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What’s In a Name?

Part of my practice is to help adults and children change their names.  Although the process for children is markedly simpler as compared to an adult, this process is much more complicated than people anticipate.

In Pennsylvania, in order to change one’s name, one has to get finger printed, secure their criminal history, a history of any judgments against him/herself, and a report of any child support owed.  Obviously, these items are not necessary to seek a child’s name change.  Although the precise documentation needed for a name change for an adult and child differs slightly, both require a hearing before a judge before the name change will be approved and both require publication of the notice for the aforesaid hearing in two (2) local newspapers.

Many people rankle at the idea of having a hearing on a name change, but the fact is someone could contest it.  Who would contest it?  There are people out there would try and change their names in order to avoid creditors, criminal backgrounds, or simply attempt to become a new person.  These are issues that a judge ought to know before entering an order approving a name change.  The issue for children is even more visceral.  Many times mothers attempt to change the last name of their children as the children bear the last name of an uninvolved and “deadbeat” father.  In this situation, the father has a right to argue against the allegations made against him and the change to the child’s last name.  Regardless of what the reason is for the name change, one must be prepared for the fact that changing one’s name requires a commitment of both time and money.

Finally, it should also be noted that unless one receives a decree from a court approving the name change, one’s name is not officially changed.  I have had clients who have somehow gotten their names changed on driver’s licenses and Social Security cards without formally changing their names.  I have no idea how or why the Department of Motor Vehicles and/or the Social Security Administration would go ahead and change someone’s name as it appears on his license and/or Social Security card without a decree changing the person’s name.  It may be due to confusion, mistake, or plain incompetence.  Regardless of the reason, it happens and I have to say that I have seen it happen a few times over the years.  In fact I have had a client who has had at least two (2) different driver’s licenses and three (3) different Social Security cards, all bearing different names.  This seems to me like a terrible security risk, a way for someone to avoid creditors and/or arrest, or, at the very least, a sure recipe for some frustration due to confusion over names in the future.  The point here is, regardless of whether one’s name has been changed informally on a driver’s license and the like, one’s name has not been officially changed until a court enters a decree to that end.

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