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New You! Changing Your Name During Your Immigration Process

ellis-island
Carmen Cornejo
Written by Carmen Cornejo

The U.S. is the perfect country for reinvention. Immigrants have a great opportunity to learn quickly while adapting to a new life that can lead to unexpected paths. For many immigrants, reinventing themselves involves changing their name.

Like many people in Latin-American countries, I had a long name: Maria del Carmen Cornejo Alvarez. But when I immigrated to the U.S., and specifically during the process of becoming a naturalized citizen, I decided to streamline it by getting rid of my first name and maternal last name, because my name became impractical. When signing the house mortgage, it created a long list of “also known as” names.

Other immigrants might change their names because they have names that are difficult to write or pronounce.

Immigrants have changed their names since the first colonizers arrived in America. Many newcomers filtering through Ellis Island sought to anglicize their names to fit in their new country. Other immigrants had their foreign-sounding names mangled by clerical errors.

Since 1905, the U.S. Bureau of Immigration (now USCIS) has required the documentation of name changes. Before that, only individuals who requested the changes through the courts had their names officially changed. Congress wrote the requirement in 1906 because of the well-known fact that many immigrants changed their names within the first five years of their arrival in the U.S.

It’s easy to change your name when becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. You can legally change your name without extra court procedures by simply filling in your chosen new name on Form N-400 (the Application for Naturalization issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS). Also, the possibility of a name change is raised after you pass your citizenship test.

However, for the name change to take place, the naturalization ceremony must be presided over by a judge in what is called a judicial ceremony.

There are certain limitations to name changes. Read here some of the obvious reasons a judge will not allow a name change.