What's in a Name?


There are many events in our life that encourage us to think about our identity. Generally we understand our identity based not solely on our history or background but on the most basic level: our first and last name. At times of divorce, marriage, having kids, or adopting children, there is always the question of whether or not to change one's name so that the family unit shares a name. There are several social and legal reasons to consider whether a name change is right for you. The following are some concerns one should evaluate when deciding whether to change one's name:

  • How will a name change affect your career? Is your name associated with a business, a client base, or a brand? Is your name difficult and unwieldy for clients to pronounce or remember and therefore taking your spouse's name might be easier?
  • How will a name change affect your legal and financial life? It may be a difficult transition if your name is attached to a lot of legal and financial documents. Name changes require that you apply for a new social security card, new proofs of identity like a driver's license, and even a passport. A name change also requires that you adjust titles, liens, credit information, and voter registration. The more of a paper trail that you have created under one name, the more taxing the transition might be, and may demand many hours in line at bureaucratic institutions. Note: It is legally impermissible to change your name to avoid debt or other financial/legal obligations.
  • What does a name change mean to you? Though a name change is personal to you and your family, not changing your name, especially after a wedding, may create some social friction, especially in more conservative, traditional households. In a recent study, 10 percent of Americans stated that a name change represented one's level of dedication to the marriage. Fifty percent of Americans believe that a woman's name change to her husband's last name is required by law (it is not).

Illinois's Legal Requirements and Restrictions for a Name Change

In Illinois, there are some restrictions and requirements if you decide to change your name:

  • The person must have resided in Illinois for at least six months. After the six months, he or she must petition the circuit court of the county to review the application. It is up to the Court to permit or disallow the name change.
  • If you have been convicted of a felony, and you were not pardoned, there is a waiting period of 10 years from the discharge of the sentence.

The following crimes, if committed, charged, convicted, and not pardoned, revoke the right of a name change in Illinois:

  • Identity theft and aggravated identity theft;
  • Felony or misdemeanor indecent solicitation of a child or of an adult; or
  • Any other offense that puts the person's name on the Sex Offender Registry.

Name Changes for Minors

An adopted child may change his/her name after a period of three years of residing with the family and being acknowledged and held out as the adopted child of the family.

A minor may get his or her name changed if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the name change is in the best interest of the child, and will evaluate:

  • The wishes and reasoning of the parents;
  • The wishes and reasoning of the child; and
  • The interrelationship between the child and his/her parents, step-parents, siblings, and other family members who may be affected by the change.

Ultimately, a name change is a personal choice and up to the individual to decide if it is right for him/her. If you are considering a name change and would like more information about the legal ramifications, please contact one of our experienced Naperville family law attorneys who will be able to provide guidance and counsel on any concerns or issues you may have with regards to your marriage or divorce.