California name change for transgender people
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.
California allows for women in our community to change their names before they
have sex reassignment surgery.
I got the following note in July 2006:
I wanted to let you know that CA now has a new set of forms for gender change only with no publication requirement. the forms were released in July 2006. The transgender law center in Sf has a link to them.
http://www.transgenderlawcenter.org/do/formlinks.html (direct link)
I received the following instructions from a contributor in November 2004:
Those without the reader or those who need the live links can also view
the materials in html:
A reader sent this report in December 2004:
I have just recently applied to the state of California for a legal name
change. So far the court costs have been $375.00; however, in California you
can apply for a waiver of court fees. I have had to run an ad in a local paper
in my case the Union Tribune San Diego. The cost of the ad was $475.60 for
four weeks of an ad once a week-- mine is on Saturday. My court date is 1/14/05
in Superior Court, but I supposed to be able to call the day before the court
date to see if it has been approved. I am however changing my last name also,
so I think it might be a little more difficult. I will keep you advised.
A reader sent the following in June 2003:
While it is possible to change one's name through the common usage law in California,
most Federal documents, like a passport, cannot be obtained until the name has
been in use for at least 5 to 7 years (depending on the agency). And, even with
a passport, driver's license, Social Security card, and a mortgage on a home,
you cannot change your birth certificate without a
court-ordered name change. Do it right the first time and get the
court-ordered name change. The forms and requirements are a bit demeaning, but
in the long run it's worth the short-term humiliation to appease the gender
Unfortunately, California is hardly the progressive state people seem to think
it it. States like Vermont and Minnesota have had numerous provisions in place
for more than a decade to protect the gender variant; California is only just
now addressing these issues at the state level.
Here is a link to the most recent forms for court ordered name changes in California:
And here is the current procedure for obtaining a new birth certificate after
Here is the source document on a the government server with virtually no security:
These instructions were written by Janet McKee, as the properties of the Word
doc point out. Janet is, apparently, a perfectly ordinary person who was a contractor
at the time, and was apparently able to set policy by writing a document no
one had attempted to create before.
At the time I went through all this nonsense, California did not yet have a
policy for changing a birth certificate. With a common usage notarized certificate,
which I wrote based on something I'd seen at Nolo Press, essentially stating
you were changing your name without the intent to defraud or escape prosecution
from a past or current conviction, I began changing my California records. So
here's what I did:
After a few hours of electrolysis, and having been on HRT for about 2 months,
I decided I'd start changing over paperwork and names. Mind you, I was still
working in the financial district of San Francisco for a large stock broker,
and I had not transitioned yet. I had already met with HR and the managers,
and had mapped out a transition plan and timetable which would go into effect
the next month. So here I was with shaggy hair almost shoulder length, a scruffy
face in patches as I was doing electrolysis, no breast development, and wearing
a $700 Yves St. Laurent double-breasted suit and silk tie walking into the Social
Security office on my lunch break. A very nice fellow behind the counter asked
what I needed, and I explained I needed a new social security card. He asked
if I'd lost my old one, and I said no, I was changing my name. He asked me to
fill out a short form, which took me less than a minute (just some check boxes,
the new name, and a signature), and he had me sit down at a back room desk with
a computer. I showed him my notarized form, which looked very official and said
all the right things. He keyed in the information, and asked if I wanted to
change the gender on my social security account. That caught me off guard because
I thought the new name clearly implied that; never assume anything in San Francisco!
I said yes, please. He then asked what gender I'd like. It was then I realized
he wasn't sure which way I was going! :) I said, "Female, please."
He smiled, keyed it in, told me I would not be eligible for retirement benefits
until a later age, and the benefits would be for less money each month, so was
I sure. As if these were the really big issues I was struggling with! Ha! I
said I understood the implications, and I still wanted to go ahead with it.
He committed the changes, smiled, and wished me luck. I had a new card in two
Next stop, DMV. With a new social security card, my handy notarized form (which
I had notarized at a Mailboxes, Etc.), a new haircut, fresh pair of jeans and
a loose sweater, clear face, and a big smile, I said "cheese" and
got a new photo and a new driver's license. I was very nervous, but everyone
was very sweet, and the lady at the DMV didn't say a word to tip off the folks
in line as to what kind of paperwork was being processed. The guard held the
door for me as I headed out to my car :)
A couple months after all that, I went through a series of rather messy, protracted
custody battles and divorce proceedings involving spousal support for my ex
with twice as many college degrees as I had. It started well, though, which
gave me hope. The judge was a rather notorious Alameda County bigot who had
a record of homophobia, and who knew *nothing* of transsexual issues. (Today,
the court systems refers to a lot of this process relating to "the transgender."
