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Legal name is the name that identifies a person for legal, administrative and other official purposes. A person's first legal name generally is the name of the person that was given for the purpose of registration of the birth and which then appears on a birth certificate (see birth name), but may change subsequently. Most jurisdictions require the use of a legal name for all legal and administrative purposes, and some jurisdictions permit or require a name change to be recorded at marriage. The legal name may need to be used on various government issued documents (e.g., a court order). The term is also used when an individual changes their first or full name, typically after reaching a certain legal age (usually eighteen or over, though it can be as low as fourteen in several European nations).
A person's legal name typically is the same as their personal name, comprising a given name and a family name. The order varies according to culture and country. There are also country-by-country differences on changes of legal names by marriage. (See married name.)
Most countries require by law the registration of a name for newborn children, and some can refuse registration of "undesirable" names. In 1991, a Swedish couple refused to give their newborn a legal name, in protest of existing naming laws. In 1996, they were fined for not registering a name for their child for five years, after they unsuccessfully tried to register the child's name as Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116, and then as "A".
Most states in the United States follow the common law which permits name changing for non-fraudulent purposes. This is actually the most common method, since most women who marry do not petition a court under the statutorily prescribed method, but simply use a new name (typically the husband's, a custom which started under the theory of coverture where a woman lost her identity and most rights when she married). Most state courts have held that a legally assumed name (i.e., for a non-fraudulent purpose) is a legal name and usable as their true name, though assumed names are often not considered the person's technically true name.
England and Wales
In strict English law, if there is such a thing as a "legal" surname, it is easily changed. In the words of A dictionary of American and English law, "Any one may take on himself whatever surname or as many surnames as he pleases, without statutory licence". However, this does not apply to names given in baptism. "A man may have divers names at divers times, but not divers christian names".
In Germany, names are regulated to a large extent. Apart from possibly adopting the partner's name upon marriage, German citizens may only change their name for a recognised important reason. Among other reasons, a change of names is permitted when the name can give rise to confusion, ridicule, unusual orthographic difficulties, or stigmatization. In certain situations, children's last names may also be changed to their natural, foster or adoptive parent's last name. Transsexuals may change their first names. Foreign names in writing systems that are not based on Latin are transliterated according to rules which may conflict with the system of transcribing or transliterating names that is used in the country of origin. Former titles of nobility became integrated into the last names in 1919 but continue to be adapted according to gender and other circumstances.
- "Baby named Metallica rocks Sweden". BBC News. BBC. April 4, 2007. Retrieved February 3, 2012.
- In re Natale, 527 S.W.2d 402 (Mo. App. 1975); In re Kruzel, 226 N.W.2d 458 (Wis. 1975).
- Stuart v. Board of Supervisors, 295 A.2d 223 (Md. Ct. App. 1972); In re Hauptly, 312 N.E.2d 857 (Ind. 1974); United States v. Cox, 593 F.2d 46 (6th Cir. 1979). See also 10 U.S.C. § 1551 (2006).
- Rapalje, Stewart and Lawrence, Robert L., A Dictionary of American and English Law with Definitions of the Technical Terms of the Canon and Civil Laws (3rd edition, 1997) Vol. 2. p. 849
- Seeger, Bernhard (2002), "Der Ehe- und Lebenspartnerschaftsname in der notariellen Praxis", Mitteilungen des Bayerischen Notarvereins.