Legal 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.

Contents


Introduction

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!


Court Order For Name Change

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:

1. Start the process. This is usually done by filling out a petition for change of name with the clerk of the circuit court, usually in the chancery division. Call your county government offices to find out where you need to go. You can also get the forms for your state for a fee from US Legal Forms. Plan ahead! If you have a target date for going full-time, you should find out how long it will take to get a court date. For instance, the earliest I could get a court date was over seven weeks from the date I registered. Once you have your court order in hand, you should plan on additional time to get your Social Security card changed. Most report getting their new one in about a week from the day they applied. At any rate, each state is different, so find out from others in your state how long the entire process took for them.

2. Take care of pre-hearing requirements. The process for this varies widely by state. You may be required to publish a legal notice of your name change prior to your court date. If so, the chancery office where you go probably will refer you to a publication in which you can run your notice, usually for a fee. You'll be given petition to fill out, which may ask for old and new names, address, length of state residency, and place of birth. You may also be given an affidavit which has to be signed by a friend acquainted with you who knows your birth name. This may need to be filled out in the presence of a notary public and notarized. You will usually be assigned a court date at this time.

3. Show up on your assigned court date. If you have an option, I'd recommend doing it as early as possible so you can spend the rest of the day getting the ball rolling on other name change applications. What you will need to do will vary by state. Here's common checklist for before you see the judge

  • Completed petition and copies
  • Money for legal notice publication (may accept only cash and certified checks)
  • Notarized affidavits acknowledging birth name
  • Proof of legal notice publication
  • Money for court costs (may accept only cash and certified checks)
  • Photo identification with old name (just in case)
  • Letter from your therapist (just in case

4. Get any certified copies you will need. I returned to the chancery office to get certified copies of the signed judgment for $6 each. I got half a dozen just in case, but I probably won't need half that many. You'll need to send certified copies to some financial institutions and government agencies, which will NOT accept photocopies or notarized copies.

Next: Instructions by state, province, or country