Since grade school I’ve wanted to change my name. My last name was not a family name but my mom’s last name out of marriage. It was a name that had no meaning to me. Then my first name, was actually a hyphenation of two names. It was really long. Later on, they hyphen symbol became an issue with computers, credit cards, and IDs. Having two first names, plus a middle name, is a lot for one person.
Once away from high school bullies, I really grew to love my first name. Well, the first part of it at least. I never used the second half except in legal dealings. Most people even now didn’t know I had a hyphenated name.
The first part of my first name was then, and is now the entirety of my first name, is Leslie. I am quite proud that my namesake is my grandfather. The original hyphenation was my mother’s way to feminize her father’s name. Leslie is still commonly used as a unisex name today. Have you ever met a Les? He was probably a Leslie.
Starting in high school, I had the thought of changing my last name to my dad’s last name, O’Connor. Whenever I looked into legally changing my name, I was immediately discouraged by hearing that it was expensive, required a lawyer, or I was too young and would regret it. And so I waited until I was 33.
It’s been officially one year since the paperwork has been signed. Perhaps I could have continued going by my nickname and never using my last name. Although I do enjoy the moniker Leslie Beslie, part of me felt silly handing out business cards with the name.
When my father passed away in 2014, I waited a year then went with my gut and finally, legally, took his last name. I figured that while I was changing my last name, I might as well change my first name too. Mainly to remove the hyphenated appended portion.
One of the biggest issues after changing my name was telling people. I understand it is rather rare to change your name without getting married. And that is the number one assumption. So, when asked, I would respond with, “No, I did not get married but I appreciate your optimism.”
My official work announcement was, “I recently changed my name to a family name for personal reasons.” My more personal announcement was, “My dad passed away last year so I wanted to take his name to have his memory with me.” No one in legal departments asked for a reason.
I tried to make the announcement at work as soon as possible to thwart the “Did you get married?” questions. But I was still bombarded by them. (Especially that conference call when I asked does anyone have any questions about this project? and someone, being light-hearted, asked what was with the name change is a congratulations in order and I had to awkwardly laugh then say No and I couldn’t end that call fast enough.)
The actual steps I took to legally change my name in New York State are below. The court-house process was quicker than I expected. Once the newspaper announcement had been published, I could then legally go by the new name. It didn’t feel official to me until I received my new Social Security Card and my new driver’s license.
The name change process varies a lot state by state. This is specific to New York State. And my court house dealings are specific to King’s County, Brooklyn, NYC.
If you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ve known for a while that I am now, officially legally, Leslie O’Connor. After a year, I have fully embraced this name. For the first time, I feel like me. I feel comfortable having a name that matches who I am.
Name Change Application
I changed my first and last name, leaving the middle name the same. Thankfully I did not need a lawyer for any of this. I completed a form online that was pretty standard but did require I give a reason for wanting to change my name. No proof was required that these reasons were valid. I was changing my name to serious names, nothing silly. There is a fee to file a name change in New York state which came to roughly $200 (cash only at the courthouse).
County Clerk’s Office
I then brought this form, a copy of my driver’s license, and a copy of my social security card to the County Clerk’s office at the King’s County Courthouse. (This is the same court house you will likely go to for Jury Duty. The County Clerk’s office is in the basement.)
A person there took everything, stamped a few things, stapled a few things, then gave me everything back and told me to go upstairs to submit to the judge. A New York judge has to approve all name changes in the state. This is to ensure that you’re not changing your name for malicious reasons; like avoiding paying debts or running from a warrant. I submitted all the paperwork plus my original birth certificate to the judge’s office. Three weeks later I went back to the judge’s office to pick up my approved name change letter.
Note: I filed for a public name change. You can file for a private name change, which will not be on public record or published in the newspaper. You will probably want to use a lawyer for this. (An example of a need to file privately is when victims of domestic violence are trying to leave their abusive partner.)
Public Newspaper Announcement
All public name changes in New York state are mandated to be announced in a newspaper. Information about which newspaper to use was included in the letter from the judge. I contacted the newspaper via email, then sent them a pdf of my name change (the file was provided by the courts in their system), with some personal information. It cost $130 to have this published.
They have a “legal notices” section in the paper, so they published it the following week. The announcement was only included in the paper copy, not their online version. I then went to the newspaper to pick up the clipping they provided, which proved it was publicly announced. The newspaper that was recommended to me was directly across from the court house, which really made this part quite easy.
I went back to the County Clerk’s office with the newspaper announcement. They notarized my name change. And it was then, finally, legal. I could legally use my new name!
Social Security Office
I took my notarized name change document to the Social Security office, along with a form I filled out there, and applied for a new social security card. I did not have to provide any form of ID to prove it was me. This was free.
Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
I took my new social security card and name change document to the DMV to apply for a new NY license. This cost $14.
Everything else is tedious but I’m handling it as it comes. Work was super easy as my HR department changed everything in payroll, health insurance, and my 401K. Credit cards and bank accounts are annoying but fine. I’ve noticed that it is much easier to change your name with companies due to marriage rather than a legal name change for other reasons. I sent my landlord a copy of the court order but did not have to re-sign the lease.
Total Cost of Legal Name Change
Filing Application: $200
Newspaper Announcement: $130
The name change process was easier than I expected but it varies greatly by state. Be sure to look up your specific state requirements before starting the process.