I've never liked the term "transsexual," and I like "transgender"
about as much. The term "transgender" hadn't even come into mainstream
parlance yet, and was still only known in the transvestite/cross-dressing crowd
that Virginia Prince mentored.) The judge scanned the docket, barely spending
10 seconds to absorb the information. He called me and my ex to stand. Then
he began addressing my ex, who normally dresses rather butch and vibes like
a guy, in a rather hostile and demeaning manor. My ex's lawyer interrupted,
and the judge asked, looking stricken, "Well, who's the mother here?"
My lawyer responded, "They both are." Things got messy after that,
but the judge was off-balance, and seemed, well, less judgmental. There were
3 more court hearings after that, following my SRS, stretching out for two years,
but every time the judge made sure to use my new name and pronouns, and ultimately
I was awarded joint legal and physical custody, spousal support was terminated
(my ex was making more money than I was, after all!), and the records filed
under my new name. That, in itself, should have been considered a legal name
About five years after I started down this road, I needed a new passport for
business trips that would take me overseas. By this time, I had bought a house,
been filing income tax, changed college records, social security, driver's license,
credit cards, utility bills, credit reports, and everything else you can imagine.
The legal identity I had for the first twenty years was apparently gone, but
I had bridged credit, college records, and insurance ratings to maintain the
years of work I'd put into building a good reputation. The federal guidelines
were clear -- 5 years of using your new name, documented, and in common use,
were required to obtain a new passport with a new name. An original surgeon's
letter, notarized, was required to change the gender on the passport. I made
an appointment at the Federal Building in San Francisco, and arrived with two
banker's boxes filled with documents. I figured all they really wanted to see
was the surgeon's letter, DMV, SSN, and a handful of legal documents and phone
bills showing the history. When my number was called, I met a very nice looking
young man who apparently was the poster child for John Ashcroft's new world
order. He took my application, saw what I was requesting, and laughed...in a
very ugly tone. He then shared the application with a coworker behind the bullet-proof
glass, and they both had a good laugh. He told me to go away and come back when
I'd had my surgery. I said I had, and showed him the letter. He made a "hmph"
sound and said I needed to show at least five years of using the new name, so
I showed him the choice items I'd singled out. He said he needed more. I pointed
to my two boxes. He said it wasn't good enough, and he needed a court order.
Mind you, this was during the Clinton era, before the United States had gone
over to the dark side and started buying illegitimate president's that were
trying to display the mark of the beast. I asked for his supervisor. He said
his supervisor was at lunch. It was 4 pm. I pointed this out to him, and he
just folded his arms and shrugged. (This was happening in San Francisco. Amazing.
Don't believe everything you read in the papers! The City by the Bay is almost
as bad as Orange County when it comes to conservatives.) I turned around and
asked one of the guards to ask for the supervisor, and young Ashcroft, Jr.,
asked the guard to escort me out. By this time I was in tears, and shaking rather
badly. The guard felt really bad for me, and led me out gently.
I made it home, had a good cry, cursed that bastard and hoped his sperm died
in his testicles (okay, maybe I didn't curse that strenuously -- I should have
been a gypsy!). Then I decided the bastards wouldn't get away with that. I had
gone to San Francisco to do this so folks in my small East Bay city wouldn't
have to know my whole history. But I was pissed. So I went to my local City
Hall, where I pretty much knew everyone, having lived in this town for the five
years after my surgery. And I actually lucked out because the city's supervisor
was there. I explained what had happened, half expecting her to laugh at me
or start gossiping right in front of me. Instead, she gave me a hug, offered
me a tissue when I started getting weepy again, said I had been treated very
badly, and had probably been treated illegally. She said, as far as she knew,
I had followed policy to the letter. She looked up the federal guidelines, and
confirmed I had all the required documents. She made photocopies of the important
items, had me fill out a form, asked for my passport photos, which she complimented,
and then, straight faced, asked if I wanted to pay for expedited postage or
standard airmail. "That's it? That's all there is to it?" "That's
it!" she said. "You'll have your new passport in about a week."
She asked me to stay a bit longer though while she called the Federal Building
in The City, located the snot-nosed punk who'd treated me so badly, chewed him
out, then got the supervisor on the phone and told him she was filing a complaint
on my behalf, and suggested he get his staff into a sensitivity training program
as soon as possible. She also pointed out they might be facing harassment charges.
I left City Hall with a smile and a warm feeling inside.
