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Name Change Project
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.
If you have first-hand experience with the process within the last few years, you have valuable information that can help our young people help themselves. Please contact me to help.
One powerful system by which our youngest and most vulnerable members are kept in the ghettoes of gender is through the law. We have to jump through legal hoops to get our documentation changed to reflect our chosen name and gender. Some states make this extremely difficult. Many young transgender people are reluctant to take legal steps to get their names changed because they don't want to deal with the hassle, or because they find official acknowledgement of their wrongly-identified gender and old name to be extremely embarrassing, especially in an institutional setting like a courtroom.
This can lead to difficulties getting work in mainstream society. They worry about filling out job applications where a background check might reveal their old information. When mainstream employment is not available, the best available options are frequently low-income work in underground economies such as "under the table" odd jobs, cash-only employment in service industries, or potentially lucrative/dangerous work dealing drugs, or working in the sex industry. The longer this legal limbo continues, the harder it becomes to assimilate into mainstream society. Often the process seems confusing or intimidating, too. This section seeks to remedy that.
A special note to young readers
Making these legal changes is essential for things like marriage and most careers. If you want to live a quiet happy life in mainstream society, these legal steps are absolutely necessary. In fact, failure to do them when you are young could lead to much worse problems later. Women in several states have been named in highly publicized landmark court cases because they didn't bother to take care of the legal documents we need in order to protect our rights in the eyes of the law. You don't want to be all over television with them using your old name, right? When Gwen Araujo was murdered in 2002 and Angie Zapata was killed in 2008, the press frequently used their male names because they had not taken steps to change their names. An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure in this case. Get your legal documents taken care of as soon as possible. You'll thank me later!
Before you commit legally to a name, I recommend reading my page on choosing a name.
I recommend getting a court order for name change before anything else. You will not run into any problems if you get this document first, since everyone accepts it as valid proof. Other documents might not be adequate in some cases. The process is often easy, but it varies by state. Print out the materials for your state and take it with you to make things easier. Some people have had a very difficult time with this step. Much depends on your state, and on the sympathy of the judge you get.
Some people have been able to switch official documents without a court order for name change. If you cannot afford the costs for this document in your state (which may be more or less), check with local transgender people and support networks for information on other successful methods in your state. However, I believe this is the most hassle-free way to proceed, since it carries the weight of judicial decree and will not be questioned.
You cannot change your name to avoid financial obligations or to commit fraud. The judge may ask you about this, including whether you have any judgments against you in court, if you have ever been convicted of a felony, if your taxes have been paid, or if you have declared bankruptcy. You can often usually still change your name despite some of the reasons above, but I suggest working with a legal professional since it may be more complicated.
You can do all this yourself, but if you feel like you'd rather have someone help you, try to find a person you know who has already done this, or a family member, or you can pay a legal professional to help. There are four basic steps: