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Changing your name is a big deal. Your identity and history are tied to your name, so the switch can be a monumental decision. Unfortunately, governments know this, too — so the process of legally changing your name often involves red tape, loads of paperwork, and high fees. Name change laws vary from one U.S. state to the next, so navigating that maze of rules, forms, and hearings can be overwhelming. While a legal name change can be a bureaucratic nightmare, it's necessary for people who wish to make their new names official. Some people decide to change their names for unconventional reasons, too, like they want the same name as their favorite superhero. Generally, you're allowed to choose an unusual name for an atypical reason. But some names are off limits in certain states, like names that are vulgar or offensive, ones that may cause harm or public confusion, and ones that have excessive or numerical characters. Because individual states handle name changes, it is impossible to provide a one-size-fits-all guide to the process. Though you'd need to refer to the instructions supplied by your local court or consult with an attorney to learn the rules specific to your situation, there are guidelines that are common across the U.S. Legal name changes can be divided into two basic categories: those that require you to file a petition with a local court and those that don't. We'll start with the latter, since those can demand less up-front legwork. These kinds of name changes occur within other legal proceedings, such as marriage, divorce, and naturalization.