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How to legally change your baby's name (when you realize that you picked the wrong one)

Mary Fetzer is a freelance writer and marketing consultant with a marketing degree from Penn State University and 15 years of international business experience. Mary specializes in writing about parenting, children, pregnancy, college, h...

Baby name regret

You gave your baby what you thought was the perfect name. But now that you've gotten to know him or her better, you realize that it's not the right name at all. Not to worry: You can fix this.

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Photo credit: Monashee Alonso/Caiaimage/Getty Images

Reasons for changing your baby's name

Parents opt to change their baby's name for a variety of reasons:

  • The hospital made a mistake on the birth certificate.
  • There has been a change in marital or parental status.
  • Your baby just doesn't look like an Emma Grace.
  • Your "special" baby name has suddenly become way too popular.
  • Nobody can spell or pronounce the brilliant name you made up: Kayleighzah.
  • You've had a permanent falling out with Great Uncle Harold, your baby's namesake.

Your baby's legal name

The name that appears on your baby's birth certificate is his legal name. He will use this name throughout his life, on his driver's license, passport, insurance policies, loans and tax forms.

You can change your child's name by common usage. For example, you may have named your son Donald Scott (after his father and grandfather), but you introduce him to family, friends and teachers as "Scott." Everyone will know him as Scott, but he'll have to use Donald Scott on legal documents. Using a nickname or diminutive of a full name (e.g., Bill instead of William) is another way to employ common usage.

Common usage is fine when you're still incorporating part of your child's legal given name. But this practice is not appropriate if you plan to call your child by an altogether different name. Doing so will place your child in the unfortunate position of having to reidentify himself every time he crosses paths with a legal document.

The same holds true if your baby's name is misspelled on the birth certificate. Excited, exhausted new parents may miss typos on the certificate before it is filed as a permanent record. If your son's certificate reads "Jonathon" when it should read "Jonathan," then Jon will be stuck using the incorrect spelling unless formal steps are taken to correct it.

Making an official change

How you go about changing the name on your baby's birth certificate depends on the state in which you live. Some states simply require a court order, and others have specified time limits. Your state may or may not require you to file a public legal notice in the newspaper.

Some states allow you to change your baby's name within the first 6 months to a year without a court order. Contact your local health department to inquire about the rules where you live. In some cases, the original birth certificate is amended, and sometimes a new certificate is issued.

A good first step is to contact an attorney, regardless of your reason for wanting to change your child's birth certificate. Your legal counsel can do the legwork and provide you with the appropriate paperwork. If you opt to skip the legal fees and handle the name change yourself, start with your county courthouse.

In some states, free forms can be downloaded from the internet; in other states, forms must be purchased. Most states require a petition for a name change, along with public notice and court authorization. To be legal, paperwork typically must be signed in the presence of a notary public.

Letting social security know

The Social Security Administration has the data behind all of those "most popular baby names" lists we so enjoy. After you complete the above steps to legally change your child's name, report the change to the SSA. Contact your local social security office or download the required forms from the SSA website.

The wrong name you gave your baby is not a life sentence. If you want to change it, for whatever reason, then you should.

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