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From MacGillicutty to McGill: The Legalities Of Changing Your Name

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You have talent, you have style, you have training, you have connections, your father is a producer, your mother is an actor, your cousin is Francis Ford Coppola, and yet you still can't get a job. Could it be because your name is Ignatius X. MacGillicutty, Jr.? Should you, accordingly, try to change your name?

It's a common issue, according to Agency Representative Gareth May at Actors' Equity. In fact, according to May, name changing is one of the legal issues that actors are most concerned about. Thankfully, actors need not be all too concerned about this relatively easy and quick process.

If you want to change your name, here are three different options that are available. None require the assistance of a lawyer. None take all that much time, either. Little wonder that Larry Shapiro, Senior Court Clerk at the New York State Supreme Court, says "We get a lot of actors who come in and legally change their name."

First thing to do is proceed to a court in your county of residence. For many, this means proceed to the New York State Supreme Court at 60 Centre St. in Manhattan and file a petition to change the name. Sample petitions are available at the court, at the "pro se" office in Room 116 (the office which helps unrepresented people with legal work). The staff at the "pro se" office, who are actually fairly helpful and friendly, will answer many of your questions, and even lead you through the process, which involves filling out the two-page petition and "blue back" together with the proposed order and proof of your present name. After filing all that in Room 315 at the court, you wait a few days, return to retrieve the petition, and the file the signed order with the County Clerk in Room 141 together with a check for $170. Another check for $75 will have been required for an "RJI," or Request for Judicial Intervention.

True to the practice of law, there are some procedural hurdles for name changers to be wary of. A certified copy of the birth certificate must be produced for applicants born in New York State (two copies for applicants born in New York City, for whatever reason). These are available at the Office of Vital Records at the New York Department of Health, 125 Worth St., Room 133, for $15 per copy.

For applicants who are naturalized citizens, the petition should so state, and for applicants who are legal aliens, a copy of the resident alien card should be annexed to the petition. Also, the petition should designate if an applicant is an attorney, divorced, separated, receiving or paying alimony or child support, or has been convicted of a crime. Spouse's consent is needed if the spouse is not changing his or her name.

Annoyingly perhaps, there is also a requirement that the changed name be published within 40 days. For name change orders in New York State Supreme Court, this means getting your name in the New York Law Journal; you then have to call the Law Journal and pay them approximately $100 for publication. Proof of the publication must then be filed, once again in the County Clerk's office.

One final thing, for all those with a certain kind of eccentricity. According to Shapiro, you can't take the name of, say, "Prince Charles" or "Madonna," should you be so inclined. More specifically, you can't take "titles of nobility" or assume the name of a "famous person."

Sound too complicated? Does the name Ignatius X. MacGillicutty, Jr. suddenly sound better to you? Thank goodness for you there are Options Two and Three, both of which are cheaper than Option One.

Option Two is simply going to a different court, this time the Civil Court of the City of New York, located at 111 Centre St., just down the street from the Supreme Court. The advantage of filing the papers at Civil Court is that it is less expensive; the cost of publication is maybe $50 or so, since the Civil Court allows for more liberal publication rules. I am advised that many filing in Civil Court publish in the Village Voice; why, I don't know.

The disadvantage of filing in Civil Court is that there is no "pro se" office as at the Supreme Court. This, combined with the fact that Civil Court is a pretty chaotic kind of place, might lead those angling for the path of least resistance back to Supreme, regardless of the extra cost. When dealing with the law, the path of least resistance is usually a good one, in my view.

Back at the Supreme Court, there is Option Three, "the filing of certificates by persons conducting business under an assumed name," or the so-called "doing business as" (or "d/b/a") designation. This option does not change your name, but it does allow you to use an assumed name for commercial purposes, and it is somewhat popular with actors, according to Tasheka Teasley, the very helpful supervisor down at Room 109B.

To file a "d/b/a," you need to fill in a notarized "Blumberg" form X-201 (obtainable at the Blumberg Law Products store, 66 White St., or the "candy store" on the first floor at the Supreme Court). Then bring the form, plus proof that you use your proposed name for business purposes, plus $100, plus $10 for each certified copy (two is usually helpful), to Room 109B, and file it. Be sure to put "Co." at the end of your "name" when filling out the form; for instance, if one were to change one's name to Spectacular Jones, on the form it would be proper to designate the business as "Spectacular Jones Co."

What's the plus side of the "d/b/a," besides the lower price? Besides the fact that you can reassure your mother that you've kept your real name, you do get the "d/b/a" immediately, so long as you've done a name check at the court making sure that no one else has been using the same name.

What to do if you're still confused despite all this sage advice? I once worked with a man who had the answer to all the problems a person can encounter when filing papers in court. He looked at me with his furry brow, tiny eyes, and tousled gray hair and whispered: "Why work? Ask the clerk."

Michael Lazan, Esq., is a lawyer with a general practice in New York City. He is also a playwright, and a frequent contributor to Back Stage.

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