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The Name Change Process for Naturalized Citizens

The United States offers several different processes for people to legally change their name. There are different procedures that must be followed based on your citizenship or immigration status. In addition, many states have different rules governing name changes. For example, some US states do not even require native US citizens to file with the government for a name change. Mere usage could be enough for the change to be legal. 

Changing Your Name as a Naturalized Citizen

It is common for those immigrating to the United States to legally change their name. To do this, there are two approaches available. A naturalized citizen may choose to change their name at the time of naturalization, or they may go through the name change process at a state court level after naturalization. However, both approaches are nuanced, with small details that are critical to the process.

Changing Your Name During the Naturalization Process

Changing your name on the citizenship application (Form N-400) is the most direct, and possibly cost-effective, way to change your name. The form requires an individual to confirm or deny if they would like to change their name. If they respond that they would, then there is a space to write in what the new name is. The layout is very straightforward, asking if you would like to change your name and, if so, what would you like your name to be.

Once the application is filed and you are granted citizenship, one needs to swear their oath of allegiance before a judge. Typically, an oath of allegiance is performed before a USCIS officer. However, USCIS officers do not have the legal authority to swear in someone who is changing their name. A judge does have this authority. The difficulty with this arises from the fact that oath of allegiance ceremonies are held much less frequently than those administered by USCIS officers. Therefore, it may lead to delays in receiving naturalization because of the gaps in judicial ceremonies.

After swearing the oath of allegiance before a judge, an individual receives their certificate of naturalization with their new name on it. At this point, the name change process is complete.

Changing Your Name After Becoming a Citizen

One may change their name after naturalization by going through the courts, or by some “operation of law” such marriage or divorce. This process can be difficult to pin down because of differences between state laws. Although this is not typically an issue with divorce and marriage, it can get extremely varied based on the state. Some different laws that may change from state to state can include: where you file for a name change, needing to provide a valid reason for a name change, who you must inform of the change, if you have to give a general notice of the change (posting in a newspaper), what criminal convicts are allowed to change their name, as well as several others.

Regarding the immigration side, it is much less complicated. Unless a court orders you to notify USCIS about the name change, there is no obligation to notify them of your name change. The name change will be effective without notifying them.  However, it is in a naturalized citizens best interest to do so. To do this, a naturalized citizen would file Form N-565 with USCIS. Form N-565—titled Replacement of Certificate of Citizenship or Naturalization—is used to receive a new certificate after a legal name change or an error on the original. It is a good idea to request a new certificate that reflects the name change. 

If you have any questions about your immigration status or how to change your name during the immigration process, please contact our office. Also, be sure to subscribe to our blog for more immigration news and updates.