Home » Names » What is a Legal Name?

What is a Legal Name?

By Emma Davies


Updated on

A legal name refers to the official name of a person that is used for identification. It is a formal name of a person recognized for lawful purposes. 

What Does Legal Name Mean?

What’s in a Legal Name?

A legal name generally consists of a given name, an optional middle name, and a surname. Sometimes, it can include suffixes, such as III or Jr.

What Does Full Legal Name Mean?

A full legal name means the entire name that appears on all government-issued documents like a birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, and any legal contracts.  It is the name that is your official identification and is recognized by the law.

Full Name vs Full Legal Name

A full name can be a combination of an individual’s names, but a full legal name is the individual’s complete name that is recognized by the law. You may go by your full name on a day-to-day basis, which may not be your lawful name. 

The distinction between the two names is determined by legal recognition. However, it is possible that the name on your birth certificate and other legal documents is not your current legal name.

How to Change a Legal Name

To change a legal name, it is required for a person to file a petition with the appropriate court. Then you provide the reasoning for the name change. Once the court approves the petition, the individual can update their legal name on official documents such as identification cards, passports, and driver’s licenses.

Reasons for a Legal Name Change

  • Adoption
  • Gender identity
  • Marriage
  • Divorce

Do You Legally Have To Have A Last Name?

It is common practice and often a legal requirement for various official documents to have a last name or surname. There may be exceptions when it comes to compulsory last names, depending on different cultures and legal systems, so it is important to check with your jurisdiction’s specific laws.

While there are many cultures in the world where only having a single name is the norm, in the West, the use of a single moniker, although not illegal, can cause people huge issues when filling out official documentation. The last name is critical for distinguishing individuals, particularly in legal contexts.

Most if not all digital forms have a space for first name and surname. Without all the required fields filled in, you will find yourself unable to proceed with the documentation.