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Many immigrants to New York legally changed their names in order to simplify the spelling, or to adopt an American -sounding name. Prior to 1875 a change in a personal name could be accomplished through a special act of the Legislature. In addition, an 1847 statute authorized a court proceeding for the same purpose. Any person over age 21 could petition a county-level court to issue an order changing his or her name.
Starting in 1861 and continuing through 1912, lists of names changed by the courts (stating the old and new names, date of change, and court ordering the change) were published in the annual session laws of the Legislature. The court order changing a personal name is recorded in the county clerk's office in the county where the person resides. The name changes published in the session laws are indexed in each volume. Name changes by the Legislature and the courts are also listed in General Index to the Laws of the State of New York, 1777-1901 (Albany: 1902), vol. 2, pp. 1309-87; and in a supplement for period 1902- 1907 (Albany: 1908), pp. 469-567. The State Archives holds the lists of name changes filed in the Secretary of State's Office for the period 1899-1940 (series B0070; not indexed). Orders for name changes filed in the New York County Clerk's Office are abstracted in Kenneth Scott, comp., Petitions for Name Changes in New York City, 1848-1899 (National Genealogical Society Special Publication no. 53) (Washington: 1984). Legislative name changes are abstracted by John Austin, comp., "Early Changes of Name in New York", New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 27 (1996), 137-42 et seq.