Many people change their names at some point. Some common scenarios include:
- Changing your last name (surname) when getting married
- Changing back to your maiden name or to another previous last name after divorce
- Adults and children changing their names because they've never liked the one they were given
- Experiencing domestic abuse or violence and changing your name for safety reasons
This article covers how to identify the right legal name change process for you. You will learn how to determine which agencies need to know about your name change and how to file name changes at different agencies. You'll also learn why you should use your new name soon after it's changed.
Identify and Follow the Correct Pennsylvania Legal Name Change Process
How to change your name in Pennsylvania depends on your personal situation.
Marriage: Changing Your Last Name
Marriage is the easiest time to change your last name. Pennsylvania courts allow a spouse to change their last name while applying for a marriage license. You file a marriage license with the county court of your residence.
Simply list your new last name on the marriage license application along with your former name. Once your marriage certificate is issued, the marriage certificate serves as legal proof of your name change.
Divorce: Reverting Back To a Previous Last Name
It's also common to change your name after divorce. Many divorcing spouses go back to their former name or maiden name. A divorce can be a long and painful process involving property division and child custody fights. So leaving your former spouse's name behind might be for the best (and make you feel better).
Pennsylvania permits a divorcing spouse to return to any prior last name by filing a notice in a county office. You can file the notice either before or after a divorce decree (finalizing the divorce) has been entered by the court.
File the written notice in the county prothonotary office (Pennsylvania's name for the chief clerk's office at the county courthouse). Make sure to reference the divorce case's information when filing.
Reverting Back To a Previous Name After a Death
A surviving spouse can return to a previous name with relative ease after a spouse passes away.
Like the divorce process, you must file a written notice in the clerk's office in the county where the surviving spouse resides. A copy of the deceased spouse's death certificate must accompany the notice.
Petition for Change of Name
What if you're not getting married or divorced? Changing your name otherwise involves petitioning a local court.
This is a more extensive process and involves a number of steps. It's more time-consuming and costly as well.
Adult Name Change via Petition
In Pennsylvania, filing a petition for a change of name involves:
- Going to court and filing a detailed petition
- Indicating that you want to change your name
- Give a reason for the name change
- Publishing notice of your intention to change your name in two newspapers of general circulation in the county where you live. Note: This publication requirement can be waived if it jeopardizes your safety or your child's safety.
- Requesting a court hearing where a judge will consider your petition. The hearing should be held no sooner than one month out but no later than three months out.
- Submitting a records check indicating that there are no judgments, decrees, or other similar matters pending against you.
Restrictions for Name Changes
There are some restrictions. You can't change your name to avoid creditors, judgments against you, or for any other fraudulent purposes. A judge can't grant a change of name to any person convicted of a felony until two calendar years after they've completed serving their sentence.
Convictions for many of the most serious crimes (murder, sex assault, kidnapping, robbery) render a person ineligible entirely.
The court will determine whether to change your name when you have completed all of the above steps. If there's no lawful objection to your change of name, the court can enter a decree changing your name.
Name Changes for Social Security Cards
Once your new name is legal, get started on updating your official documents.
First, visit your local Social Security Administration (SSA) office to get your Social Security card updated. You will need to bring a certified copy of the document most relevant to your name change, such as your marriage certificate or another document.
Note: The SSA requires documents that prove identity, age, and citizenship. These documents must be originals or certified copies.
Name Changes for Driver's Licenses
Go to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (DOT) to update your driver's license. You need to bring a marriage certificate or court decree, or order reflecting your new name.
You will need to visit a Driver's License Center in person to update your name and get a new license.
With an updated driver's license and Social Security card, you can continue updating other records such as your voter registration, birth certificate (if desired), and other official documents.
Start Using Your New Name
There's a reason marriages are announced, and petitions for name changes are published in newspapers. People need to know about it. Start using your new name to make it easier for people around you.
Family, friends, employers, insurance companies, and others will want to know. Inform them and, most of all, start using your new name. Don't forget to change your email and social media accounts too.
Get the Forms You Need in Pennsylvania
Sound like a headache? It doesn't have to be. FindLaw's Pennsylvania name change forms lay out what you need to change your name.
If you have specific questions, you should reach out to an attorney. FindLaw has an attorney directory to make it simple to find a lawyer in your area.