New Jersey Name Changes for Non-U.S Citizens

August 30, 2013

Immigrants often have more reason than U.S. citizens to change their names.  Records of entry of many immigrants into the U.S. contain assumed names, incorrect names, and other errors.  Additionally, after coming to America, many immigrants wish to assimilate and, therefore, decide to Americanize their names.  When an immigrant’s new name no longer matches that shown on their official immigration record, they often face difficulties voting, in legal proceedings, or in immigration proceedings.

A question that arises in this context is whether or not an immigrant who resides in New Jersey, but is not yet a U.S. citizen, can apply for a name change with New Jersey courts.  The New Jersey Appellate Division addressed this situation in In re Application of Xiangjing Zhan, 424 N.J. Super. 231 (App. Div. 2012).  In that case, a father sought to change his daughter’s first name from “Honghong” to “Michelle” pursuant to New Jersey’s name change statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:52-1 et seq.  Both the father and daughter were lawful permanent resident aliens.  The court below denied the name change, reasoning that the minor was not a U.S. citizen and was, therefore, not eligible for name change relief.

On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed the decision, holding that the benefits of the name change statute are not limited to United States citizens.  The court first noted that there is a presumption in favor of granting name change relief and “substantial reasons” to deny an application must exist.  The court also pointed out that language of the name change statute itself permits “any person” to change their name.  Additionally, the court explained that other states have held that name changes are not limited to U.S. citizens.  Finally, the court noted that federal law practice seems to contemplate the possibility of name changes by permanent resident aliens by requiring permanent resident aliens to report name changes to the Department of Homeland Security.

If you not U.S. citizen but wish to change your name, contact the attorneys at the Law Office of Randolph H. Wolf today for a free consultation.  We will answer your questions and guide you through the name change process.

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