Posted: Sep 12, 2013 11:00 AM
You spent months picking out the perfect baby name, but now that your little one is here, the name just doesn't seem quite right. Not to worry: You can change your baby's legal name.

Your baby's official name

The name on your baby's birth certificate is her legal name. It's the same name that appears on her social security card — every baby gets one — and the name she will use on tax forms, loans, insurance policies, driver's license and passports.

Why parents change baby names

Believe it or not, baby name changes are not all that uncommon. There are a variety of reasons parents decide to rethink it:

  • Your daughter just does not look like a Stella (or Cynthia or Miranda)
  • Naming your son after Great-Grandpa Mortimer was a sentimental mistake
  • Friends are having trouble pronouncing the clever name (Bayleighsia?) you invented
  • The hospital (or you!) made an error on the birth certificate
  • Your creative pick has suddenly become too popular
  • There's been a change in marital or parental status

Change baby's name without making it legal

You can change your child's name via common usage. For example, Donald Scott is introduced to family, friends and teachers as "Scott" (instead of Donald). Even though everyone will know your son as Scott, he will be required to use his official name – Donald Scott – on legal documents.

Common usage also comes in the form of nicknames and abbreviations, such as "Ted" for Theodore or "Jenny" for Jennifer. But avoid calling your child by an altogether different name ("Gus" instead of James, for example). Doing so places him in a never-ending struggle to re-identify himself every time he comes across a legal document.

Change the name legally

Check state requirements. How you go about changing your child's name depends on your state:

  • Some states require a public legal notice of the pending name change.
  • Some states require a great deal of documentation.
  • Some states require nothing more than a court order.
  • Some states have a time limit.

Hire an attorney… or don't. An attorney can advise you about state requirements, do the necessary legwork and provide the appropriate paperwork, but you can also proceed without incurring attorney fees:

  • Consult your county court to obtain clear-cut direction on how to proceed.
  • In some states, you can download free forms from the internet, and in other states, forms must be purchased.
  • Most states require a petition for a name change, public notice (i.e. in a newspaper) and court authorization.
  • Paperwork must be signed in the presence of a notary public to be legal.

Take care of the Social Security card. Legal name changes must be reported to the Social Security Administration. Contact your local office or visit the SSA website. Some states require that the paperwork be submitted in person.

Fix the birth certificate. Your local health department can advise you on changing this important document. Depending on your state of residence, your child's original birth certificate will be amended or a new certificate will be issued.

The "wrong" name doesn't have to be a life sentence. Baby name mistakes can be fixed.

More on baby names

6 Ways to announce your baby's name
Baby names from the family tree
How to agree on a baby name