When Tabitha and I started the process of changing our last names last year, it was hard to find information on the web about how to get started. In the interest of helping others make the bold and weird decision we did, here are a couple of clues to help you along the way.
Contact the Clerk’s Office of San Mateo County’s Superior Court of California.
They’re the folks who will tell you which forms you need to fill out and guide you through the process. That office is located at 400 County Center in Redwood City. It’s Room A on the first floor, toward the back of the building. The phone number is (650) 363-4711. (Also, be aware that there’s a different office for the San Mateo County Clerk right across the way that serves very similar functions. You don’t want that office.)
Download the forms.
You can find many of the forms you need online. Again, talk to the Clerk’s office first to get a list of the specific ones you need.
Pick a newspaper for the notice to run in.
You have to do this. It’s insane. I’m all for propping up the newspaper industry with weird government-mandated subsidies but let’s at least recognize that no one is going learn about anyone’s impending name change by reading about it in the San Mateo Daily Journal. If only there were a global network of computers… Okay, I’m done. Let’s move on.
Fill out the forms and bring them in.
The first time I brought our forms in they pointed out a couple of ways in which I’d filled them out incorrectly. One of the things I forgot to do was bring in photocopies of our driver’s licenses and Social Security cards so I came back the next day with corrected forms and the photocopies.
Cough it up.
This is where you pay up. You pay the Court, you pay the newspaper, it’s expensive. Try not to think about it too much. You didn’t decide to change your name lightly. The cost is what it is. And it’s worth it.
At this point it takes a while for the court to do their thing. Then the notice has to run in the newspaper (!) every week for four consecutive weeks. Fortunately this process is largely automated. And when it’s over, you get a date for your hearing.
Go to your hearing.
This is where you have to actually go to court and say, well, nothing. I think they just need to have a look at you. I was nervous. A courtroom is pretty much the opposite of where I want to be at any given moment. But it all goes smoothly. And if you’re lucky there’ll be a little kid there who’s changing his name because his mom got married. And he’s glowing because he’s got a new dad.
Pick up your official forms.
Then you’re done. Those forms are the golden ticket. You use them to change all the big stuff. Social Security, driver’s licenses, passports, etc. They let you buy as many as you want but they’re expensive so buy as few as you can. We got away with only buying two. And you can always go back and buy more.
Disclaimer: I’m sure I’ve forgotten things and misremembered some stuff so please don’t take this post as the canonical guide to changing your name. Just start by contacting the Clerk’s office and give yourself plenty of time.