The Name Change Process in Pennsylvania – Legally make your Saul into a Paul


There are many reasons you may need to tangle with the Pennsylvania name change process.  A few basic examples being:  (1) seeking to resume your maiden name after a painful Divorce; (2) having your recently adopted child take your surname to reflect the new relationship;  (3) fixing a hospital mistake on your birth certificate to express your parents true intent;  (4) changing your birth name if your parents picked an overly creative or horrible one (think, “Apple”, or “Adolf”);  and/or (5) if the Spirit strikes you down on the road to Damascus, and you are told to do so by a higher authority.

Under Pennsylvania Law, any person desiring to change his or her name must file a petition with the Court of Common Pleas of the county where he or she resides.  The petition must set forth both the petitioner’s desire and intention to change his or her name and a detailed explanation of the petitioner’s legally valid reason for seeking the change.

Once the petition is filed, an order will be issued directing you to give notice to the general public and to other relevant parties.  You must publish in two newspapers of general circulation your name change plans and also give written notice to any non-petitioning parent of a child whose name will be changed.  A formal court hearing will be scheduled within three months.

At the hearing any person with standing may appear and object with a valid “lawful” objection (an issue into itself).  You must also prove that you gave the required legal notice and submit to the court’s approval official searches showing that there are no outstanding judgments against you.  Although many have tried, this process will not help to avoid paying off your debts, taxes, or student loans.

If the court is satisfied that the requirements of the Act have been complied with and there are no lawful and compelling objections, a decree may be entered changing your name as you have specifically requested.  The court has substantial discretion, though, and may deny your request if they feel your real purpose for changing names is fraudulent.  Examples of such a bad intent include changing to avoid taxes, or changing to mislead the public by assuming the name of a well-known professional in your field.  Yes, that has been tried and litigated.

Regarding changing the name of a minor, the court if bound by its general, “best interests of the minor child” legally defined standard that is applied in custody cases.  Factors the court will consider in these cases include the child’s understanding of the significance of changing their name, the effect of the change on the bonds between parent and child, and any social stigma a given name might cause (i.e., Adolf, Judas, Moonbeam, etc…).  Pennsylvania courts have granted name changes where the child’s parent is a notorious criminal in the community and their name would jeopardize their future well-being.

There is a shortcut for a person who is divorced to resume any previously used surname (maiden name).  That person may easily resume their maiden name by merely filing a written notice of their intent to do so with the clerk of the Court of Common Pleas in the county where the divorce decree was filed or entered, without filing a formal petition, without giving legal notice, and without appearing before a judge.  The shortcut is limited to this particular case, however.

All content on this website is intended for general information only, and should not be construed as legal advice, tax advice, or financial advice applicable to your particular situation.  No attorney-client relationship is created unless and until a binding written representation agreement is signed by both you and our office. Before taking any action based on this website, you should consider your personal situation and seek professional advice.

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