Reasons to Change Your Legal Name (Besides Divorce)

Patricia TichenorLegal

close up of woman with name tag

Changing your legal name is often associated with marriage or divorce. However, even without these life events, it’s still possible to change your name at any time, for almost any reason.

As long your new name is in the best public interest (meaning you’re not changing it to evade criminal charges, take someone else’s identity, or be intentionally offensive), a Virginia Circuit Court is very likely to approve your petition for a legal name change.

Because you’ll need to provide a reason for your name change when you file your petition, here are some valid ones to consider.

1. You want to honor a family member by taking their name.

It’s common for modern day surnames to be derivatives of their original names. For families who immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century, last names that were long or difficult to pronounce were changed. To honor your family’s background, you may consider “taking back” your family’s name.

Or, perhaps you feel your current surname doesn’t reflect the family members who had the most significant influence on you. This can especially be true if you were raised by family members other than your parents, or the parent whose name you share is no longer part of your life. To highlight their importance in your life, you might consider taking their name as part of yours.

2. You and your spouse or family want to choose a new surname together.

Getting married and/or having children is an exciting new chapter of life. For some couples, taking one partner’s last name or hyphenating existing names doesn’t feel like it truly represents their identity as a new family. If you feel this way, you may be interested in developing a new name that represents your union and your family.

For same-sex couples, this can be an empowering alternative to retaining individual last names. For blended families, like those with step-children, sharing a name can help you develop a deeper family bond.

When choosing a surname together, you can combine cultural backgrounds, select a name that has a meaning that resounds with you, or go with a name that just sounds “like you.”

3. Your current name is hard to spell or pronounce.

Frequent mispronunciation or misspelling of your name — or even avoidance of it by others in conversation — can be frustrating. Some people find comfort in using a simplified name when introducing themselves to diverse groups of people or applying to jobs (even though discrimination based on national origin or ethnicity is illegal). If you’re tired of correcting and instructing others about your current name, a name that is shorter, spelled differently, or more common may put you at ease.   

4. Your birth name doesn’t reflect your gender identity.

For people who are transitioning to a gender that is different than the one they were assigned at birth, choosing a new name that is reflective of who they really are is an empowering way to share their identity with the world. If you’re looking for a name that expresses your true self better, you might choose a name that’s a masculine or feminine version of your current one, decide on an entirely new name that is traditionally associated with your gender identity, or pick a name that’s gender-neutral. 

5. You simply don’t like your given name.

Maybe you’re someone who never went by your given name because you’ve used a nickname or a middle name for almost your entire life. Maybe your name was the target of teasing or bullying, or you were named after a family member you have a poor relationship with. Or, perhaps you just don’t like the way your name sounds when people say it. If you’d prefer a legal name with a more positive association for you, you have the power to change it.

Filing for a non-divorce legal name change? My Legal Case Coach can help.

My Legal Case Coach offers a special legal case form packet for Virginia residents who want to change their legal name unrelated to a pending divorce case. Your packet includes one free hour of 1:1 virtual legal coaching, and ongoing prepaid coaching time can be purchased for additional guidance. Schedule a free consultation with an experienced Case Coach to discuss your circumstances.