Since then, I've traveled around the globe a few times on that passport, and
it still brings back good memories of a strong woman I met in my own city hall
And here we are, nearly a decade since I started this odyssey, and I want to
have my old birth certificate sealed and a new one issued. And what do I have
to do to get it? File a court-ordered name change. But there's a wrinkle. Now
with Ashcroft and Ridge playing characters from "Dr. Strangelove,"
there are numerous hurdles to jump through. For one thing, I'm expected to publish
a notice of name change in my local paper for 6 weeks. Then I'm supposed to
file papers with my old name, and sign my old name. Ummmm.... I don't think
so. After all this time, I am not outing myself all over again! Or putting myself
through all that again. And besides, if I signed my old name at this point,
it would be meaningless (legally). So I plan to file the court-ordered name
change, without the newspaper publication, and without signing my old name,
and include a terse cover letter and photocopies of current documents. I'll
explain to the judge that having me do more than this would simply be harassment,
and I'm sure that was never the spirit of the law...was it? (The last being
said pointedly, to let the judge know that somewhere along the line I'd learned
how to be a strong woman...I'd had a few good role models ;)
I'll keep you posted on how it goes. I expect to do the court appearance in
November or December of 2003.
Attached are the current California forms to use to do the process correctly,
as well as a web page from a helpful lawyer who delineates the process clearly.
And best of luck to your readers. Remember, a person's life should not be focused
on the destination, but on the journey. Or, as Buckaroo says, "Wherever
you go, there you are!" Smell the roses, folks.
A reader sent this in spring 2006
I live in near Ventura and went to the Supreme Court of Ventura County. I told the young woman I wanted to legally change my name. She handed me a packet of forms and told me the cost would be $320.00. I filled out all of the forms including the section where it asks "Why" you want to change your name. I said I was a Male to Female transgender living and working full time and known to all as S__ W__. When I gave the completed forms to the young woman she proofread them. When she got to the "Why" she said, "Oh" and then looked at me and went back to proofreading. She looked surprised but recovered nicely. I paid the amount and she said the judge would sign the order and mail me a copy to be published in a newspaper for four weeks. I got the court order Saturday and faxed it to the newspaper today. The cost for this is $65.00 at the Fillmore Gazette. The will send me the appropriate documentation for the court appearance in April. It was altogether very easy.
Something else I did was go to the DMV and get a California ID. It's good for five years and I thought it would be a good idea to have just in case I need some reference to my old name. They will likely take my drivers license when I have it changed to S__. For $20.00 it's a cheap investment. Last year I had my doctor fill out the DMV Name and Gender Change form which put an "F" on my drivers license.
My hearing was on April 20th and Judge O'Neil was wonderful and very discreet. He did not embarass me by calling me by my previous full name. He just called my last name and asked if I had any additional documents to submit. I did not and he stated that I had met all of the requirements and therefore he granted the legal name change. The entire even lasted less than 30 minutes (there were two cases before mine). I was elated to walk out with certified copies of the court order.
Next I went to the Social Security Administration which turned out to be a great big hassle. Since I was born abroad in a US Army hospital I had to show them that I was a legal US citizen. I had to go home, get my birth certificate and go back. Then the woman said she couldn't change my SS card as the gender marker was different in their file than in DMV. I was getting very frustrated with her as she refused to change my name without changing the gender, all of this without a surgeons letter. I tried to reason with her and finally had to sit and wait for her manager to return from lunch. When he did, he approved the name change on my SS card. That event took 2 1/2 hours.
I then went to the DMV and sailed through in 30 minutes. Since then I've just been working backwards in my life and changing records. I am very happy to final feel "legal" and have everything in my purse match. It's a nice relief.
The page below has step-by-step instructions for changing your name on your
license or state ID.
This is not the same as getting a Court Order for Name Change. I strongly urge
you to get a court order for name change.
Transgender Law Center (TLC) is a legal civil rights organization
that connects transgender people to technically sound and culturally competent
legal services in California. TLC uses the word transgender in the broadest
possible sense to include anyone who in any way disagrees with their birth
assigned gender and/or does not conform to gender norms. TLC's three-pronged
approach is: direct legal services, public policy advocacy, and education.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (415) 865 5619.
National Center for Lesbian Rights has a great document on this.
California state law
The applicable California law is at CALIFORNIA CODES CODE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE
It can be found on the web:
CODE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE
1275. Applications for change of names must be determined by the
1276. (a) All applications for change of names shall be made to the
superior court of the county where the person whose name is proposed
to be changed resides, except as specified in subdivision (c),
either (1) by petition signed by the person or, if the person is
under 18 years of age, either by one of the person's parents, or by
any guardian of the person, or if both parents are dead and there is
no guardian of the person, then by some near relative or friend of
the person or (2) as provided in Section 7638 of the Family Code.
