Shaffer & Engle Personal attention. Compassionate response. Fast Results.
Shaffer & Engle Personal attention. Compassionate response. Fast Results.

How Can I Change My Child's Last Name?

Partner With A Trusted Legal Ally, Call:
717-827-4074

A petition must be filed with the court and the burden is on the moving party to show the name change is in the child's best interests

By Attorney Jeffrey B. Engle, Name Change Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

Who Choses the Name?

At common law a minor of sufficient understanding or an adult could adopt any surname so long as no fraud or misrepresentation was perpetrated and there was no interference with another's rights.  The parents of a child born in wedlock have the right to choose the child's surname, which may be the surname of either of the parents, a combination name in hyphenated or other form, or any other name.  If the parents are divorced or separated at the time of the child's birth, the custodial parent has the right to choose the child's surname. The term "custody" as used in the statute has been interpreted to mean legal as opposed to physical custody. 

What If We Are Together When the Child is Born and I Want to Change His/Her Last Name Later?

Court approval is now required for change of name, except name changes of minor children in adoption proceedings, incident to the name change of a parent, or the resumption of a prior name incident to divorce proceedings. The mother of a child born out of wedlock has the right to choose the child's surname. This may be by way of the usual birth registration procedure set forth in the Vital Statistics Law or by way of an acknowledgment of paternity that may include a provision for the assumption of the father's surname or "other name desired by the parents."

While not entitled to select the child's surname, the non-custodial parent does have standing to petition for a change of the child's name. The petitioner has the burden of proving that the proposed name change is in the child's best interests. A change of surname from the mother's birth name to the stepfather's surname over the objection of the natural father may be granted upon a showing that the name change is in the child's best interests. However, a parent who holds himself out as the child's father may thereafter be estopped from denying paternity so as to enjoin the use of his surname by the child.  The grant or denial of a request to change a child's name is within the discretion of the court but must be based upon the best interests of the child.  

The court must exercise its discretion "in such a way as to comport with good sense, common decency and fairness to all." It is appropriate for the court to interview the child, even where the child is very young, when the child's desires are at issue.  However, the child's preference is not determinative.  

Some Misconceptions About the Selection of a Child's Name

  • Tradition and custom favoring paternal surnames do not constitute a valid reason for changing a child's name, nor is there a constitutional right in the father to have his child take his surname.  
  • The fact that the parents are married at the time of the child's birth does not require the use of father's surname for the child.  
  • A minor child has standing to petition for change of name.
  • The mother of a child born out of wedlock has the right to choose the child's surname.

If you have questions regarding the change of a minor child's name, you should consult with counsel in your area first.  You may contact Shaffer & Engle, LLC to discuss your matter with us.

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information