Ask LH: Will It Be A Hassle To Change My Name?

Ask LH: Will It Be A Hassle To Change My Name?

Hi Lifehacker, I have recently relocated to Australia and I’m faced with a strange problem with my name. I have a first name which I do not use — my middle name is my preferred name. My question is how easy is it to change my name, and what are the consequences of having some documents with my full name and some with my preferred name? Thanks, Name Game

Dear NG,

Changing your name in Australia is a relatively straightforward procedure. Most women will legally change their surname to that of their spouse when they marry, for example. Many will also revert back to their ‘maiden’ name if they happen to divorce. In other words, it happens in this country a lot!

Changing your name for reasons outside of marriage is less common, but the steps involved aren’t too complicated. You can legally change your first name, middle name(s), surname, or any combination of these. There are however, a few extra hurdles to cross for people who were born overseas.

To register a change of name, you need to apply to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages department in your state. You can find out about the specific steps involved via the following links:

The first thing to do is check if you are eligible to change your name in your state/territory. It’s important to note that different rules and restrictions apply for each state. For example, in NSW a person who was born overseas needs to have lived in NSW for three consecutive years before they can apply to change their name. In South Australia though, the wait for residents born overseas is only three months.

You might also be required to supply an English translation of your birth certificate and any other supporting documents. This must be done by an accredited qualified translator which you’ll need to pay for yourself. You need to pay a Change of Name Certificate fee as well, which varies from state to state but generally falls within the region of $150.

While you could conceivably keep using existing documents with your old name it’s generally less hassle in the long run to change these over too. Once you have received your Change of Name Certificate, you can start changing your name on your identification documents such as your drivers licence and passport. Naturally, this will involve additional fees; if you have lots of frequently used documents it can end up being quite costly but the end result will be worth it. To avoid confusion, you should also register the name change with any organisations you’re affiliated with, including websites.

In the meantime, hold onto your name change document to explain why older documents differ. Good luck!


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  • Also remember that if you change your name you will have to provide the details of that for anything else you apply for, visas, passports, etc. So never ever lose your change of name certificate and be ready to provide it.

  • Everytime I see those nametags, my inner voice says
    ” Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”

    • You can buy a shirt that has one of those name tag stickers on and then the Inigo Montoya bit looks like it’s been written in.

  • Sounds like you have 2 options.

    1. Correct receptionists at doctors surgeries about your name for the rest of your life.
    2. Fill out the additional section about “previous names” on every government form…. for the rest of your life.

    Personally, i’d choose option 1 and not change your name legally.

    • Besides, even someone’s preferred name can be screwed up on the ‘how do you spell that?’ front by the rise of people whose fuckwit parents thought it would be cool to misspell their kids names to make them ‘unique’.

      They really need to empower doctors and nurses with the option to slap parents who do this, and remind them, “It’s not the NAME which makes a person unique or stand out from the crowd.”

    • As someone who changed his first name in 1998, I’ve found most forms don’t care about previous names beyond a few years ago. They are more likely to ask “Have you changed your name since you last submitted this form?” or “Have you changed your name in the last 3 years?”.

      It’s been ages since I had to put my old name on anything.

      I say go for it!

  • My understanding is that as long as you’re not trying to misrepresent yourself as someone you’re not, you are free to use your preferred name without formally changing your name.

    • +1.

      It’s quite common now for organisations to ask what you like being called. My bank does this. As does my employer. Many of my colleagues have long complex names or come from cultures where the order of given names and surname isn’t the same as the Western standard.

      • Agreed. My birth name has the same first name and middle initial as my father. As I grew up, we each were called different minor variations of the name. (For example, “Robert” might become “Rob” and “Bobby”). The name I’ve always been called is the one I call myself and I put my birth name on any official documents. If somebody calls me by my birth name, I just ask them to call me by my preferred alias instead.

        It can actually be useful because if somebody calls me by my birth name I know that it’s either official business or a marketer. Having a red flag show up at the start of a conversation that a person is not your friend is remarkably handy.

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