The petition or pleading shall specify the place of birth and
residence of the person, his or her present name, the name proposed,
and the reason for the change of name, and shall, if neither parent
of the person has signed the petition, name, as far as known to the
person proposing the name change, the parents of the person and their
place of residence, if living, or if neither parent is living, near
relatives of the person, and their place of residence.
(b) In an action for a change of name commenced by the filing of a
(1) If the person whose name is proposed to be changed is under 18
years of age and the petition is signed by only one parent, the
petition shall specify the address, if known, of the other parent if
living. If the petition is signed by a guardian, the petition shall
specify the name and address, if known, of the parent or parents, if
living, or the grandparents, if the addresses of both parents are
unknown or if both parents are deceased, of the person whose name is
proposed to be changed.
(2) If the person whose name is proposed to be changed is 12 years
of age or over, has been relinquished to an adoption agency by his
or her parent or parents, and has not been legally adopted, the
petition shall be signed by the person and the adoption agency to
which the person was relinquished. The near relatives of the person
and their place of residence shall not be included in the petition
unless they are known to the person whose name is proposed to be
(c) All applications for the change of the name of a minor
submitted by a guardian appointed by the juvenile court or the
probate court shall be made in the appointing court.
(d) If the petition is signed by a guardian, the petition shall
specify relevant information regarding the guardianship, the
likelihood that the child will remain under the guardian's care until
the child reaches the age of majority and information suggesting
that the child will not likely be returned to the custody of his or
1277. (a) Where an action for a change of name is commenced by the
filing of a petition, except as provided in subdivisions (b) and (c),
the court shall thereupon make an order reciting the filing of the
petition, the name of the person by whom it is filed and the name
proposed, and directing all persons interested in the matter to
appear before the court at a time and place specified, which shall be
not less than four or more than eight weeks from the time of making
the order, to show cause why the application for change of name
should not be granted. A copy of the order to show cause shall be
published pursuant to Section 6064 of the Government Code in a
newspaper of general circulation to be designated in the order
published in the county. If no newspaper of general circulation is
published in the county, a copy of the order to show cause shall be
posted by the clerk of the court in three of the most public places
in the county in which the court is located, for a like period.
Proof shall be made to the satisfaction of the court of this
publication or posting, at the time of the hearing of the
Four weekly publications shall be sufficient publication of the
order to show cause. If the order is published in a daily newspaper,
publication once a week for four successive weeks shall be
Where a petition has been filed for a minor by a parent and the
other parent, if living, does not join in consenting thereto, the
petitioner shall cause, not less than 30 days prior to the hearing,
to be served notice of the time and place of the hearing or a copy of
the order to show cause on the other parent pursuant to Section
413.10, 414.10, 415.10, or 415.40.
(b) Where the petition for a change of name alleges that the
reason for the petition is to avoid domestic violence, as defined in
Section 6211 of the Family Code, or stalking, as defined in Section
646.9 of the Penal Code, and the petitioner is a participant in the
address confidentiality program created pursuant to Chapter 3.1
(commencing with Section 6205) of Division 7 of Title 1 of the
Government Code, the petition, the order of the court, and the copy
published pursuant to subdivision (a) shall, in lieu of reciting the
proposed name, indicate that the proposed name is confidential and
will be on file with the Secretary of State pursuant to the
provisions of the address confidentiality program.
(c) An action for a change of name for a witness participating in
the state Witness Protection Program established by Title 7.5
(commencing with Section 14020) of Part 4 of the Penal Code who has
been approved for the change of name by the program is exempt from
the requirement for publication of the order to show cause under
(d) Where application for change of name is brought as part of an
action under the Uniform Parentage Act (Part 3 (commencing with
Section 7600) of Division 12 of the Family Code), whether as part of
a petition or cross-complaint or as a separate order to show cause
in a pending action thereunder, service of the application shall be
made upon all other parties to the action in a like manner as
prescribed for the service of a summons, as is set forth in Article 3
(commencing with Section 415.10) of Chapter 4 of Title 5 of Part 2.
Upon the setting of a hearing on the issue, notice of the hearing
shall be given to all parties in the action in a like manner and
within the time limits prescribed generally for the type of hearing
(whether trial or order to show cause) at which the issue of the
change of name is to be decided.
