Massachusetts 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.

I received this note in February 2009

Massachusetts has introduced a new form that is available at

http://www.masstpc.org/publications/3party/MA%20RMV%20Gender%20Change%20Form.pdf

which needs to be filed along with the forms you already list below.

I received this note in April 2004:

For MA name changes, the Probate and Family court page can be found here:

http://www.mass.gov/courts/courtsandjudges/courts/probateandfamilycourt/index.html

The forms for legal change of name, which vary by court, can be found here:

http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/formsm-z.html#name

The laws regarding change of name can be found here:

http://www.state.ma.us/legis/laws/mgl/gl-210-toc.htm

And consist of Chapter 210, section 12 - 13, reading as follows:

CHANGE OF NAMES

Chapter 210: Section 12 Petitions

Section 12. A petition for the change of name of a person may be heard by the probate court in the county where the petitioner resides. The change of name of a person shall be granted unless such change is inconsistent with public interests.

Chapter 210: Section 13 Notice and certificate; decree; entry; conditions precedent

Section 13. The court shall, before decreeing a change of name, request a report from the commissioner of probation on the person filing the petition and, except for good cause shown, require public notice of the petition to be given and any person may be heard thereon, and, upon entry of a decree, the name as established thereby shall be the legal name of the petitioner, and the register may issue a certificate, under the seal of the court, of the name as so established.

No decree shall be entered, however, until there has been filed in the court a copy of the birth record of the person whose name is sought to be changed and, in case such person's name has previously been changed by decree of court or at marriage pursuant to section one D of chapter forty-six, either a copy of the record of his birth amended to conform to the previous decree changing his name, a copy of such decree, or a copy of the record of marriage; provided, that the filing of any such copy may be dispensed with if the judge is satisfied that it cannot be obtained.

The laws regarding legal change of sex can be found here:

http://www.state.ma.us/legis/laws/mgl/46%2D13.htm

In Chapter 46, section 13, subsection e, and read as follows:

(e) If a person has completed sex reassignment surgery, so-called, and has had his name legally changed by a court of competent jurisdiction, the birth record of said person shall be amended to reflect the newly acquired sex and name, provided that an affidavit is received by the town clerk, executed by the person to whom the record relates, and accompanied by a physician's notarized statement that the person named on the birth record has completed sex reassignment surgery, so-called, and is not of the sex recorded on said record. Said affidavit shall also be accompanied by a certified copy of the legal change of name aforementioned above.

A reader wites in June 2003:

You may want to include re legal name change that it doesn't have to appear in the paper even if it is requested.

The best is to have an attorney - they can file a notice with the court to exempt the having the name changed published in the paper - reason stated for health and safety.

Masschusetts did this for me (I had an attorney) she was fantastic - the name change was going to be granted but the judge wanted to do it in open court - my attorney objected - and refiled in another city

My legal name change was done in the judge’s chambers - in private - just me, my lawyer, court steno & the judge - the name change was also sealed.
(I may have lucked out) but with the right attorney anything is possible.

Also they court made a mistake with the spelling of my new name & my attorney filed an appeal - they judge ordered the correct change with no problem (seems it was a typo)

Thought you'd like to know.

Another reader writes in September 2003:


INTRODUCTION:
When I changed my name in 2001, I was a resident of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, which encompasses the greater Boston area. I have detailed the process here from my personal perspective on what it was like to go through this process. Please note that I only changed my name and not my gender because of the timing involved. It would not have been appropriate to do both at the same time in my situation. Your situation may differ; this is not legal advice; don't run with scissors; contents may settle during shipment; etc. etc.


BACKGROUND:
My case was different in that I did not change my gender at that time, just my name. I was planning to wait for the name change until I transitioned at a later date, and "just live" with the old name. However, when my parents disowned me after my disclosure to them, I found that I could not even look at the old name any more, or sign it, or anything. My ex was signing it for me, or signing her name instead. Something obviously had to be done. So, I "engineered" a new name that would work both before, during and after transition. This was the main objective. I did not want to have to do this again.

The first name was an androgynous derivative of my future chosen female name. According to my Yahoo! names research, this name could represent either gender. It also just so happened that I loved the new name, but I tried real hard not to let this bias my choice too much. It was somewhat uncommon, but it was not exotic. My opinion is that you might want to stay away from exotic ones unless it *really* works for you. Me, I would have stood out like a bad Hawaiian muu-muu with a name like Candy.

The middle name came from one of my daughters. It was an easy pick for me. There was some concern about how this would work in boy mode, but the "first name-middle name" combination was not an unlikely pairing, just a little bit unusual at first glance. I did wonder, though, how this would affect things. Since that time, I have been pleasantly surprised (see below).

The last name was derived from my extended family's lineage. I chose it to honor those who supported me in my transition. I had to change it, though, from what I originally intended it to be. It seems that my original choice was based on a misjudgment of certain family members. My final choice worked out better. Since I did not plan on having any more children, there was no chance of my choice working havoc on someone's future genealogical endeavors. I would appear as a "singularity", for those of you with a mathematical background.

Finally, the names in combination passed all of Andrea's "sanity tests" listed under "Choosing Your New Name" elsewhere on this site. Meaning, it didn't look or sound strange in any of the possible combinations (first-last, last-first, monograms, etc). After all, like I said, the goal was not to make a statement, but rather to fit in long-term.


THE NAME CHANGE PROCESS:
The actual name change process was fairly simple. I filled out the application myself, and went to the Probate and Family Court Department of the Trial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in Cambridge. For locals, it is literally within shouting distance west of the Lechmere T stop on the Green line, on Cambridge street. Once in the courthouse, I went to the Administrative Office of the Probate and Family Court on the second floor. I gave my forms to the records administrator there, and we went across the hall to a huge open room. After a brief delay, the judge came out and we went over to a desk and sat down. She asked me a few questions relating to why I was changing my name. I told her why, as I detailed above. I did not mention anything about my transition, because this was not relevant at that time, and would have only confused the issue. She did kind of raise her eyebrow at my choice of a feminine middle name, with me looking male, but I told her that it was my daughter's middle name and I really liked it. Oh, OK, she said. She did express some regrets about my parental situation, saying "that's a shame." Then, with the preliminaries out of the way, she told me to raise my right hand and take an oath to the effect that I was not doing this to avoid anything like the law or creditors. Then, she finally signed the order, upon which a BIG wave of relief came over me. After that, I floated down the hall to the Records department, and obtained 4 certified copies. Trust me, each and every copy has been needed! I did not request a sealing of the file, which may or may not have been necessary at the time. Maybe I should have, come to think of it, but things were complicated enough in my life at that time. And, I did not need a lawyer or a newspaper advertisement. It literally took all of 15 minutes and four people - me, two clerks, and the judge. Oh yeah, and $44.00 for 4 official copies... :)

After the courthouse visit, I then headed for the Registry of Motor Vehicles. I showed them the official copy and got my new temporary license with my new name and new androgynous photo. I was prepared, having gotten through one full electrolysis "clearing" prior to this point, so the picture looked somewhat androgynous. The real license showed up in the mail about a week later. Having gladly surrendered my old drivers license, I set off to my next destination.

This ws the Social Security administration. This went without event, as I now had two documents with my new name on them. They wanted to see the official copy of the name change order as well. Other than the one hour wait and the walk in the rain, this one went the smoothest. My new Social Security card showed up in the mail about a week later as well.

Later that day, I sent off for my passport. I included an official copy of the name change order, along with two recent pictures (androgynous as well). They promised that they would return the official copy, and they did. The new passport took about two weeks to arrive. I was ecstatic.

I then went back to work and commenced with the name change process there. Funny, you'd think that a highly computerized outfit would have your name in ONE database. Nope, it was in several. I found 7 before I stopped looking for more places to change it - I figured that I had gotten the main ones, and the change would propagate out from there. Plus, personally knowing the database maintainers helped a lot, too :) The hardest part was changing my computer userids. Since I was a systems administrator you'd think that this would be easy. Nope...

The biggest hassle turned out to be the birth certificate. The application process went smoothly, but it took them FOREVER to process it. I did not get the new certificates until nearly four months later! However, when they arrived (four copies, again), I felt a great sense of closure.

