What is the Process for Getting a Name Change?

A person may change their name for many reasons, and the process can differ significantly based on the reasons and facts. A name change after a divorce is one of the easiest name changes to obtain, while a child’s name change is one of the most difficult when both parents don’t agree.

It is important to be aware that you do not have a right to a change of name. The Court can deny a petition for a change of name at the judge’s discretion. Discretion means that the judge may make the decision that he/she deems necessary under the circumstances.

How does an adult get a name change?

How does a minor get a name change?

What happens after my name change?

How do I change my Driver’s License and Birth Certificate?

How does an adult get a name change?

For an adult who is newly divorced, the procedure is very simple. Forms are available in the Prothonotary’s office of each county. If the divorce was filed in another county or state, the person seeking the name change can file the decree and the name change form in the Prothonotary’s office. There is a small fee for the forms and filing, which varies from $5.00 to $8.00.

For reasons other than divorce, a name change is more complicated. The courts must consider whether an adult may wish to change his/her name to avoid credit problems, a criminal record, or use a new name to commit fraudulent acts. An adult must file a petition in the Court of Common Pleas to obtain a name change. In addition, an adult is required to publicize that his/her name is about to be changed.

How does a minor get a name change?

Parents often wish to change their children’s names when they make a new start in life. A name change for a child is simple if both biological parents consent to the change of name. Both biological parents must complete and sign the form on the back of their child’s birth certificate. The form is then mailed to the Department of Vital Statistics. The Department of Vital Statistics will send the parents a new birth certificate containing the child’s new name.

If both biological parents are not in agreement regarding the name change, the parent who wants the change must petition the Court of Common Pleas in their county of residence. While the forms are the same for a child or adult, the Courts use a different standard in determining whether to grant a name change for a child. Generally, the courts evaluate a name change based on “the best interest of the child”. Courts consider many factors, including the bond between the child and each parent, whether the name has a significant impact or respect within the community, and the ability of the child to understand the impact of the change in his/her name.

The Petition

The name change process begins with the filing of a petition in the Court of Common Pleas and includes information about the person’s current residence, any residence in the past five years, and their reasons for petitioning for a name change. Most courts also require fingerprints to be filed with the petition.

Publication after Filing the Petition

The Court will enter an order directing the petitioner to give notice of the name change filing, normally by publication. Proof of publication must be presented at the hearing.

Publication notifies the community that you are seeking to have your name changed to allow anyone with a lawful objection the opportunity to object. As mentioned above, the courts are concerned the name change might be to avoid obligations, so by giving notice to the community, it is harder to avoid those obligations. However, if the court finds that the publication would jeopardize the safety of the petitioner, or his or her child or ward, the Court can waive the publication of the notice.

Proof of Financial Standing

The Commonwealth is very concerned that adult individuals will attempt to avoid financial obligation by changing their names. An adult petitioner must also present official proof that there are no outstanding judgments against him/her. Official proof consists of a judgement/lien check completed, signed and sealed by the Prothonotary’s office.
Differences When Filing a Petition for a Child
The parent or guardian of the child may petition the Court for a name change on the child’s behalf. It is the responsibility of the parent who files the petition to serve a copy of the petition to the other parent. The copy must be sent by registered or certified mail, and proof of this must be given to the court.

A petition for a change of name, especially one for a child, should not be attempted without the advice of an attorney. An attorney will help you to find out if the Court will grant a name change under the particular circumstances of your case. As well, an attorney can guide in collecting the information the court requires before issuing the name change.

What happens after my name change?

After you change your name, the next step is to change your documents. Below is a list of documents and/or records an individual may consider changing in the course of their name change or transition. You may not want, or need, all these documents changed, nor does this list include every document possible. All items require a legal name change first, and most will require proof the name change is legal.

  • Driver’s License
  • Social Security
  • Passport
  • Banks, Credit Cards and Retirement Accounts
  • Employer Records
  • Voter Registration
  • State Licensing and Professional Certifications
  • DMV Registrations
  • Medical Records and Dental Records
  • Professional Organizations & Associations
  • Loan Holders (E.G., Auto Loans, Mortgages,
  • Student Loans, Etc.)
  • High School Diploma, College Degrees,
  • Transcripts, And Alumni Organizations
  • Auto and Life Insurance
  • Birth Certificate – Depending on your state’s laws, changing your gender on your birth certificate may require a physician’s note or proof of surgery

How do I change my Driver’s License and Birth Certificate?

The steps necessary to change your driver’s license or birth certificate once you have legally changed your name differ between states. Below are the requirements for Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Pennsylvania Drivers’ License

In order to update the name and/or gender on a Pennsylvania ID, the applicant must submit the following:

  • A form for change, correction, or replacement of an ID,
  • If changing the name, a court order certifying the name change,
  • If changing the gender marker, a form signed by a licensed provider certifying the applicant’s gender identity.

New Jersey Drivers’ License

In order to update the name and/or gender on a New Jersey ID, the applicant must submit the following:

  • If changing the name, a court order certifying the name change,
  • If changing the gender marker, a form signed by a licensed provider certifying the applicant’s gender identity.

Pennsylvania Birth Certificate

To apply for an amended birth certificate, applicants over the age of 18 should submit:

  • The birth certificate with the requested changes on the reverse side, or a completed Correction Form with the requested changes listed
  • An Application for Certified Copy of Birth Record
  • A copy of your government-issued photo ID that verifies legal name and mailing address (listed gender does not matter), or two other forms of identification
  • A check or money order for $20
  • If changing the gender marker, a physician’s statement on office letterhead saying that the applicant has had appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition.

Mail completed affidavit form, documents, application, fee and ID to:

Division of Vital Records
101 S. Mercer Street P.O. Box 1528
New Castle, PA 16103 

To apply for an amended birth certificate for individuals under the age of 18, a parent must complete the application, and no medical documentation is required. The parent must indicate which sex should appear on the birth certificate, sign in the presence of a notary, and include a photocopy of the parent’s ID.

New Jersey Birth Certificate

Beginning February 1, 2019, New Jersey will issue updated birth certificates upon receipt of a signed form from the applicant. No medical documentation will be required. Gender marker may be female, male, or undesignated/non-binary.

If you are a New Jersey resident but were born in a state that requires a court order to update your birth certificate, beginning February 1, 2019 the courts of New Jersey can issue a court order to reflect a change in gender. You must submit a statement affirming under penalty of perjury the request for declaration of gender is to conform with your gender identity and not for any fraudulent purpose.

Send the form or statement to:

New Jersey Bureau of Vital Statistics and Registration
Attn: Vital Record Modification Unit
P.O. Box 370
Trenton, NJ 08625-0370

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