Many people change their name at some point. It's common to change your last name (surname) when getting married. A divorce may motivate you to change it back – whether to your maiden name or to another previous last name. Adults and children might want to change their name because they've never liked the one they were given. Others change their name to escape domestic abuse, violence, a dangerous or crazy ex, or something similar. Whatever the reason, how to change your name in Pennsylvania largely depends on your situation.
So what's the key to changing your name in the Keystone State? We'll cover how to:
- Identify the right legal name change process for you;
- File the right paperwork with the DMV and Social Security office; and
- Use your new name.
1. Identify and Follow the Correct Pennsylvania Legal Name Change Process
Marriage is the easiest time to change your last name. Pennsylvania permits a spouse to change their last name while applying for a marriage certificate. Simply list your new last name on the marriage certificate along with your former (or maiden) name. Once the marriage ceremony is performed and the license is issued, the marriage license changes your name and serves as legal proof.
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 notice in a county office. This can be done before or after a divorce decree (finalizing the divorce) has been entered by the court. You just have to file written notice in the county prothonotary office (Pennsylvania's name for the chief clerk's office at the county courthouse). Simply reference the divorce case's information when filing.
A surviving spouse can return to a previous name with relative ease in Pennsylvania. Similar to the process for divorce, written notice must be filed in the prothonotary office in the county where the surviving spouse resides. A copy of the deceased's spouse death certificate must accompany the notice.
Petition for a Change of Name
What if you're not getting married or divorced, though? 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 can cost quite a bit as well.
In Pennsylvania, filing a petition for a change of name involves:
- Going to court and filing a detailed petition. You must indicate that you want to change your name and give a reason for doing so;
- Submitting your fingerprints to the Pennsylvania State Police. This allows law enforcement to check for a criminal history and, if found, note the change of name in their records;
- Publishing notice of your intention to change your name in two newspapers of general circulation in the county where you live. This publication requirement can be waived if it would jeopardize 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; and
- Submitting a records check indicating that there are no judgments, decrees, or other similar matters pending against you.
Yes, 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.
When all of the above has been completed, the court will determine whether to change your name. If there's no lawful objection to you change of name, the court can enter a decree changing your name.
2. File the Appropriate Paperwork with Government Agencies
Once your new name is legal, get started on updating your official documents. Go to the Pennsylvania DMV to update your driver's license, bringing either a marriage certificate or court decree or order reflecting your new name. Once that's accomplished, you'll then want to visit your local Social Security office to get your Social Security card updated. With an updated driver's license and Social Security card, you can continue updating other records such as your voter registration.
3. 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, the kids' schools, 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. We've done the heavy lifting for you. Our Pennsylvania name change forms have all the information you need to successfully change your name without the hassle and confusion. Best of all, you don't need an attorney to use them.