There are many reasons why individuals want to change their names, and a variety of purposes and objectives they wish to accomplish by doing so. The most common reasons, motives and purposes are the following -
1. The Sound or Pronunciation of the Name. An individual may dislike the way his/her present name sounds, or the meaning, pronunciation or spelling of the name. For example, an immigrant to the United States may wish to change an ethnic or foreign sounding name to a more "American" sounding name, shorter and easier to pronounce.
2. Sheer Dislike of Present Name. An example would be the case of an individual who grew up with an abusive or neglectful father, and now wishes to change the surname to the mother's maiden name, in order to disassociate himself from the father. Also, an individual may wish to change his surname when he finds out that the father listed on his birth certificate is not the biological father.
3. Sociological or Historic Reasons. Many individuals, predominantly of African descent, often wish to change their birth names to reflect their African heritage. The most famous example is the boxer Muhammad Ali, who changed to this name from his birth name, Cassius Clay.
4. Return to Old Family Name. Individuals may seek a change of name because they wish to return to a previously changed old family or ancestral name. An example would be a person of American Indian extraction who wishes to adopt an ancestral American Indian name.
5. Return to a Woman's Maiden Name. A married woman who, upon marriage, had assumed her husband's surname as is customary, may wish to recapture and preserve her maiden name by reverting back to that name. Also, a divorced woman may want to stop using her ex-husband's surname and assume her maiden name.
6. Change of a Minor's Name. A parent who has custody of a minor child, usually the mother, may wish to change the name of the child especially if the father has abandoned the child, fails to communicate with the child, and refuses to provide emotional and financial support for that child.
7. To Conform to a Professional Image. Individuals may wish to change their names based on their lifestyles or professions. For example movie stars, media people, or theater actors often prefer a more simple or catchy name that is easier to pronounce, remember or recognize.
8. Change to a Commonly Used Name. A person who is known and referred to by family, friends and business associates by a name not listed on his or her birth certificate my wish to legally change the birth name to the commonly used name, to avoid confusion going forward.
A person who wishes to legally change his or her name must file an application or Petition in the Civil or Supreme Courts located in the county of that person's residence requesting a legal change from the present name to a new name. The Petition must provide the name, address and date of birth of the Petitioner, and state the reason for the change of name. It must be accompanied by the court filing fee, an original birth certificate ( a copy will suffice if born outside of New York State), copies of criminal court dispositions, if any, copy of photo ID, proof of residence in New York (utility bills, bank statements), and the court Order.
If the Petitioner is married, then a signed and notarized consent from the spouse must be submitted, or if unable to do so,submit proof that the spouse has bee notified of the application. Upon signing the court Order for Name Change, the judge designates a local newspaper in which the application must be published on a one time basis. The Affidavit of Publication from the newspaper must be submitted to the court within a certain period of time in order to obtain a certified copy of the Order of Name Change.
The Petitioner may then use this Order to change official documents into the new name, such as a birth certificate, passport, driver license, bank account and so on. If the Petitioner is a minor child, the application is submitted to the court on behalf of the child by the custodial parent, as "Parent and Natural Guardian". The above mentioned application procedures apply, however a consent Affidavit must be signed by the other parent. If this parent refuses to sign, then he or she must be notified of the application with a return court date, and proof of this notification must be filed with the court. This will allow the parent to file an objection to the child's change of name if he or she disagrees with the application.
The court Order provides a public record by which the change of name is definitely and specifically established.