What’s in a Name?

December 4, 2023 | By Stephanie Stecklair Tarantino

While I can appreciate the message Shakespeare was conveying when he wrote Romeo and Juliet, in 2023 we see that a person’s name – some may argue now more than ever – is of significant importance to an individual and a firm part of their identity. When I got married, I could not wait to incorporate my husband’s last name with mine. However, I struggled professionally to incorporate it in my lawyer world as well – not because I did not want to, but because so many people had already known me by my prior last name. Eventually, I decided to use both, and, after a while, people became accustomed to my nine-syllable name. At the end of the day, it is my name and it is important to me how I hold myself out to the world. That is why I can appreciate and understand the concern that clients have related to changing their names, whether because of divorce or otherwise. Did you know that in Pennsylvania there are a few options for changing either an adult’s or a child’s name? And before you get too far into this blog, no you cannot require your soon-to-be ex-spouse to retake their prior name (I have received this question more than once).

Changing your name pursuant to a divorce

Changing your name pursuant to a divorce is a fairly straightforward process.

Under Pennsylvania law, “any person who is a party in a divorce action may, at any time before or after the entry of the divorce decree, resume any prior surname used by them by filing a written notice to such effect in the office of the prothonotary of the county in which the divorce action was filed or the decree of divorce was entered.”

Depending on the County where your divorce is pending, the form to file, usually called “Notice of Intention to Retake Prior Name,” may vary. The form allows the spouse to specifically retake their prior surname without filing a formal petition to change their name, as discussed below. Once the Notice is filed, the burden remains with the spouse seeking to change their name to take the required documents to the DMV and Social Security for example, which may be a bit more cumbersome based on each administrative agency.

Changing your name not pursuant to a divorce

Name changes for an adult that are not being done pursuant to a divorce, or a minor child, generally require a form Petition to be filed within the family court of the County where the adult or minor child resides. If you want to change or modify your name or your child’s last name, a Court Order is generally required to amend the birth certificate but this can be state specific so it is important to review amendment requirements where the birth certificate was initially issued.  If a parent opposes a change to a minor child’s name, Pennsylvania Courts will look to the Child’s best interests and consider the bond the child has with each parent, the impact that having a particular name may carry within their community, and whether the Child understands the significance of changing their name. 

No matter where your name change needs may fall, the family law attorneys at Obermayer are able to assist.

The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.

About the Authors

Stephanie Stecklair Tarantino


Stephanie is a family law attorney in Obermayer’s office in Doylestown, PA. She concentrates her practice in all aspects of family law, including divorce, custody, child and spousal support, equitable distribution, adoption,...

Read More by Author