For many immigrants, records of entry into the United States contain errors, assumed names, or incorrect names. Some of the reasons for this might include the immigrant using a fictitious name, the name of another individual, the correct name in a misspelled format, or a nickname at the time of entry into the U.S.
In addition, after coming to the United States and going through the naturalization process, many immigrants wish to change their names to more Americanized or Anglicized names in order to assimilate or to connect with their new American identity. Some immigrants desire to change their name in an effort to (unfortunately) avoid discrimination. Studies have shown that immigrants might actually benefit economically from changing their names. A study that was conducted by economists at the University of Chicago and Harvard, for example, revealed that job applicants with more American-sounding names received far more callbacks as compared to those with ethnic-sounding names. Perhaps the most common reason an immigrant might change their name, however, is simply out of convenience.
Regardless of the underlying reason for the name change, ethnic-related motives constitute one of the top ten reasons why people change their names.
Do I need to be a U.S. citizen to legally change my name?
No. An immigrant that lives in New Jersey but is not yet a United States citizen can apply for a legal name change in New Jersey. In the case of In re Application of Xiangjing Zhan, 424 N.J. Super. 231 (App. Div. 2012), the New Jersey Appellate Division addressed this question. There, a father wanted to change his minor daughter’s name from “Honghong” to “Michelle,” and therefore file a New Jersey name change petition under the New Jersey’s name change statute.
Although the minor was a lawful permanent resident, the New Jersey Superior Court, Civil Division, denied the name change request on the basis that the daughter was not a United States citizen and, therefore, was not eligible for a name change.
After the father appealed, the New Jersey Appellate Division reversed that decision and held that name change applications were not limited to just U.S. citizens. The court further noted that the language of N.J.S.A. 2A:52-1 provided that: “Any person may institute an action in Superior Court for authority to assume another name.” N.J.S.A. 2A:52-1 (emphasis added). Thus, nothing in the name change statute required U.S. citizenship for eligibility. In addition, the court also pointed out that, by requiring immigrants to notify the U.S. Department of Homeland Security of name changes, federal law permits permanent resident aliens to legally changing their names.
Can I change my first, middle, and/or last name during naturalization?
Yes, you can change your name to whatever you would like to during the naturalization process. Since congress did not provide the USCIS with legal authority to change a person’s name during naturalization, however, there are only two ways that your Certificate of Naturalization can be issued under a new name.
- If you provide proof that you have changed your name in accordance with the legal name change requirements in New Jersey, USCIS will issue your naturalization certificate under your new name. If your name was changed pursuant to a formal legal name change proceeding in New Jersey, this would include providing USCIS with a copy of the official court order changing your name. If your name was formally changed through marriage or divorce, this would include providing USCIS with your marriage certificate or the divorce decree.
- You can also change your name during the Naturalization Ceremony itself if you take the Oath of Allegiance in court. Once the court grants your request, your new name will be included on your Certificate of Naturalization. You should be aware, however, that if you decide to change your name during the Naturalization Ceremony, it may affect the date of your Oath of Allegiance, since it will need to be conducted before a judge in order for the name change to be valid. Some USCIS field houses have naturalization ceremonies at various locations, not all of which are held in a courthouse. Thus, your Naturalization Ceremony may be delayed until there is an opening in court.
Once your name is changed in either manner as a part of the naturalization process, you will then need to take your Certificate of Naturalization and/or court order as proof of your legal name change in order to change your name on your social security card, driver’s license, passport, etc.
How do I change my name after naturalization?
If your name was not changed during naturalization, you will need to follow the formal New Jersey legal name change procedure by filing a Complaint for Name Change in a New Jersey Superior Court, Civil Division pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:52-1, et seq. Your Complaint for Name Change should be filed in the New Jersey County in which you currently reside. After the court grants your name change, you will need to notify the Department of Homeland Security of the name change and change your name in your citizenship papers.
How do I change my name in my citizenship papers?
After a formal legal name change, you will need to change your name in your citizenship papers by applying to USCIC for a new certificate of naturalization, utilizing USCIS Form N-565, entitled “Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document.”
Experienced Name Change Lawyers
If you have additional questions regarding immigrant name changes in New Jersey contact the experienced name change attorneys at Katherine O’Brien Law today for a free consultation at 856-832-2482.