There are some restrictions on what you may choose as your new name. Generally, the limits are as follows:
- You cannot choose a name with fraudulent intent -- meaning you intend to do something illegal. For example, you cannot legally change your name to avoid paying debts, keep from getting sued or get away with a crime.
- Your new name cannot interfere with the rights of others, which generally is defined as choosing the name of a famous person with the intent to mislead. For example, most judges will not approve your renaming yourself George Bush or William (Bill) Clinton unless you have a convincing reason not related to the famous politicians.
- You cannot use a name that would be intentionally confusing. This might be a number or punctuation -- for example, "10," "III," or "?." (Minnesota's Supreme Court once ruled that a man who wanted to change his name to the number "1069" could not legally do so, but suggested that "Ten Sixty-Nine" might be acceptable.)
- You cannot choose a name that is a racial slur.
- You cannot choose a name that could be considered a "fighting word," which includes threatening or obscene words, or words likely to incite violence.
If you're in California and you're looking for a step-by-step guide to getting your name changed, get How to Change Your Name in California by Attorneys Emily Doskow and Lisa Sedano (Nolo).