I’m sure we can all recall at least one client whose name is spelled incorrectly on his or her green card, or there are parts of his or her name completely missing from all USCIS records. For almost everyone, their name is a very important piece of who they are and where they come from. To answer the subject question, sometimes everything is in a name. This is why it is so important to make sure that any changes are made to correct the applicant’s name or for the applicant to create a new moniker for himself/herself as he/she starts his/her new life as a U.S. citizen.
On the N-400 Application
Part 2, Question 4 warns applicants to read the N-400 Instructions before deciding whether to change his/her name. The instructions read: “A court can allow you to change your name when you are naturalized. A name change requested on this form does not become final until you are naturalized. If you want the court to change your name at a naturalization ceremony, check “Yes” and complete this section. You do not need to request a name change if you legally changed your name because of a marriage, divorce, or death or a spouse.”
At the Interview
If the applicant was undecided about whether he/she wanted to change his/her name at the time that the application was completed, it is not too late! The applicant may request a Petition for Name Change during his/her interview with USCIS.
Practice Tip: USCIS does not have the authority to actually change an applicant’s name. This process must be done by a court or judge in the state where the person lives. If the application is approved, USCIS will provide the petition to the court/judge conducting the oath ceremony for approval. Oath ceremonies in Massachusetts are judicial, so naturalization applicants are able to obtain a legal name change.
If the name change petition is approved, the applicant’s new name will be on the Certificate of Naturalization, and the applicant will receive a separate court order showing the legal name change.
If the applicant has already changed his/her name by some other legal process (marriage, divorce), he/she should provide proof of the name change to USCIS so that the certificate can be issued in the other name.
For more information on the name change process in Massachusetts (not in the context of naturalization proceedings), go here (mass.gov/courts/selfhelp/name-changes/name-process.html).
Practice Tip: It is important to remind applicants that they need to change all of their records to reflect the new name. The most important agency to contact with regards to name change is the Social Security Administration. Attached are documents about what documents are required to show a legal name change, both in English and Spanish.