Baby Name Change

Did you just adopt a baby and want to change the name on their birth certificate? Many states allow new parents six to 12 months to make changes on a child’s birth certificate without requiring a court order. It’s called an administrative name change, and it can either be done through your hospital after the birth or by contacting the state’s Office of Vital Records.

Need to change a baby’s name? Contact your state’s Office of Vital Records. Many states allow new parents six months to a year to make changes on a child’s birth certificate without requiring a court order.

To change the name on a child’s birth certificate, contact your state’s Office of Vital Records. Most states allow new parents six to 12 months to change the name without requiring a court order. Check with your state’s vital records office for specific time frames and rules.

Changing the name on your child’s birth certificate is a simple process. Although you’ll typically need to go in person to your state’s Office of Vital Records, some states allow new parents six to 12 months to make changes without requiring a court order.

To change a child’s name, you need to go to your state’s Office of Vital Records (typically part of the department of Health). A birth certificate is actually a legal document and needs a court order. The only time you can change the name on your child’s birth certificate without a court order is if both parents sign affidavits agreeing to the name change. You can also use an adoption decree.

Your child’s birth certificate contains a baby’s legal name, as well as your names as the parents. If you want to change the child’s name on a birth certificate, you’ll need to contact the appropriate state’s Office of Vital Records (typically part of the Department of Health) and provide them with new documentation, usually in the form of a court order.

When you give birth, there’s a lot that goes on. It’s whirlwind to say the least, so it’s entirely possible to make a mistake on your baby’s birth certificate or pick a name that just doesn’t stick once you go home from the hospital or birthing center. But, can you change your baby’s name? As it turns out, it’s actually not a super uncommon thing for parents to want to make a switch, even once the ink has dried on the birth certificate.

In a survey of BabyCenter 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 their 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 their name until they’re about 7 months old, so you have a window of time before it would be confusing to call them something else. (Of course, you can always call your child by their new name well in advance of starting the legal name change process if you decide to go that route.)

What is a “common usage” or “common law” name change?

“Common usage” or “common law” is the easiest way to change your child’s name. This means you just start using your child’s new name and introducing them that way to other people. Soon friends and family members will also call your baby by that name, and before long, it will stick.

Giving your child a nickname is the simplest example of common usage. Say you name your child Isabella, but prefer to call her Bella. You can  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 or common law might be your best and simplest option. However, if you’re completely changing their name – from Isabella to Addison, for example – common usage may not quite cut it.

While a major common usage or common law name change can be confusing to a child if people continue to use their original name, you also may be creating an administrative headache that can last a long time. All your child’s legal documents (their birth certificate, Social Security card, school records, savings bonds) will still be in their original name. So every time they open a bank account, apply for a job, or do anything requiring their legal name, they’ll have to use Isabella, even though everyone knows them as Addison.

How do I legally change my child’s name?

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 their age, on their birth certificate.

If you can afford it, contacting a lawyer is the easiest way to get started with a name change. The lawyer will know the specific rules and requirements in your state, provide all the appropriate forms, and file the forms with the court.

If you can’t afford a lawyer, you still may be able to navigate the process by yourself. Your first step is 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 partner are applying together, both of you will need to sign the forms. Most states explain the entire name change 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:advertisement | page continues below

  • 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, they 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.

Once the court legally recognizes your child’s new name, their Social Security card (if they have 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 their future wages will be accurately recorded, and they’ll be able to receive the correct amount of Social Security when they retire.advertisement | page continues below

  • 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 $50, and some states waive fees for low-income applicants.

Name change resources by 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.

Alaska

Arizona

Californiaadvertisement | page continues below

Colorado

Connecticut

Delaware

Florida

Georgiaadvertisement | page continues below

Hawaii

Idaho

Illinois

Iowa

Kentuckyadvertisement | page continues below

Maine

Maryland

Massachusetts

Minnesota

Missouriadvertisement | page continues below

Montana

Nebraska

Nevada

New Hampshire

New Jerseyadvertisement | page continues below

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota

Ohioadvertisement | page continues below

Oregon

Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota

Texasadvertisement | page continues below

Utah

Vermont

Virginia

Washington

West Virginia

Baby Name Change California

If you want to change your child’s name, there are options. A “common usage” or “common law” name change is easiest, and just means you’ll start calling your child by a new name, but they may run into issues in the future when they try to open bank accounts or apply for jobs with their non-legal name. A legal name change is permanent, and includes petitioning the courts and changing your child’s name on their birth certificate and social security card. If you can afford it, a lawyer can make this process relatively seamless, but you may be able to petition for the change yourself through your local court. 

