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The need for a legal name change may result from marriage, divorce, adoption or simply a desire to have another name. Generally, a person cannot change his or her name for a fraudulent purpose, such as avoiding debts. Means of changing your name generally include: usage (in some states using a name as your own has the affect of making it your name); court order (a court order is recommended to change your name and is required by most states); or a marriage certificate.
The usage method of name change (changing it at will under common law) is sufficient to change one's name in some states. Although it is federal law to allow this, it is not followed in all states. Regulations vary from state to state, but typically in states which allow this method, any person or agency with whom one does business must be notified of the new name, and the new name must be used exclusively, by the person changing their name, once the name is changed. This type of name change is sometimes considered as an interim solution, prior to having the name 'ratified' by court proceedings. Any fraudulent usage or intent, such as changing one's name to the same name as another person's name, may invalidate this type of name change.
A court action resulting in a name change order to change a name is effective, and a birth certificate may be amended to reflect the name change upon request to the vital statistics office of the state. The name change ordered by the court will be effective even if the birth certificate isn't amended. A name change may be ordered for a minor to reflect a stepfather's name without requiring the stepfather to adopt the child. It is possible for a business or employer to not acknowledge a name change by usage and require the employee to get a court order of name change before recognizing a new name.
The following is a VA statute:
§ 8.01-217. How name of person may be changed.
A. Any person desiring to change his own name, or that of his child or ward, may apply therefor to the circuit court of the county or city in which the person whose name is to be changed resides, or if no place of abode exists, such person may apply to any circuit court which shall consider such application if it finds that good cause exists therefor under the circumstances alleged. Applications of probationers and incarcerated persons may be accepted if the court finds that good cause exists for such application. An incarcerated person may apply to the circuit court of the county or city in which such person is incarcerated. In case of a minor who has no living parent or guardian, the application may be made by his next friend. In case of a minor who has both parents living, the parent who does not join in the application shall be served with reasonable notice of the application pursuant to § 8.01-296 and, should such parent object to the change of name, a hearing shall be held to determine whether the change of name is in the best interest of the minor. It shall not be necessary to effect service upon any parent who files an answer to the application. If, after application is made on behalf of a minor and an ex parte hearing is held thereon, the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that such notice would present a serious threat to the health and safety of the applicant, the court may waive such notice.
B. Every application shall be under oath and shall include the place of residence of the applicant, the names of both parents, including the maiden name of his mother, the date and place of birth of the applicant, the applicant's felony conviction record, if any, whether the applicant is presently incarcerated or a probationer with any court, and if the applicant has previously changed his name, his former name or names.
C. On any such application and hearing, if such be demanded, the court, shall, unless the evidence shows that the change of name is sought for a fraudulent purpose or would otherwise infringe upon the rights of others or, in a case involving a minor, that the change of name is not in the best interest of the minor, order a change of name. The order shall contain no identifying information other than the applicant's former name or names, new name, and current address. The clerk of the court shall spread the order upon the current deed book in his office, index it in both the old and new names, and transmit a certified copy of the order and the application to the State Registrar of Vital Records and the Central Criminal Records Exchange. Transmittal of a copy of the order and the application to the State Registrar of Vital Records and the Central Criminal Records Exchange shall not be required of a person who changed his or her former name by reason of marriage and who makes application to resume a former name pursuant to § 20-121.4.
D. If the applicant shall show cause to believe that in the event his change of name should become a public record, a serious threat to the health or safety of the applicant or his immediate family would exist, the chief judge of the circuit court may waive the requirement that the application be under oath or the court may order the record sealed and direct the clerk not to spread and index any orders entered in the cause, and shall not transmit a certified copy to the State Registrar of Vital Records or the Central Criminal Records Exchange. Upon receipt of such order by the State Registrar of Vital Records, for a person born in this Commonwealth, together with a proper request and payment of required fees, the Registrar shall issue certifications of the amended birth record which do not reveal the former name or names of the applicant unless so ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction. Such certifications shall not be marked "amended" and show the effective date as provided in § 32.1-272. Such order shall set forth the date and place of birth of the person whose name is changed, the full names of his parents, including the maiden name of the mother and, if such person has previously changed his name, his former name or names.