?

A: No. Changing your child’s name to your spouse’s or domestic partner’s name will only legally change your child’s name, but it will not establish your spouse or domestic partner as your child’s parent. However, if your spouse or domestic partner actually adopts your child through a stepparent adoption, the child’s name can be changed through the stepparent adoption process.

So, for example, if your child is from a previous relationship and you now change your child’s last name to your current spouse’s name, your spouse will NOT be your child’s legal parent. The only way to do this is to do an adoption. Click here for information on adoptions.

Q: My spouse or domestic partner wants to give my child his or her last name. How do we do it?

A: Just follow the instructions for changing a child’s name when only 1 parent is filing the case

Remember, just because your child will have your spouse’s or domestic partner’s last name does NOT mean that your spouse or domestic partner will be your child’s legal parent. Your spouse or domestic partner can only become your child’s legal parent by adopting your child through the stepparent adoption process. Click here for information on adoptions.

Site Map | Careers | Contact Us | Accessibility | Public Access to Records | Terms of Use | Privacy