Legal Name Change Tips

Disclaimer: This is legal talk, not legal advice. Laws vary by state, and some of the information discussed on this page may not be applicable in your case. I cannot guarantee the accuracy of this information and provide it without warranty. Laws change and this information may contain errors and omissions. It is up to you to confirm any information herein by doing your own research.

This page is a supplement to the instructions by state, province, or country

Contents

Changing name without mention of transition

Most courts are very reluctant to police name changes on the grounds of their being "inappropriate for your sex." This opens up a huge area of law they'd rather not get into. Because of this, you are within your rights to choose any name. If the judge rejects your application, you are also within your rights to ask the reason. If you are rejected and have the judge on record saying he felt the name was not appropriate, you can probably get your case re-heard or appealed. Most higher courts would overturn a name change request denial on the grounds of inapproriate for your gender.

A reader also sends along this suggestion:

In many areas transsexuals may have a hard time getting their name changed due to prejudiced judges. Well, I know of a way around it. File for the name change as you would otherwise, but for the reason of the change put that you simply do not like your present name (a perfectly valid reason), and make no mention of your transsexuality. To do this, you must still be passable in guy mode and go to the courthouse in guy mode. This may seem crazy, but remember that nowhere in the U.S. does the law designate names as for males or females only, and that there have been many accounts of non-TS people changing there names to some very bizzare things. The painful part for the TS might be having to go to the courthouse in guy mode and especially the feeling of a man asking to change his name to a typically female name. However, since the judge will never know about your transsexuality, he/she won't have the transsexual prejudice. As long as you weren't doing something illegal or fradulent, there should be no problems getting your new name, except for the temporary embarrasment. Once you get this order, though, you can assume your new role with no embarrasment about your name.

Here's another possible option from a reader:

There is another way that transsexuals can hopefully get around an anti-TS judge. That would be to file citing the reason as that you have used your desired name in certain situations (business, with friends, etc., whatever would apply to you) and that you would like to legalize it. Obviously, if you want to be honest to the judge, you would have to use your new name in some way for awhile before legalizing it, and be able to prove it.

The advantage here is that you make no mention of you're TS status directly, yet you're stilll acting in a professional and legal way.

Of course, your old name may give your status away, but if you're lucky in that:

the forms for where you live are unisex (i.e., for example, it says "Petitioner wishes to change his/her name from (old name) to (new name)", like they are in my state), rather than using only male or female pronouns,

that you are not required to show something to the judge with your current gender marked on it (which you don't have to show anything like

that to the judge where I live, just possibly to the clerk),

and you pass well,

the judge may possibly assume you are just a woman born with a male name but wants to have a female name. Even if one of the three points mentioned above aren't true for you or where you live, since the petition does not directly mention your TS status, that may make it harder for the judge to deny it on those grounds, especially if you can prove your usage of the name as mentioned in the first paragraph.

Of course, there's always the "man wanting a woman's name" technique that was mentioned on another letter of advice from me, but this one is less embarrasing and a little more professional.


A note to those who may be divorcing

A reader writes in August 2003:

Hey Andrea, one thing you may want to add about name changes is that it is pretty trivial to change your name as part of a divorce.

The advantages of doing it this way are:

1. no extra fees are required

2. there really is no process

The disadvantages are:

1. you will be outed during the divorce. Not a problem for me since I was full time before we had the first court date for divorce.

2. your name change will be buried in the middle of a potentially large document. Mine was 25 pages long and I just copied the first page, last page, and page with the name change in it for those few places that needed proof of name change. I also blacked out all non-pertinent parts of the pages that were copied.

This route would be a viable option if someone is getting a divorce and the court is aware of you being transsexual.

This is true, though the laws are designed to help women lose their married names, it work the other way as well. Might be a stress-reduced way to deal with name stuff during an otherwise stressful time.

However, another reader writes:

According to California law in 1993, I could only change my name through my divorce papers if I was going to go back to using my maiden name. If I remember correctly, the paperwork was limited to a box to check stating that I was going to return to using my maiden name and then a space to list it. Since I was not, I had to go through the legal name change process. The name change itself was an easy and painless process, but I could not incorporate the name change into my divorce filings.

I just thought you might want to consider mentioning that it might not be possible for everyone to change his or her name through their divorce proceedings.


Changing name and gender with same court order

A reader writes:

I know of two cases where the petition to the court not only requested the name change but also a request for re-classification of Gender Assignment.

This has the advantage of getting a court order stating that you are to be classified as the requested gender and it overrides all sorts of objections from authorities regarding birth certificates, driver's license, passport, etc., even if you're pre-op.

Just as a gender biased judge may reject your name change, there are many sympathetic judges out there who don't mind helping you out.

I have a hearing and I've included the Gender Reassignment request. I'm using a lawyer even though the process is quite simple because I figured she may have better insight to the legal aspects. In fact my lawyer called the judge and ran it by her and the report back is that the judge will have no problem signing it.

On the other hand, I don't want to draw too much attention to this "loop hole" if you can call it that, because if it gets too much publicity or opposition the judges may be influenced to reject the petitions.

Here is a PDF of the blank court order that worked for this applicant.