Allow me to set the scene: You just arrived home from the hospital with your new bundle of joy. After a few days of late night feedings and endless diaper changes, you realize that the baby you’ve called Stella for the past week or so actually doesn’t feel like a Stella at all. Every time you say her name, you know in your heart it’s just not the right name for your baby. Instead, you find yourself gravitating to the name Sara and frantically Google searching who to turn to to help you change your baby’s name.

How To Change Your Baby’s Name

“A good place for parents to start is by gathering any necessary documentation,” Carrie Quick, a family law attorney with Sodoma Law tells Romper. If you don’t already have copy of your baby’s original birth certificate that was signed at the hospital and filed with your state’s registry, you’ll need to collect that first and foremost.

“Once you’ve gathered any required documents, it’s important to consult with an attorney to make sure you understand the legal rights and processes and exactly how the name change decision impacts you and your child,” Quick explains. “The next step is to file the notice and other documents needed for the name change with appropriate department; in some states this is a Clerk of Court, in other states, it requires an actual court file to be opened and a Judge to sign the name change order.”

While you can definitely file all of the paperwork yourself, a name change can have significant impacts on your child later in life if done improperly (more on that below), so it’s important to consult with an attorney or state official to make sure you’re completing every step of the process correctly. “The criteria and required documents can differ by state, so make sure to familiarize yourself with the rules where you live or consult with a professional who handles name changes,” says Quick.

Parents of newborns can change their baby's name by filing the required paperwork.
Dobrila Vignjevic/E+/Getty Images

Is There A Time Limit To Change Your Baby’s Name?

When you take a newborn home, you probably won’t sleep for what feels like weeks on end, and especially if you’re a brand new parent, there’s a steep learning curve to caring for an infant. So, when you decide to change your baby’s name, it’s possible that multiple weeks have passed since their birth.

Legal name changes take time and there are many steps to the process, so you want to start as soon as you decide on a new name for your baby. “A name change has or can have broad impacts on many different areas of life, and the waiting period between each stage can be long,” Quick says. “Think months for the new birth certificate, then months for a new Social Security card, then even longer before you can obtain a passport in the new name.”

Quick tells Romper that time frames for name changes vary depending on where you live, so it’s important to speak with an attorney or your local authorities to see what the rules and regulations are. “In states such as North Carolina, a person is entitled to one birth name change in their lifetime. This gives parents the ability to change their baby/minor child’s name until the child is 18 years old,” Quick explains. “Similarly, some states have rules that require the child’s consent for a parent to change their name after a certain age.”

To avoid potential complications, you’ll want to make moves to change your baby’s name as soon as you realize that you want them to have a different legal moniker. “Generally speaking, if you are planning to change your child’s name, the sooner the better,” says Quick. “It will make things easier in the long run and will help you avoid complicating personal and legal issues in the future for both you and your child.”

What Happens After You Change Your Baby’s Name?

If you follow all of the rules and regulations for your state and complete a proper name change when your child is still a baby, there really shouldn’t be anything to worry about as time goes on. However, there could be repercussions later in life if the name change isn’t done properly or if you wait years to make everything legal.

“Other than a long list of aliases that will have to be listed on applications, a name change requires collateral documentation to also be changed to reflect the new name, such as Social Security cards and identification,” Quick tells Romper. “The older the child, the more documents there are to be changed. It’s not just the big things, it’s all the small things people don’t always think about — bank accounts, driver’s license, insurance policies, passports, school records, and anything else that requires a legal name.”

When traveling abroad, registering for school, or doing anything else where your baby’s legal name will need to be verified, their name change can become an issue if it’s not done properly. But, if you follow each step of the process carefully, you can absolutely change your little one’s name in those early days of babyhood without complication.

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