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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Barrister Bits: how to change back to your maiden last name

Q: I noticed that you changed the name of your column—used to be called “Shark Bait” (I’m still adjusting to the new name—not quite sure if I like it). Anyway, I’d like to change my name back to my maiden name—how do I do this?
Signed: Maiden in Pursuit of Identity

Dear Maiden: Hope the new name of the community column, “Barrister Bits”, will grow on you. I was trying to capture a name that is professional (hence the reference to “Barrister”, an English term for lawyer) and still keep a sense of levity to the column (“Bits” of advice, blended with a swirl of humor and philosophy). Hopefully, the new name will be accepted by you and other readers.

Name changes are relatively simple, yet controlled by state statute (California Code of Civil Procedure sec. 1279.5 and Family Code sec. 2082). Bottom line: If you are in state prison, on parole, on probation, a convicted sex offender, or want to change your name to defraud creditors, you are out of luck. The law specifically prohibits a name change. But let’s say you just want to change your name because you were conceived during Woodstock and you are continually embarrassed when they announce over the loudspeaker, “Petal Moonglow, your car is ready”. You are in luck.

Generally, you have to first formulate the reason for the name change, as I assure you, the Judge will ask. Your request for a name change will likely be granted if your reason is to reconnect to your cultural heritage, to avoid embarrassment, to reclaim your maiden name (assuming it is not already ordered/granted in your divorce decree), or to realign your self-identity (think Muhammad Ali, who legally changed his name from Cassius Clay to honor his conversion to Sunni Islam).

Next, you need to file “paperwork” with the court in the county where you reside. Go to and fill out no less than five forms—NC-100 (Petition for Change of Name) and its accompanying cousins (NC-110, NC-120, NC-130 and CM-010). If you are already overwhelmed, you may consider a Legal Document Preparation Service, which will complete the forms, but typically will not file the paperwork (or front the filing fee, which can be rather hefty, so ask the court clerk about a Fee-Waiver—if you are at a certain income, you may qualify). When you file the forms at our local courthouse, you should also request a hearing at least six weeks from the filing date…the same time it supposedly takes to develop a new, healthy habit and shed a old, unhealthy habit. Why six weeks? Well, you must also publish in a local newspaper once a week for four consecutive weeks an “Order to Show Cause (NC-120).

Once the paperwork is filed and the Notice is published, you will then appear before the Judge who will ask you why you are changing your name. You best have a legitimate answer. Then, voila, if granted, your new identity is assumed. But wait, you must then complete the circle of identity. You should then take the signed, approved Order in hand, and contact the “purveyors” of our Society—you know, Social Security Administration, DMV, banks, credit agencies, etc. Then, sit back and revel in your new identity, until the dust settles.

As Salman Rushdie so eloquently phrased, “Names, once they are in common use, quickly become mere sounds, their etymology being buried, like so many of the earth’s marvels, beneath the dust of habit”.

Float like a butterfly through the dust.

Debra A. Newby is a resident of Monte Rio and has practiced law for 29 years. She is a member of the California, Texas and Sonoma County Bar Associations and currently maintains an active law office in Santa Rosa. Her law practice emphasizes personal injury law (bicycle/motorcycle/motor vehicle accidents, dog bites, trip and falls, etc.) and expungements (clearing criminal records). Debra can be reached via email (, phone (707-526-7200), fax (526-7202) or pony express (930 Mendocino Avenue, Suite 101; Santa Rosa, 95401).

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