(e) Where a guardian files a petition to change the name of his or
her minor ward pursuant to Section 1276:
(1) The guardian shall provide notice of the hearing to any living
parent of the minor by personal service at least 30 days prior to
(2) If either or both parents are deceased or cannot be located,
the guardian shall cause, not less than 30 days prior to the hearing,
to be served a notice of the time and place of the hearing or a copy
of the order to show cause on the child's grandparents, if living,
pursuant to Section 413.10, 414.10, 415.10, or 415.40.
1278. (a) Except as provided in subdivisions (c) and (d), the
application shall be heard at the time designated by the court, only
if objections are filed by any person who can, in those objections,
show to the court good reason against the change of name. At the
hearing, the court may examine on oath any of the petitioners,
remonstrants, or other persons, touching the application, and may
make an order changing the name, or dismissing the application, as to
the court may seem right and proper.
If no objection is filed the court may, without hearing, enter the
order that the change of name is granted.
(b) Where the provisions of subdivision (b) of Section 1277 apply,
the court shall not disclose the proposed name unless the court
finds by clear and convincing evidence that the allegations of
domestic violence or stalking in the petition are false.
(c) Where the application for a change of name is brought as part
of an action under the Uniform Parentage Act (Part 3 (commencing with
Section 7600) of Division 12 of the Family Code), the hearing on the
issue of the change of name shall be conducted pursuant to statutes
and rules of court governing those proceedings, whether the hearing
is conducted upon an order to show cause or upon trial.
(d) Where the application for a change of name is filed by a
guardian on behalf of a minor ward, the court shall first find that
the ward is likely to remain in the guardian's care until the age of
majority and that the ward is not likely to be returned to the
custody of his or her parents. Upon making such findings, the court
shall consider the petition and may grant the petition only if it
finds that the proposed name change is in the best interest of the
child.1278.5. In any proceeding pursuant to this title in which a
petition has been filed to change the name of a minor, and both
parents, if living, do not join in consenting thereto, the court may
deny the petition in whole or in part if it finds that any portion of
the proposed name change is not in the best interest of the child.
1279.5. (a) Except as provided in subdivision (b), (c), (d), or
(e), nothing in this title shall be construed to abrogate the common
law right of any person to change his or her name.
(b) Notwithstanding any other law, no person imprisoned in the
state prison and under the jurisdiction of the Director of
Corrections shall be allowed to file an application for change of
name pursuant to Section 1276, except as permitted at the discretion
of the Director of Corrections.
(c) A court shall deny an application for a name change pursuant
to Section 1276 made by a person who is under the jurisdiction of the
Department of Corrections, unless that person's parole agent or
probation officer grants prior written approval. Before granting
that approval the parole agent or probation officer shall determine
that the name change will not pose a security risk to the community.
(d) Notwithstanding any other law, a court shall deny an
application for a name change pursuant to Section 1276 made by a
person who is required to register as a sex offender under Section
290 of the Penal Code, unless the court determines that it is in the
best interest of justice to grant the application and that doing so
will not adversely affect the public safety. If an application for a
name change is granted for an individual required to register as a
sex offender, the individual shall, within five working days, notify
the chief of police of the city in which he or she is domiciled, or
the sheriff of the county if he or she is domiciled in an
unincorporated area, and additionally, with the chief of police of a
campus of a University of California or California State University
if he or she is domiciled upon the campus or in any of its
(e) For the purpose of this section, the court shall use the
California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS) and
Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) to determine whether or
not an applicant for a name change is under the jurisdiction of the
Department of Corrections or is required to register as a sex
offender pursuant to Section 290 of the Penal Code. Each person
applying for a name change shall declare under penalty of perjury
that he or she is not under the jurisdiction of the Department of
Corrections or is required to register as a sex offender pursuant to
Section 290 of the Penal Code. If a court is not equipped with CLETS
or CJIS, the clerk of the court shall contact an appropriate local
law enforcement agency which shall determine whether or not the
applicant is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections
or is required to register as a sex offender pursuant to Section 290
of the Penal Code.
1279.6. No person engaged in a trade or business of any kind or in
the provision of a service of any kind shall do any of the following:
(a) Refuse to do business with a woman, or refuse to provide the
service to a woman, regardless of her marital status, because she has
chosen to use or regularly uses her birth name or former name.
(b) Impose, as a condition of doing business with a woman, or as a
condition of providing the service to a woman, a requirement that
the woman, regardless of her marital status, use a name other than
her birth name or former name if she has chosen to use or regularly
uses her birth name or former name.
Precedent for transsexuals
[no specific case noted]