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How Do You Legally Change Your Name in Pennsylvania?

People change their last names when they get married and, sometimes, even when they get divorced. It’s so customary in this country that the process for doing so is fairly streamlined.

But, what if you forgot to change your last name back to a previous one during your divorce or decided against it at the time but now regret that decision? What if you simply hate your first name? What if you want to change both your first and last names? Here’s what you need to know:

Determine your eligibility for a name change

Before you can legally change your name, you need to know if you’re eligible to do so. Your petition will be denied if you’re trying to commit fraud or evade creditors, or when you’re trying to avoid the notoriety associated with a felony offense.

Conviction of some serious offenses, including kidnapping or robbery, will make you permanently ineligible, while your ability to change your name for other offenses will be delayed until two full years after you’ve finished any sentence.

Start with the Court of Common Pleas

Generally speaking the process for a legal name change is fairly formulaic. You need to:

  • File your petition with the court, indicating the name you prefer and why you wish to change your name. If you are transgender and want your name to better reflect your identity, you may need to submit documentation from your physician showing that you’ve transitioned.
  • Have fingerprint testing by the Pennsylvania State Police so that they can check your criminal record, if you have one, and make a note.
  • Submit a records check to show that you are not trying to evade a judgment or anything similar.
  • Publish your intentions in two newspapers that are in general circulation in your county. This requirement can be waived, however, if you are worried that doing so would put you in danger, which may be the case for transgender people, people leaving domestic violence situations and the victims of some crimes.
  • Request and attend a court hearing regarding the name change so that you can make your case to the judge.

It’s important to remember that the law doesn’t grant you the right to a name change – it’s up to the judge’s discretion. With that in mind, it’s always wisest to have legal assistance as you present your name change petition to the court.

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