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On this episode of the weekly WWDB AM radio show “Ask The Experts” we talk about the process of legal Name Changes.

What are some of the reasons people may want to change their name? How long does the name change process take? What are the rules for name changes? Are some names not allowed? Can a name change be done online? And more!


Episode Transcript

[00:00:34.570] – Speaker 2

Good morning, Philadelphia. Welcome to another as the experts we are here. I’m getting some feedback in the background. I don’t know what that is. Anyway, we are here with you today right before Christmas, and I know my expert, our weekly expert attorney Angela Giampolo, will wish you the same. We want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas, and we are so glad that for the last six years, you have joined us. And I got to tell you, this show, which is our first show every week, has become dear to my heart. I have never learned so much as I have from Angela. She’s smiling right now. But you’re like this great professor because of the way you explain everything, you don’t talk over people’s heads, and you really Angela, I got to tell you, I have never met anybody who cares about people as much as you do. If you look at your background, it’s always been about caring for the less fortunate.

[00:01:51.330] – Speaker 3

Yeah. Not talking over people. I think that just comes from not being from a family full of lawyers. Not that lawyers talk over people, but they tend to talk over people. But I come from a family of entrepreneurs and hard workers, and if I had just stopped at college, both of my parents would have been happy. Ultimately, just explaining things the way that people need them explained, just so that they understand. I had a really hard time in my first few internships and even a couple of jobs during law school and out of law school, feeling aligned with how lawyers treated clients, how they held meetings, how their offices were designed, down to how you design your space. Like someone walks into your office, and if there’s all these big books, like lawyers never read those books, but they’re there just to feel overwhelming and look at what I do. And my office is full of artwork of Chihuahuas and just making it a space that feels comfortable and where people can feel that the process is approachable. Ultimately, it’s about what the client is coming to me for. Right. And the more that they feel comfortable achieving that end, then I’ve done my job. So I just like to explain things the way that people understand.

[00:03:29.890] – Speaker 2

Well, this is where you are gifted at. And I’ve never said this to you on our show where you’re gifted. And then we got a great show this morning. I’m Jewish, and I used to have. But I had a person who had tried to shove Christianity down my throat, and all that pushed me further. And then somebody kind of like yourself that let me just show you the other side. Hey, if you want to if you don’t mind. But just so you know the other side. And today, I’m a believer. I’m still Jewish.

[00:04:18.690] – Speaker 3

But you’ve expanded..

[00:04:23.830] – Speaker 2

You don’t try to shove anything down people’s throats. You’re understanding, you’re caring, and it makes people want to hear more.

[00:04:33.270] – Speaker 3

Yeah. I mean, if you boil it all down. Right. And a lot of our discussions, I feel like, in the last few shows have come to this, and it’s because it’s and I’ve been saying this a lot what is simple is profound, right? And so whether it’s Judaism or Christianity or Buddhism or Hinduism or at the end of the day, if we’re all nice to one another and love one another, and that’s what makes the world go round, regardless of what religion and whether you’re gay, straight, bisexual, right? Like, just love one another, regardless of what that looks like. And so there’s nothing, in my opinion, to shove down someone’s throat, because really all it is is love and kindness and compassion, showing compassion for someone else. Grace, right? Like, as they’re learning.

[00:07:17.180] – Speaker 2

Yeah, really. But I wanted to thank you for opening my eyes and the way you explain things, and it’s just I’m so glad that you have been with us, and we have so many more shows to do. I want to get to today’s show. And every time I think, Angela, there isn’t a topic we haven’t covered, you come up with something new. And today we are talking about reasons that people change their name. And if a person needs a lawyer to help with that name change petition, can you touch on that?

[00:08:03.240] – Speaker 3

Yeah. So name changes have been going on for decades, ultimately centuries, even as long as we’ve had laws on the books. But within the LGBTQ community, we avail ourselves to the name change process much more frequently for the transgender community. So in transitioning, letting go of either a dead name or their given name, however they refer to it, but the name that they were given at birth that they no longer feel aligned with and have chosen another name. And so going through the name change process can be very daunting for a transgender person who may already feel discriminated against in overall society and having to go through the legal process, going into court of going in front of a judge and stating the reasons why they are changing their name. And especially, again, we’re in Philadelphia, so we’re sort of in a bubble right here. But in places in Pennsylvania where it’s much smaller rural areas, or Ohio or Alabama, my favorite state, it’s not as friendly potentially for trans folks to change their name.

[00:09:27.280] – Speaker 2

Like Bruce Jenner. Probably right.

[00:09:29.860] – Speaker 3

Exactly. Bruce Jenner had to change his name. Exactly. But it’s not just for trans folks. It’s also I have a lot of clients coming to me who maybe they’re getting married and they want to form a new last name, right? So Giampolo and Smith and combining that somehow not just hyphenated, but making up a whole new last name. Right. So that is very trendy, for lack of a better word right now, where I’m not taking your last name. We’re not just hyphenating, we’re going to create a whole new last name, maybe a mashup of our names or just something completely different. And then I’ve had people reach out that are non-binary, right? They’re not transitioning, but they’re non-binary and they want to change their name. Maybe their name is too genderized if you will. Like, Angela is a very feminine-sounding name. And if I wanted something less feminine or less masculine and just more androgynous or non-binary, changing their name for that reason. And then I’ve had people reach out who just want to change their name. I have a very interesting one now. I can’t state the name that they want to change it to, but it’s very interesting, and it’s in a very small part town in Pennsylvania, and I don’t necessarily know if it’ll get approved.

[00:11:08.150] – Speaker 3

I had him explain to me in his own words why he wanted to change his name because we’ll have to state that on the record and we’ll get into that a little bit later. But the judge has discretion, and I don’t necessarily know if we’ll be successful.

[00:11:27.160] – Speaker 2

Can Judges turn it down?

[00:11:29.480] – Speaker 3

Yeah. The rules are you can’t change your name to something trademark, so you can’t become Mickey Mouse or Scooby Doo or something like that, or even a famous last name. You can’t become prince, even Tom Cruise. Right. That’s not a name, that’s trademarked. Angelina Jolie, those aren’t trademarked names, but they become so synonymous with a celebrity that we know who Tom Cruise is.

[00:11:53.110] – Speaker 2

Right, right.

[00:11:55.520] – Speaker 3

So that those are legal. They would fail purely for legal reasons. You cannot become Mickey Mouse or Tom Cruise, and it would be denied for legal reasons. Above and beyond that, you could be denied for procedural reasons. Maybe you missed something that you should have. There are a lot of documentation and clearances and things that you need to provide, so maybe you missed something for procedural reason. And then there’s discretion. The judge has discretion. It’s been used a lot of times in a discriminatory fashion, especially against trans folks, where they’ve used their discretion, if you will, in a discriminatory way. But in this particular client’s case, it will be up to the judge, ultimately, and I feel like he’s going to be questioned a lot on why he wants to change his name to that, and the judge could just say no, but if it’s denied for discretionary purposes, we can appeal. And he fully intends I’ve told him that it may get denied and we will appeal. So I could get expensive in that particular instance, yes. But if it’s denied for discriminatory purposes, and what I would deem to be a discriminatory reason, a trans person, small town, the judge has no reason why they would deny it.

[00:13:20.720] – Speaker 3

Someone by the given name of Alexander wants to change their name to Alexandra, and all documentation is proper and all clearance is clean, and there’s absolutely no reason to deny it. Yet it got denied. I would do that appeal pro bono.

[00:13:38.640] – Speaker 2

Tell me about fees with a name change. How long does it take?

[00:13:45.060] – Speaker 3

Yeah, so, unfortunately, it’s not cheap. And again, especially for trans folks, it can be unduly burdensome and overwhelming. The fees. You have to publish in two periodicals, two different periodicals. This goes back 100 years, where publishing in a newspaper because people read the newspaper to find the obituaries and all legal notices. So that is very draconian but is still held over as a requirement. So that in and of itself is anywhere from four hundred and fifty dollars to six hundred dollars to publish in two periodicals, depending on the length of your name. If your name is Robert Jones, it won’t be as much as Arnold Schwarzenegger. Right. So it’s literally based on the amount of characters that you take up. And if possible, I will publish in an LGBTQ periodical that will do it for free. So the Philadelphia Gay News, I don’t know if they still do, but they used to do it for free. Or if I can, in certain counties, I waive publication for safety purposes. So Philadelphia will allow you to waive publication without a hearing. I just have to state that my client does not feel safe putting their name and the reason for the name change into periodicals for people to read and potentially see them, know them, and seek them out.

[00:15:15.120] – Speaker 3

Another reason for a name change, too, is what we were talking about earlier, just not feeling aligned with your parent’s last name. So I’ve had clients whose father was a pedophile or a murderer or did really bad illegal criminal behavior, even white-collar crime in the mafia, and they no longer wanted that last name. That last name was synonymous with this particular crime or with abusing their mother or something like that. And so, again, if there was a protection from abuse order between the parents and the mother is changing the child’s last name, it’s not safe to put that in a periodical. So we can waive that publication and potentially waive that $600 fee. But in a lot of counties, they won’t waive it without a hearing. And so then I have to charge for the extra hearing to go to court, which is another$ 500, $750. So why not? It makes it difficult. So the fees on publication then the fees just to file are very expensive, anywhere from two hundred and fifty dollars to three hundred and fifty dollars just to file, and then all of your clearances, which can be very expensive. So you have upwards of $900, sometimes $1,100, just in fees, separate from the legal fee.

[00:16:45.440] – Speaker 2

These are court fees.

[00:16:46.930] – Speaker 3

These are just court fees, expenses, and costs.

[00:16:50.240] – Speaker 2

Wow. And I can understand this about people not wanting to come into court. Can it be done online?

[00:16:59.920] – Speaker 3

Well, right into your point about length of time, so length of time, it can take anywhere from I’ve never had it for less time than three months, so anywhere from three months during COVID up to nine months. But typically, especially if you’re looking to have a diploma or some sort of legal documentation with your chosen name, start the process as soon as possible. And some counties, they do allow for it to be online, the final hearing, and or not even go into court, just on the papers, no zoom, no going into court, nothing. Just provide all the documentation and the judge will do a day of name changes, review all the paperwork, make sure all the paperwork is in order, and sign it. And then we get the decree, the name change decree in the mail. So depending on what state you’re in, what county you’re in in the state, and how modernized their online e-filing system is, it could be in-person formal hearing, where they go sit in the witness box and I have to ask them questions as a witness under oath, raise their hand on the Bible kind of thing versus in a Zoom meeting versus just nobody appearing anywhere and just me submitting the paperwork and waiting until the judge signs off.

[00:18:28.240] – Speaker 2

Something we discussed about correcting a first or middle name. Explain that.

[00:18:34.640] – Speaker 3

So there could be situations where your name on your birth certificate ends up over time, not being the name on legal documentation, or maybe you were adopted, maybe not even legally adopted, but something happens. I have a client right now where we just have a mismatch and a mix-up of names on certain legal documents and mainly the birth certificate. Like we have to go by what’s on the birth certificate, especially if you’re born in another state or another country, but you live here. So the birth certificate would begin and end with the birth certificate, but then from there things happen and all of a sudden you have a different name and then your driver’s license and your Social Security card and all your passport, all these other legal documents have a different name or multiple last names or colloquial name, right? Like Josie ends up on legal documentation or all your legal documents match. They all match in your Josephine, but you do want to go by Josie. They consider that just an alteration of your first name. You may not have to go through the whole formal name change process. So all of your documents say Josephine, but everybody calls you Josie and you go by Josie and you want Josie to be your name that may not, depending on where you live, depending on where you live, may not rise to the level of needing to go through this whole six-month kind of expensive name change process.

[00:20:17.600] – Speaker 3

The other reason or scenario where you may not have to go through the name, where you definitely don’t have to go through the name change process, is through a marriage. So either a marriage or divorce or an adoption. Okay? Marriage, divorce, adoption. You get a free name change, if you will. Okay? So when you get married, you can move your last name to your middle name or in some way play around with your middle name and your last name. Same thing. When you get divorced by way of the divorce decree, you can declare on that divorce decree, I am now Angela Giampolo. Again, if I took someone’s last name and by way of an adoption, you can absolutely change the name on the birth certificate on adoption day in any which way, right? You’re not limited to just the last name and the middle name like you are in a marriage or a divorce. You can absolutely change the name in an adoption process because maybe the birth mother named the child Rachel and you adopted the child and you’re going to name the child Angelica, right? Like some completely different name that you feel aligned with. So an adoption, marriage or divorce, a complementary name change by way of the decree.

[00:21:42.540] – Speaker 2

I want to get this question. And we had someone write us that had their name defamed online. There’s a lot of websites out there where you can write anything you want about anybody and they’ll publish it. They want to know would they be able to change their name, because every time someone Googles their name, all this derogatory information comes up on them. Would they be a candidate for a name change?

[00:22:16.680] – Speaker 3

Absolutely. It wouldn’t be complimentary in any way, shape or form. It would be a traditional formal name change process. And that kind of goes along the lines of the scenario where maybe your father was big Mafias or convicted for murder and they Google that name and your name is popping up, right? And you’re just tired of being associated with that particular name. You can absolutely change your name to anything you want in that case, that is in no way associated with the current name, but it will be a formal name change process with providing all the clearances. The clearances, while they are daunting, are important. The court wants to know that you’re not changing your name to avoid child support. Right. That there’s no child support judgment. There can be if there is a child support judgment against you. You just need to show the court that so that it goes from Angela Giampolo’s name into my new name. They want to transfer that, that you’re not doing the name change to avoid that judgment because the child support judgment is under that name, and I’m going to change my name to a whole new name and then they won’t be able to find me.

[00:23:36.420] – Speaker 3

Same with civil judgments. I was in a car accident that I caused, and there’s a $90,000 personal injury lawsuit against me. And so I want to change my name from that name that’s in the docket and change my name to another name and avoid that judgment so they can’t ever find me. So it’s okay if those things I’ve even had clients with criminal background stuff come up on the FBI clearance. Totally fine. They just want to know who you are and associate all of those judgments with your new name so it transfers over so we don’t lose it.

[00:24:20.720] – Speaker 2

Well, I never knew there was so much information, though, about a name change. And I know people are going, how do we reach Angela? Give everybody your phone number, Angela. How about your podcast?

[00:24:31.370] – Speaker 3

Sure. 215-645-2415. And you can reach out to me on my website., Podcast is Speak Out, and we are going to be putting out the first twelve episodes in the new year, so we’ve been editing and working on those.

[00:24:54.600] – Speaker 2

Well, Angela, this is the last show before Christmas and we’ll have one next week, last show for the new year. But I know people out there want to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas, and we are so blessed to have you, angel. Thank you so much.