Changing your name in Pennsylvania

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Under Pennsylvania law, you are free to request a change of your legal name to one of your choosing. You may petition the Court to permit a change to your first, middle or last name, or all of them. The process involves two major steps, but it doesn’t have to be confusing or complicated. In today’s blog, we’ll talk through the steps and discuss why you need a lawyer to help.

There are two basic steps to getting a name change done in Pennsylvania. First, you’ll need to file a petition explaining to the Court of Common Pleas in the county where you live why you need or want the name change. This petition is not a standard form but rather allows the drafting attorney to fill in various details about you for the judge’s understanding. You will want to include the reasons for the potential change. You should also include information about your criminal background, if any, and financial situation. These details allow the Court to assess that you are pursuing the name change for legitimate reasons, and not to hide from creditors or escape a criminal background. A good petition will go a long way toward persuading the presiding judge to grant your request.

Second, you’ll need to go through a hearing—basically a very brief trial (without a jury, just a judge) on why you want the name change and whether there is any reason you should not receive one. Courts are granted broad discretion in the name change process, and they will order a hearing so they can see you and any relevant witnesses in person. The judge in your case may want you to testify or may simply have some questions for your attorney. Some name change hearings are informal, and some end up being lengthy. Having an attorney present to answer questions from the judge and make any arguments necessary to secure your name change is important.

Because the trial court judge in your county gets broad discretion on making the decision, appeals are very difficult to bring. If your county judge doesn’t grant your request, taking it up to the Superior Court is not likely to bring about a different outcome. This is why it’s important to do the petition and hearing well in the first place.

Name changes are common after marriage (where no hearing is required), when a child wants to take a different parent’s name, and for religious reasons. Name changes don’t have to be scary, and they can provide an opportunity for a psychological fresh start. If you want to seek a change in your name, call the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm to discuss your situation.