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How Immigrants can Pursue a Legal Name Change


Naturalization is the ideal time for immigrants to legally change their name.

I recently heard one of our citizenship clients was asking if he could legally change his name at his citizenship interview. This didn’t surprise me too much since I have had many clients opt to change their names during the naturalization process and if that is what they want, it is an ideal time to do it. What surprised me though was the new name he has selected –   ”Lucky.” Didn’t’ he just go through one of the coldest, most difficult winters on record along with the rest of us who live in the Northeast? How anyone could come out of the worst Februarys EVER and want to change his name to “Lucky” not only surprises me, but it also inspires me.

For some new citizens, part of their naturalization process has included going through a legal name change. Their reasons tend to vary but often include they wanted to adopt a more American sounding name or desired to shed a long name they had as a result of customs from their home countries.  Some have also been misnamed when registering in a refugee camp and take this opportunity to correct that mistake.  But occasionally I have come across a few clients who seem to throw caution to the wind and seize the moment to make a significant change in their lives by chosing a new name just because.  I’m not sure what “Lucky’s” reason is but I’m hoping it’s the latter because it’s such an uplifting name.  So the answer to “Lucky’s” question was yes, he can still legally change his name.  The option to change a name during the naturalization process is easy and it is an option that is pretty much available until the judicial ceremony takes place. It is important to note that it does have to be a judicial ceremony though; in order for this legal formality to take place, a judge must be present.

There is often some confusion around whether or not children who derive citizenship from their naturalized parent can legally change their name when they apply for their citizenship certificate. Unfortunately, this isn’t an option. As I stated above, in order for a legal name change to be granted, a judge must be present.   For the citizenship certificate applicant, there isn’t a swearing-in ceremony conducted by a judge because there is no judicial ceremony. It is a process that only involves a USCIS officer who reviews the N-600 citizenship certificate application then denies or approves it.   Because of this, I greatly disappointed a newly naturalized client the other day who returned for help filing for citizenship certificates for her minor children (who derived citizenship through her) and who was brimming with excitement because they were finally going to be able to legally change their names.

This client’s teenaged sons had a relatively long last name (8 syllables, in fact) that was a result of their home country’s customs.   They were  looking forward to a much shorter, simpler name.  Their mother had a difficult time accepting going through a legal name change wasn’t part of their process in deriving citizenship no matter how hard I tried to explain the reason (no judge is present in this process). It was a hard concept for her to accept but once she understood she returned home, discussed this with her sons and they decided keep their last name.


A judge has to preside over a legal name change.

However, if they had wanted their names changed, they would have had the option of doing it like everyone else – through the court.  Information regarding changing a name in NY can be found here for children and here for adults, as well as the name change application.  The steps they would have had to follow are basically this:

  1. complete the downloaded application and take it to the County Clerk’s Office with $210 (the filing fee)
  2. wait for the Clerk’s Office to file paperwork with the court and contact them via mail that this step is complete
  3. place an ad in a newspapers publicizing the new name
  4. let the ad run its course and then provide the Clerk’s Office with an affidavit proving the ad has been run
  5. wait for a judge to review the application and affidavit to ensure everything has been done in accordance with NY law

This process is certainly more complicated than the one “Lucky” will be going through but it is certainly doable and should take between 1-2 months.    Speaking of “Lucky,” I feel fortunate that I’ll be able to witness the steps it’ll take for his new name to become official; a name that is often associated with 4 leaf clovers, winning the lottery, and good karma. Since I’ll be accompanying him to his interview, I’ll be there when he signs a name change form and if all goes well, I’ll also witness him being called to the front of the court by his new name at the start of his oath ceremony. I have to admit, I love his spirit and how he is willing to seize the moment by choosing a name that speaks for itself.  It’s also a name that’ll surely bring a smile to anyone’s face whose path he crosses the moment the name change becomes official, including the judge’s.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep