Name Change by Birth Certificate
If a child’s birth certificate was issued in Pennsylvania, the child’s name can be changed without a court order. However, this is only an option if both biological parents consent to the name change. Without that consent, the only option is a court-ordered name change. If the birth certificate was not issued in Pennsylvania, you should check with the issuing state for specific guidance on that state's laws.
Name Change Related to Divorce or Parent's Name Change
Under Pennsylvania law, if the parent of a minor legally changes her name -- and has custody of the minor -- the minor will automatically take the new surname of the custodial parent. This rule applies equally to all minor children of that parent, regardless of whether they are adopted. Though the minor child is not given a choice about his surname under this Pennsylvania law, he can elect to have his name changed again once he reaches majority, or age 18, by following the standard adult name change process.
Court-Ordered Name Change and Child's Legal Representative
For a court-ordered name change, as with other court actions, Pennsylvania requires a minor to be represented by a guardian in order to file for a court-ordered name change. The representative does not have to be one of the minor’s parents. In at least one Pennsylvania case, a child in foster care successfully pursued a name change, even over the objection of his biological parents, with his appointed public defender acting as his representative or guardian ad litem.
Name Change Not Related to Divorce or Parent's Name Change
If a petition for name change is filed with a Pennsylvania court, either by a minor acting through a guardian or by a minor’s parent, the standard the court will use is whether the name change is in “the best interest of the child.” To make this determination, the court will look at factors such as whether the name change strengthens the bond between parent and child, any community social impact of a particular name, and whether the child understands the impact of the name change. For example, a Pennsylvania court can consider the minor child’s ability to articulate his reasons for his desired name change, as well as the child’s ability to fully understand the significance of his name change. If the court determines that the name change is in the child’s best interest, it will issue the court order even over the objection of the biological parents.