How can I erase my identity and start over?

Changing Your Name and Social Security Number

One great reason to change your name is if you share your name with someone infamous -- say, Charles Manson.
One great reason to change your name is if you share your name with someone infamous -- say, Charles Manson.
Sahm Doherty/Getty Images

The first step to creating the new you is to change the name your parents gave you. Why stick with John Smith when you can be reborn as Abner Zanzibar? A name change is completely legal and very common. The procedure for changing your name varies by state, so you need to check with your county court or on the Internet to find out the exact steps you need to follow.

Here in Georgia where HowStuffWorks is based, you need to fill out a petition requesting the change. This form includes the reason that you want to change your name. The court will then run an ad in the official county organ once a week for the next month to see if anyone has an objection to the request. An organ is just a fancy name for newspaper or bulletin. If there are no objections after 30 days, the court will then rule on the name change. Then all you need to do is pay the low, low price of $39.95 and you're officially a new person. If someone objects, then the court hears the argument and makes the judgment. After you pay, you're issued an official document that you'll need to get your name changed everywhere else -- bank, driver's license, credit cards, insurance and Social Security Administration.

Changing your Social Security number (SSN) is also legal, but you must be able to prove that your old number is being misused by someone else or that you're a victim of domestic violence. So for the purposes of simply "starting over," you won't be able to change your SSN legally. If you're a domestic violence survivor or victim of identity theft, you must prove to the Social Security Administration (SSA) that these misdeeds have taken place. For identity theft, you must also prove that you've exhausted all other means for stopping the perpetrator. You can call the SSA toll-free to get more information at 1-800-772-1213 or visit your local Social Security office. [source: SocialSecurityOnline].

You should keep in mind that changing your SSN can also create a lot of problems. All your previous information will still be associated with your old number, including your credit history. Having no credit history will make it difficult to get a new line of credit. The IRS and Department of Motor Vehicles will still have your information stored under your old number as well. So if you change your name and your SSN, you'll be creating a big bureaucratic mess for yourself. Of course, if you're dropping out, moving far away and truly starting over, you may not care too much. Just don't expect to carry on with a great job and financial portfolio without having to deal with issues from your past life.

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More Great Links


  • "Can You Legally Create a New Identity for Yourself?", February 6, 2008.
  • "Georgia Name Change Law.", 2008.
  • "Should you get a new Social Security number?", 2008.
  • "Sleeping With the Enemy.", 2008.