Changing Your Name

In Michigan, there are two ways to change your name.  One way is to just change it.  You can start using another name any time you want when you apply for a job or buy something for example. That is because Michigan still has “common law” with regard to names—which means that the courts in Michigan (not the Legislature) have held that you have the “right” to choose your own name.

The Legislature, however, has provided us with another way to change your name.  You can file a “petition” for a name change under MCLA 722.1, which provides in part:

(1) The family division of the circuit court for a county may enter an order to change the name of an individual who has been a resident of the county for not less than 1 year and who in accordance with subsection (2) petitions in writing to the court for that purpose showing a sufficient reason for the proposed change and that the change is not sought with a fraudulent intent. If the individual who petitions for a name change has a criminal record, the individual is presumed to be seeking a name change with a fraudulent intent. The burden of proof is on a petitioner who has a criminal record to rebut the presumption. The court shall set a time and place for hearing and, except as provided in section 3 of this chapter, order publication as provided by supreme court rule.

(2) An individual who is 22 years of age or older and who petitions to have his or her name changed shall have 2 complete sets of his or her fingerprints taken at a local police agency. The fingerprints, along with a copy of the petition and the required processing fees, shall be forwarded to the department of state police. The department of state police shall compare those fingerprints with its records and shall forward a complete set of fingerprints to the federal bureau of investigation for a comparison with the records available to that agency. The department of state police shall report to the court in which the petition is filed the information contained in the department's records with respect to any pending charges against the petitioner or a record of conviction of the petitioner and shall report to the court similar information obtained from the federal bureau of investigation. If there are no pending charges or record of conviction against the petitioner, the department of state police shall destroy its copy of the petitioner's fingerprints. The court shall not act upon the petition for a name change until the department of state police reports the information required by this subsection to the court.

The only thing you have to “prove” is that you are not changing your name for a fraudulent purpose such as avoiding a bad credit report or a criminal record.

In some cases, a parent may want to change the name of a minor child.  This may happen because a mother, for example, is awarded primary custody of the child in a divorce and wants the child to have her own last name.  In today’s world, many women did not change their name when they married, but children born during the marriage end up with their father’s name because of MCLA 333.2824.  MCLA 333.2824 provides in part:  “The name of the husband at the time of conception or, if none, the husband at birth shall be registered as the father of the child. The surname of the child shall be registered as designated by the child's parents.”

In Rappleye v Rappleye, 183 Mich App 396 (1990), the facts were as follows:

The parties were married in 1977. Their only child, Adria, was born November 27, 1978. In 1981, the parties separated.

Defendant mother took custody of Adria and left South Africa where the parties had been living. By 1982, defendant and Adria were living in the United Kingdom with William Gregory. Plaintiff and defendant were divorced in 1984.

The judgment of divorce granted defendant mother physical custody of the child. Following the divorce, defendant married William Gregory. In the fall of 1984, the Gregorys and Adria returned to the United States to live in Jackson, Michigan.

From the time defendant and William Gregory began living together, they called Adria “Adria Gregory” rather than “Adria Rappleye,” the child's birth name.   Adria's medical, dental, and school records state her surname to be Gregory. However, the school administration is aware of her legal name and legal documents such as her passport, social security card, and bank account show the surname Rappleye. Adria's friends refer to her as Adria Gregory.

When plaintiff learned that his daughter was using Gregory instead of her legal surname, he asked defendant to change Adria's name back to Rappleye. Later, plaintiff brought a motion to enforce his visitation rights which also asked the court to enjoin defendant from using any surname for Adria other than her legal name.

First, the court noted that the name change issue was not addressed under the statute that was in effect at that time:  MCLA 711.1. 

Second, the court noted that the name change issue did not involve a court order requiring a minor to go by a surname that varies from that on the birth certificate pursuant to MCLA 333.2824. As the court noted, “[W]e are not even facing a legal name change at all. Simply, we have before us an order from the trial court that allows a minor, if she so desires, to continue informal use of a name she has used for the past several years.”

In Michigan and under the common law, people may change their name without a court’s imprimatur as long as that is not done for “fraudulent purposes.”  See Piotrowski v Piotrowski, 71 Mich App 213, 215-216 (1976).   If a minor is of sufficient age and maturity to make an intelligent choice, then he or she can assume any chosen name. 57 Am Jur 2d, Name, § 42, p. 679.

In the Rappleye case, there was no evidence that Adria wanted to use “Gregory” as her surname for a fraudulent purpose.  Because of that, the court held:  “If common law allows such use, we are hard pressed to conclude that the trial court erred by ordering nothing more than that which is permitted at common law.”

The court noted that if the issue had arisen under the statute, then the Court of Appeals would review a trial court’s decision for abuse of discretion.   If that standard were applied to the Rappeleye case, the Court of Appeals would have found no abuse of discretion when it determined that it was in the child’s best interest for her to continue using the surname “Gregory” if she wished.

Adria was almost ten years old at the time of the hearing.  She wanted to use the name Gregory and had used that name since she was four years old. Adria’s mother had custody of her, and she had remarried a man whose surname was Gregory. Adria became known to her friends and classmates by the name Adria Gregory.

Further, the trial court interviewed Adria to determine if the name was being used to frustrate the father’s relationship to Adria and to “foster ill feelings.”   In the end, “The court concluded that it was the child's true desire to be known as Gregory. The trial court had ample opportunity to determine the child's maturity level and was apparently satisfied that she was mature enough to understand her own desires and make an intelligent choice.”

While Adria herself wanted the name change, the case seems to stand for the proposition that a court can approve a name change for a minor child if that change will serve the child’s best interest. That said, names in our society do depict familial relationships, and it appears that a court could properly deny a name change if the primary purpose was to attenuate a child/parent relationship.

Categories: Blog, Family Law

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