What makes a name legal is its recognition in official documents and authorized courts. Your birth name is legal because it is on your birth certificate and used in all legal documents. You have multiple options to change your name, you can request to change your common law name or have a court-ordered name change.
If required, you must also publish your name change in an approved newspaper that is circulating in your local area. An Order to Show Cause form is completed and provided to the newspaper. You must also pay a fee or request a fee waiver if you cannot afford it.
The final process is making an appearance before a judge with proof of your name change published in the newspaper. If the judge has provided their approval, they will sign a Decree Changing Name (Form NC-130). Your desired name is now your new legal name.
Common law name changes involve no legal paperwork or processes. Individuals simply adopt a new name and use it consistently over time. The name can become your legal name if it has been used consistently for business and personal purposes. However, you will not have any solid paper evidence or legal documents that provide proof of your name change.