what's in a name?(in MA)

Julia Frugoli JFRUGOLI at BIO.TAMU.EDU
Fri Sep 5 09:28:23 EST 1997


OK, yesterday's disscussion got me to call my Mom last night (long 
overdue-I just dread that "when are you graduating?" question ;)).  We 
discussed law as it relates to name changing in Massachusetts, since 
Sian brought it up and Brian and I had experiences with it.  From the 
mouth of a probate court (divorces, adoptions, custodies, wills, 
estates, and NAME CHANGES) judge:

In Massachusetts, it is not illegal to go by an alias, and you can call 
yourself anything you want, even multiple names, as long as you don't do 
it for reasons of fraud (ie, escape alimony payments, get extra welfare 
benefits, etc).  You can take out a checking account in any name you 
want and sign it anyway you want, however, the signature card on file at 
the bank must have your social security number and your legal name.  
This is the name on your social security card, and the only one valid on 
your drivers license, passport, legal documents, etc.  If you want to 
change this name you can do one of three things:

1) Get a court order-my mom says she processes 10-20 of these a month.  
You don't really need a lawyer to do this, just a legal form, but you 
have filing fees and court costs to pay.  You can change your name to 
anything you want, as long as the judge determines it doesn't have the 
potential for fraud (an example of a a name change denied was John Doe 
changing to General Doe-it implies a military rank he did not have).  If 
you have ever been convicted of fraud, you can still change your name, 
but all agencies who might be affected by the change will be contacted 
about the change to prevent any future abuse.

2) As part of divorce proceedings in Massachusetts, it is standard to 
allow the parties to return to their former names.  Not any name-just 
the name they were using before they were married.  Please remember that 
50% of the people who get married will end up utilizing option #2 at 
some point (25% within 5 years), and while we're all certain we're in 
the OTHER 50%, its something to keep in mind.  Hearing divorces all day 
makes Mom extremely cynical that anything will last.

3) At marriage.  Contrary to what I said yesterday, both parties in a 
marriage can change their name at marriage, simply by signing the 
marriage certificate in the name they want to use.  Though the court can 
take this name change away (see fraud, above), this is the one place 
where you don't have to justify to anyone why you want a certain name.  

If you exercise one of these 3 options, you get a legal document-a court 
decree or a marriage certificate, certified copies of which then must be 
used to change the legal name on your social security card, driver's 
license, passport, credit cards, paychecks, bank accounts, stocks, 
houses, insurance policies and things you probably never thought of 
(moral:travel lightly).  From someone who did this a few years ago-it's 
easiest to change your social security card first, as it can often be 
used in place of the certified copies for the other things, but it takes 
months to get it all sorted out.  So even if you go the "traditional" 
route and take his name, in addition to the publications problems (I 
have pubs in 2 names because I couldn't bring myself to publish under my 
ex husband's name even though it had been "my" name for 15 years), you 
still have to do all the paperwork-it's NOT automatic.  As has been 
pointed out though-once its done, it's done (unless something happens to 
the marriage....).

So while I don't deny it's a very personal decision that each person 
makes at anytime in their life (not just marriage), changing your name 
rather than keeping the one you've got is a headache, IMHO.  My husband 
and I feel very much a unit, a new family, without changing our names-
after all-we haven't changed who we are individually, just who we are 
together.


More than you ever wanted to know about Massachusetts law,
Julia Frugoli
Dartmouth College

visiting grad student at
Texas A&M University
Department of Biological Sciences
College Station, TX 77843
409-845-0663
FAX 409-847-8805

"Evil is best defined as militant ignorance."
																										Dr. M. Scott Peck



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