A young reader in California wrote to me in July 2004 after succeeding in doing this:

Hey! I thought I would share my name change experience with you b/c it might be somewhat helpful. I'm in CA and I went to court earlier this week and my petition was to change name and gender. I got a packet with the various name change options and my mother suggested that I try and change my gender now, even though I have not had srs. So on my court date I took in a note from my regular family doctor the stated that I had undergone irreversible and permanent physical changes and it worked ^_^. The judge lady let me change name and gender. Anyway, I don't know if that is a common occurrence or not ... so I just wanted to mention it. Besides that, I'm currently unemployed but I have a job waiting for my return. I was kinda stealth at work ... only my boss knew. So I had concerns about everyone else finding out so I took some time off while doing my legal stuff. I think last time I wrote you was like a year ago and I sent you a picture and told you about new friends I've been making. I finally got my voice down also. As soon as I started working last summer I was just tossed into stealth at work so the pressure kinda helped me along really well. OK... I'm finished rambling. I'm gonna attach some more pictures =p

My response:

Wow, congratulations! I am delighted that worked out for you. I have been telling women to get a note like that if they have an orchiectomy, but I will start suggesting that they get a note saying they “have undergone irreversible medical feminization procedures” or something like that. Based on letters I get, it seems this is more likely to go the way it did for you if the petitioner is totally female in appearance.

We are in the process of migrating our sites to a new host, but I will expand on my name change section a bit to incorporate this great tip. You have a pretty smart mom! ;) Thanks again for helping to make this easier for others by sharing your experiences!


An option for some with "passing privilege"

I got this note from a reader in March 2004. I was able to do the same thing at a busy DMV branch in January 1998 after getting my card. I inspected it and told the guy there was a mistake and showed him the "M." He said, "I guess there is," and sent me to a special line where they made the correction on the spot.

My last report (August 2003) illustrated that I had a really difficult time getting all of the paperwork in order. However, last week I went to the DMV to get the sex (and height - I was 2" taller on record) corrected. I had absolutely no problems at all - in and out in a record 20 minutes.

I just told the clerks that my license said I was 5'8" and that I was male (!!). I told them that, well, I'm female and 5'6" and they graciously changed it without requesting the letter from my doctor I had with me. The clerk that finally entered the data correction said that the person who entered the data (in 2003 when I had it updated for name change) "must have had their fingers on the wrong keys."

The moral of the story is, approach the sex change on the license as a mistake in data entry and you might have a very easy time. Only use your documentation if they need more info "Well, we can't really change it..."

For the record, I am still (alas) pre-op, but I pass very well.

As always, it is better to do everything with the proper legal documentation to avoid problems now and later. A reader writes:

Hi! I thought I would let you know how my id changes have been going. To start with I had the court change my gender as well as my name at the same time ... however, having a court order to change gender really means just about nothing to all these id people >=l. When I got my social security card they still demanded a doctors note and I mean I thought that was ok. Then at the dmv, I gave them the court order and doctors note and they said that still wasn't enough =/. The guy made me take some medical form to my doctor to be filled out. And today I got my id..... which still has "sex: m". And I'm totally filled with rage! I thought a COURT ORDER would mean something to these people and then I jumped through all there other hoops and still I get a "sex:m" It makes me wonder if they even changed it on my social card info =/ Anywayz... I just kinda needed to vent to someone that could understand... =p well.. I'm sure I'll e-mail you again so until then...


Residency issues and REAL ID

A reader sent some interesting information on changing your name in a lenient state by setting up a residency there. The same reader sent the folling information about the REAL ID laws proposed in 2005:

Another name and identification issue that exists, beyond the REAL ID statute that is probably about to become law, is that there are huge privately own commercial databases with enormous quantities of personal information about people. It appears that such companies intend to maintain the contents of such databases in perpetuity. Consequently the existence of people's old identification information will likely be maintained forever by commercial sources who will probably refuse to remove it. The commercial databases may be an even larger aspect of Big Brotherism, than the government's databases.
 
For example try performing various free queries at the following web site.
 
www.peoplefinders.com < http://www.peoplefinders.com/ >

Most people will be amazed at the wealth of "old" information about themselves they can find in such databases. The contents of the paid background checks is even more astounding. The government, social security, the IRS, the Department of Education, and so on, all keep a trail of old names and so on, all keyed to SSN, just as the credit reporting bureaus do. For example, even if a college changes such information for someone on request, it hasn't been changed by the U.S. Department of Education. Shouldn't people also be aware of and understand that their old information will remain in commercial and government databases, most likely forever, even though they request the original information sources to change it?

Changing name in Washington State

Washington State has one of the most liberal name change procedures in the United States. In some cases, it may be worth following the instructions for out-of-state residents. It may be easier and cheaper than your state of residence.


Other interesting and helpful sites

LegalZoom (legalzoom.com/legal-name-change/name-change-overview.html)

A reader writes: "LegalZoom.com has a name change package for only $139 US, definitely helpful to cut through a ton of B.S. when the time comes. I found it while searching for laws and procedures regarding changing my name here in PA"

Transgender Legal History compiled by Katrina Rose

This is an outstanding collection of legal precedents listed by state, including many state precedents for name change.

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