Pennsylvania

Changing Your Name

Authored By: MidPenn Legal Services LSC Funded
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Information

Introduction

The ability of an adult or child to obtain a change of name will depend on the facts of each case. A change of names is not possible in all circumstances. Some changes of name can be obtained by submitting the correct forms to the Department of Vital Statistics or to the Court of Common Pleas in your county of residence. Other name changes will depend on the discretion of the judge, who is assigned to hear the petition for a name change.

You do not have a right to a change of name. The Court can deny a petition for a change of name for any reason. A judge may use his/her discretion to find out if you can change your name or your child's name. Discretion means that the judge may make any decision that he/she deems necessary under the circumstances.



Adult Name Changes

Many adults want to have their name changed to facilitate a fresh start in life. For an adult who is newly divorced, the procedure is very simple. Forms are available in the Prothonotary's office of each county to change a married surname to a prior surname. If the divorce was filed in another county or state, the person seeking the name change can file the decree and the name change form in the Prothonotary's office. There is a small fee for the forms and filing. The fee varies from $5.00 to $8.00.

A name change is not so simple when an adult wishes to have his/her given name or surname changed for a reason other than divorce. The Commonwealth is concerned that an adult may wish to change his/her name to avoid credit problems, a history of criminal acts, or use a new name to commit fraudulent acts. An adult must file a petition in the Court of Common Pleas to obtain a name change. In addition, an adult is required to publicize the fact that his/her name is about to be changed. Instructions and forms are available in this packet for an adult change of name.



Name Changes for a Minor

Parents often wish to change their children's names when they make a new start in life. A name change for a child is simple, if both biological parents consent to the change of name. Both of the biological parents must complete and sign the form on the back of their child's birth certificate. The form is then mailed to the Department of Vital Statistics. The Department of Vital Statistics will send the parents a new birth certificate containing the child's new name.

A parent must petition the Court of Common Pleas in their county of residence, if the other parent does not consent to the name change. The procedures and forms for filing a name change petition for a child are the same as for an adult. However, the Courts use a different standard in determining whether to grant a name change for a child.

The judicial standard for changing the name of a minor is "the best interest of the child." A parent or guardian who is seeking to change the name of a child must prove that the change is in the best interest of the child. The following matters are usually considered by the Court in determining whether to grant a petition to change a child's name:

  • The natural bond between parent and child. A change of name may affect the relationship between a parent and child. Most Courts find it in "best interest of the child" to maintain the link between parent and child. The Court will look at the parent's history of visitation with the child, whether child support payments have been maintained, and whether the parent has been consistently involved in the child's life. The Court must also consider the ties between the child and the parent's extended family.

  • The social impact or respect afforded a particular name in the community. A name change may be granted by the Court to protect a child from the bad reputation of a biological parent in the community. The link between the parent and child may cause embarrassment or problems for the child in school and the community. For example, a name change may be granted where a parent has committed a notorious crime in the community and the child suffers harassment because of bearing his/her parent's surname.

  • The age and ability of the child to understand the significance of changing his/her name. A Court is reluctant to change the name of a child when it fears that the petitioning parent is motivated by self interest. Children who are involved in bitter divorces or custody battles are often influenced by parents. The Court may look to the child to figure out whether the child understands the impact of changing his/her name. A young child will most likely not be able to understand what it will mean to change his/her name. Of course, a teenager can probably express his/her desire and understanding of the impact of the name change to a greater degree. The Court will decide how much weight to give to the desires of the child.


Judicial Change of Name

The Petition

The Court of Common Pleas may issue an order changing the name of any person living in the county. An individual must start the procedure by filing a petition.

The petition must contain the following information:

1.The petitioner's desire and intention to change his/her name;
2. The reason for seeking the change of name;
3. The petitioner's current residence; and,
4. The petitioner's residence or residence for and during the five years before the time when the petition will be filed.
5. A set of the petitioner's fingerprints.


Publication

After the petition has been filed, the Court will enter an order directing the petitioner to give notice of the name change filing. The Court will also normally order that the petitioner publish the notice. The purpose of publishing the notice is to let the community know that you are seeking to have your name changed. Anyone who would have a lawful objection to the changing of your name would be given notice by the publication.

The notice must be published in two newspapers of general circulation. You may publish the notice in a local newspaper in your county of residence or in a nearby county. An official paper for publication of legal notices may also be used. For example, the local county bar association may have a publication for legal notices that you can use.

Proof of publication must be presented at the hearing. A copy of the notice taken from the newspaper may be submitted to the Court as proof of publication.

However, if the court finds that the publication of the notice would jeopardize the safety of the person seeking the name change, or his or her child or ward, the Court can issue an order waiving the publication of the notice.



Proof of Financial Standing

The Commonwealth is very concerned that adult individuals will attempt to avoid financial obligation by changing their names. An adult petitioner must also present official proof that there are no outstanding judgments against him/her. Official proof should consist of a judgement/lien check completed, signed and sealed by the Prothonotary's office.



Petition for a Child

The parent or guardian of the child may petition the Court for a name change on the child's behalf. It is the responsibility of the petitioner to serve the non-petitioning parent. The notice must be sent by registered or certified mail. Proof of service on the non-petitioning parent must be presented to the Court. The return-receipt should be attached to a certificate of service and submitted to the Court.

A petition for a change of name for a child should not be attempted without the advice of an attorney. An attorney will help you to find out if the Court will grant a name change under the particular circumstances of your case.



Fingerprinting

Pursuant to Act 83 of 1998 (June 18, 1998), you are now required to be fingerprinted upon filing a Petition for Change of Name.

This pamphlet is meant to give general information and not specific legal advice. MidPenn Legal Services in providing this information, is in no way agreeing or implying that it will represent individuals who use the enclosed information. Although this information is believed accurate at the time of preparation, MidPenn Legal Services assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of this information. Individual situations require individual analysis.

If you have specific questions about changing your name contact MidPenn Legal Services.

How to File a Petition for Change of Name

  • Get Sample Forms [PDF Format]

  • Fill out an IFP with the IFP Order, and a Petition for Change of Name. You should complete the caption for each order and the notice.

  • File the original IFP and Petition for Change of Name in the Prothonotary's office. Be sure that all copies of the Petition for Change of name and one (1) copy of the IFP (for your records) are stamped "filed." Be sure to place the assigned number on all documents.

  • Take all copies of the Order for Publication and Notice to the Court Administrator. In Mifflin and Juniata counties, the orders and notice should be left with the Prothonotary. The order and notices should be conveyed by the Court Administrator or Prothonotary to the judge to be completed and signed. You should pick up the Order for Publication and Notice from the Court Administrator or Prothonotary.

  • The notice must be published in two newspapers of general circulation. You may publish the notice in a local newspaper in your county of residence or in a nearby county. An official paper for publication of legal notices may also be used. For example, the local County Bar Association may have a publication for legal notices that you can use.

  • Proof of publication must be filed with the Court. A copy of the notice taken from the newspaper should be attached to the Notice and filed with the Prothonotary's office.

  • The Order for Publication should have a date for a hearing on your petition. You should appear at the hearing. Anyone who has an objection to the change of your name may also appear at the hearing.

This pamphlet is meant to give general information and not specific legal advice. MidPenn Legal Services in providing this information, is in no way agreeing or implying that it will represent individuals who use the enclosed information. Although this information is believed accurate at the time of preparation, MidPenn Legal Services assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of this information. Individual situations require individual analysis.



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