When Rachel and I started talking about marriage - which was about 10 minutes into our first date (lesbians, amirite?) - we talked about wanting everyone in the family - both of us and any future children - to have the same last names. We quickly came to the conclusion that we would not hyphenate, though. My maiden name is Hessmiller. It is a name that just does not hyphenate well. I always liked the idea of mashing last names together after marriage. I see it this way: you are starting a new family, but you are building it with pieces of the families you both grew up with. Why not take a last name that reflects this - create a whole new one using pieces of the old ones. As I mentioned, I was Hessmiller. Rachel was Popek. This led us to the great decision: Hessek or Popemiller. Despite my adored Design Mom voting for Popemiller in a comment thread on her blog several years ago (I would be lying if I said that didn't hold a lot of weight for me.), we ended up settling for Hessek. The next step was to actually, legally change our names.
When you get married, you can show up at the Social Security office with your marriage license and do one of three things:
1.) Person A takes Person B's last name
2.) Person B takes Person A's last name
3.) Person A and Person B hyphenate their last names
Any of these options is easy peasy. Your name will be legally changed in minutes (though it might take you year to finally go to the DMV - totally not talking from experience...). The moment you decide that you are going to mix it up and change your name to something not on your or your marriage-partner's birth certificate, you doom yourself to a month of paperwork, of visiting City Hall, and of donating about $1000 to the City. What you are not signing up for is a giant headache, though, because your friend Queer Martha is going to walk you through the steps. These steps only apply perfectly if you live in Philadelphia, but even if you don't live in Philly, I assure you that your name change process is going to be ok.
Are you ready? Here we go!
1.) Get your fingerprints done by a certified finger-printer.
You need fingerprints for your name change petition. Get these first.
In Philadelphia, there is a woman named Barbara who works at Rosa Foto which is actually just the back of a truck on Callowhill Street and she is the shit. I recommend changing your name just so you can hang out in Barbara's truck for half and hour.
2.) Take your finger prints, your birth certificate, your social security card, and any old ID to your City Hall.
These are the materials you need to file your name change petition.
The nice folks at City Hall will give you all the paperwork you need and make copies of your documents for you. You fill out the paperwork, pay the good people about $230, and leave your petition with them.
3.) You receive a court date in the mail.
Your court date should be within a month of filing your petition. Along with a paper notifying you of the date to show up in court with your materials (see step 4), you will also receive an "Order for Publication." Hang on to this. It will be explained in one second.
If you don't hear from City Hall, trying going back and saying, "Hey, I didn't hear from you, and it's been over a week." They might say, "Whoa... how did your petition get stuck to this manila folder on my desk? Whoops, sorry about that," and give you a court date right then and there. That might happen. It might not.
4.) Once you receive your court date, start collecting the materials you need to present on your court date.
These are the following:
- A judgement search from City Hall
- A judgement search from Family Court
- A proof of publication of a name change announcement from the Legal Intelligencer
- A proof of publication of a name change announcement from a daily newspaper with city-wide circulation.
The judgement searches are easy. You go to the respective institutions and ask for a judgement search. Naturally, you pay for these. It will cost you abotu $220. If you have an uncommon name, it will not take long to complete the search. If you have a common name, there is a risk that your judgement search will take longer. Don't wait to the last minutes to get your judgement search. It would be a total bummer to realize how common your name is a day before your court date.
Getting your name change announcement published in the two newspapers is a bigger pain in the butt, primarily because it seems so archaic and is so expensive. You fill out this form and dish out $200, and the next thing you know you are praying for a decree to change your name and all persons interested may appear and show cause if any they have, why the prayer of the said petitioner should not be granted. Seriously, that is the verbiage used in the newspaper. It's like Oliver Twist wrote that shit.
Anyway, you have no choice about the Legal Intelligencer. You have to publish your name change notice there. You do get to choose which city-wide paper to publish your announcement in, and word on the street is that the Jewish Exponent is the cheapest. They were also extremely easy to work with. You email this address: firstname.lastname@example.org and send them the order for publication that you received along with your court date. They will get back to you and say, "This is awesome, please give us $138 and we have a deal."
The next thing you know your name is in TWO newspapers and your parents can finally be proud of you. Both newspapers will send you notarized proof of publication to your address.
5.) Take the results of your judgement searches and your proofs of publication to court on your court date
Assuming no one showed up to show any cause they have for why your prayer should not be granted, you will drop off your materials with the judge in the court room and then leave.
Heads up - your name is not changed when you leave the court room on your court date. Additionally, there is no fanfare. You literally just hand your packet over to the judge (or the judge's clerk, really), and then go get coffee outside City Hall and wait a few more days.
6.) Your official, legal, signed name change paper shows up in the mail
You name is legally changed! Congratulations. However, there is still one more step!
7.) Return to City Hall to have the prothonotary stamp your name change document with the City's seal.
This, naturally, is another $40, but now you are officially 100% your new name. Now you have the opportunity to go to the DMV like every other newlywed!
If you are thinking of changing your name completely, take it from me - you can do this! Yes, it is tedious, but the people you deal with throughout the process are some of the kindest and most patient people I've ever dealt with. Actually, I am consistently impressed with the employees of the City of Philadelphia. We might have some silly politics, but we have the best bureaucracy.