What’s in a name? While true that we are who we are no matter what we call ourselves or what someone has named us, our names carry great importance. When we are introduced to someone, it is usually by our name; it is an identifying marker of who we are, how we are perceived by our community and our world at large. Sometimes the name we are given at birth, however, does not reflect who we are and is not how we want to be introduced to the world. Luckily, we have the ability to change our name. But while Shakespeare wrote “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” often without the help of an attorney, the process to change one’s name doesn’t always come up roses! Read on to learn how to legally navigate name changes in Pennsylvania.
How do I legally change my name in PA?
While the process for changing your name due to marriage, death of a spouse, or divorce involves mostly time and paperwork, other optional name changes require engagement with the Court system. The steps for legal name changes in PA are as follows:
- File a Petition with the Court – typically your local county court has a form to complete with your name request, asking your current name, your desired name and the reason for the change.
- Schedule a Court date – upon filing your petition, you will receive a Scheduling Order for your name change hearing, normally a few weeks after you submit your name change form.
- Advertise in a legal publication as well as a local newspaper – a few weeks before your Court date, one needs to publish notice of your proposed name change in your local law journal, as well as a local newspaper (classifieds); this ensures a transparent process and gives someone with lawful objection notice of the change; be sure to bring copies/proof of publication.
- Conduct a lien search/criminal background check – to help ensure you aren’t changing your name to avoid penalty for crimes or to avoid debt, a lien search or criminal background check will be completed prior to your hearing for legal due diligence; ultimately this won’t stop a name change but it will ensure records that are yours maintain connection with any name change and are legal documented as such.
- Attend your name change hearing – with proof of your name publications and any other paperwork sent to you from the Court, appear before a Judge to have your name formally changed; as long as you have completed required paperwork and there are no objections, this is a formality and perfunctory portion of the process.
While these steps can all be completed pro se, it’s easy to miss a step or not properly fulfill each requirement. Working with an experienced attorney can smooth this process, especially navigating the Court system.
Name changes in the LGBT community
In the LGBT community, a name is very important. The sex assigned at birth may not be the sex one now identifies with and wants to hold out to the world. Additionally, a birth name can carry bad associations and even trauma. In the transgender community, many refer to their birth names as their “dead name” because that’s never who they were or the person they were born as is not who they are now. Also, there are those individuals who do not want to be labeled and pick a name that is gender-neutral.
While LGBT books may be getting banned in libraries, the right to name changes remains unchallenged. As long as you follow the process outlined above, you can seek a new name and a fresh start.
Name changes for minors
For minor children seeking to change their names due to gender identity, adoption or second-parent adoption, a parent must sponsor this process. If there are two legal guardians/parents of the child and one petitioner, refer to the Court’s requirements of the other parent – often notarized consent or supplementary materials are required.
Often a child or their adoptive parents wish to change the child’s name during the adoption process. While the name change can be made as early as the adoption finalization date, some families wish to consider this at a later time, especially if the child is older and wishes to maintain a connection with their biological family, which requires a name change petition as described above.
Legal support with name changes
To an experienced attorney, name changes are often straightforward and cost-effective. A reasonable fee will cover advertising fees and everything associated with the process, also affording you the peace of mind your name change will be processed correctly in accordance with the law.
At Fitzpatrick, Lentz & Bubba, we offer this service of name changes in an empathetic environment and are happy to help those who wish to make their name represent who they actually are or to reflect their current familial status. Please reach out to our Family Law team for help.