It is both common and understandable for divorce clients and non-lawyers, in general, to toss around interchangeably the terms “name change” and “take back a prior name” when deciding to begin a low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault, Pennsylvania divorce. But changing one’s name and re-taking a name one had in the past (such as a maiden name, birth name, or previous married name) are vastly different in terms of both the simplicity of the process and the cost of each process.
Naturally, changing one’s name or re-taking a previous one can be done whether or not one is single, married, divorcing, or divorced and, certain complications aside, the following can be applied to each of those circumstances.
Celebrities are among the most noteworthy people who change their names. Hollywood stars, mostly in the past, seemingly had all changed their names from something humdrum or unattractive to something catchy or memorable. Few among us do not know the “civilian” names of John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe (respectively, Marion Morrison and Norma Jeane Baker – after her baptism, Mortenson before that). Actually changing one’s name to a new name that one had never officially or legally had in the past can easily run into thousands of dollars whereas re-taking one’s prior name is simple and very inexpensive.
Because changing one’s name to something new is sometimes done for nefarious reasons (such as trying to avoid paying one’s debts or avoiding child or spousal support or alimony or to hide from authorities with a legitimate interest in the person and the person’s identity and whereabouts), the Court looks closely at the entire circumstance and makes the party seeking the change “jump through hoops” to satisfy the Court that the reasons for the change are above board, legitimate, proper and well-founded. To further ensure that, the Court typically requires that the desired change be well-advertised to give any party who might be adversely affected by the change the opportunity to come forward, object, and be heard in Court. The name change process typically starts with retaining a lawyer who will carefully prepare a Petition to present to the Judge at a scheduled time and place. The Judge would then review the matter before the Court and order any additional steps deemed necessary to prevent any type of fraud, including the advertising mentioned above. Then at least one more appearance in Court would be required by the lawyer and the party seeking the change of name. The judge would ask questions as would anyone else who shows up, perhaps as a result of the advertising. If everything points to legitimate reasons for the change with no harm to society in general, the Judge will issue the Court Ordered change of name.
Accordingly, as one can see, a change of name is a process requiring a lawyer, advertising, and more than one appearance in open Court and therefore it will not be cheap. A party seeking a change of name must have a good, honest reason for it and the financial wherewithal to see it through. But if all a party wants to do is re-take and resume the use of a prior name, such as a maiden or birth name or even a prior married name, typically as part of a divorce proceeding, it is just a matter of completing and submitting the correct form and fee to the Prothonotary, something one’s attorney usually does for a very small fee; however, it is not recommended that one re-take a name in the middle of the divorce process as this could result in the Court requiring the amendment of a number of documents as well as one’s attorney being required to make changes in the client’s file, both the hard copy and in the lawyer’s electronic systems. That would be more than a few dollars (but still far less than a change of name).