The remainder - bank statements, shopping clubs, creditors, etc., went real smoothly. I made several photocopies of the name change order and mailed it to them and this was good enough for them.

After about a month of planning, a week of "doing", and four months of waiting, my old name was history.


HAS IT WORKED?
Yes. Even though it was somewhat of a different situation than most of this audience will experience, to me it was none the less important simply because I was doing it pre-transition. The overall objective was still the same - to have a workable name after transition - just the timing was different, that's all.

The most important outcome is that I am at peace with myself. My name was chosen by me and me alone. It reflects who I am now, where I have come from, and where I am going.

Also, I went after the "big fish" first. I changed 100% of my official records and probably about 80% of the rest, all of them in the order of their importance. The rest are historical in nature, and will be done sometime here shortly. I was personally amazed at the power of a name change court order - and indirectly, by the futility of trying to change your name (not to mention your gender, I would imagine) without one. My advice is: do it officially. You'll thank yourself later.

I also learned that if you are going to do this, it is important that you follow through and change it everywhere tht it matters. This means, everywhere that people are most likely to look. Of course, for the majority of this audience, follow-through should not prove to be a problem.

For those of you who may find yourself in a similar situation (which BTW I am *not* encouraging or advocating that you do things like I did), I have since become more convinced that I did not want to have to do this a second time. There are simply too many places that your name exists to have to change it. Going into this, I kind of suspected that this would be the case, so I planned accordingly. Plus, it seems that you only get one "freebie" shot at changing your name. Having to explain two name changes would undoubtedly require much more explanation (and questions, I am sure) than just doing it once. I was worried that people would think that this was a drastic measure. This has not been the case, though. Those that I have told have either not cared, or have simply nodded in acknowledgement. In fact, a surprising number have sympathetically said "I understand it perfectly." Hmmm, sounds like the "American Family Values" crowd needs to do some more research, eh? :)

The biggest hassle is that I occasionally have to use the name change order and reveal my old name. The main reason is on job references where they may research my work history and discover the name change on their own. I have found that being proactive about this with the HR people completely and totally makes it a non-issue. Also, I have only had one job-related occasion where a further explanation was explicitly requested of me. Given the source, though, this did not concern me - they were suspicious of everybody.

My experiments with my public presentation since that time have proven that it will work "either way" without a problem. In boy mode, the middle name sometimes arouses some curiosity. However, very interestingly, most of these times people will "rationalize out loud" that it actually makes sense to them why I have a female middle name, rather than try to find something wrong with it. There's a subtle lesson here about human nature!

Until I go full time I will be maintaining a very androgynous appearance so that the "switch" when it happens is not too much for the name to bear. I suspect that this is the case, but we'll have to wait and see if it is. I plan to have FFS so the outward appearance is going to be fundamentally different - not by much, to be reasonable, but still different. I considered that it might be somewhat of a speed bump to transition and not change your name at all, but not an impassable obstacle. Even then, I can socially use the feminized version of my first name very easily if I need to, and not have to change a single document. So that's not a worry there.

All told, though, things are working beautifully thus far. My name matches my appearance - both now and how I realistically expect to appear after transition, so it will make things somewhat self-explanatory for the curious. Some people seem to embellish my first name when they say it - it just sort of sounds cute, especially when people with foreign accents do it! I love my new name, and moreover, I love writing it!

Which reminds me: practice signing and saying your name a LOT! I practiced for hours and hours, and even then I slipped several times early on. All of those times I was under some kind of stress, or tired, or in situations which mentally placed me back "in the past". This is good old Pavlovian conditioning at work here, but fear not - you can change it. Practice signing and speaking your new name, and if possible, do so while under stress or tired to both reinforce the new name and "erase" the old one. I can now wake up out of a sound sleep and answer the phone with my new name without having to think about it at all.

Things may have changed since I did my name change. You should DEFINITELY do your own homework on this to make sure you get everything. If in doubt, I suggest that you get an attorney.

And the most wonderful part? I have my new name, which I can keep indefinitely, both before and after transition.

I got the following in September 2003:

Since I view your web site as the single best source for early transitioners, fully transitioned and the whole spectrum in between, I thought I would like to relate my experiences with doing a name change in Massachusetts. Every other woman I have talked relates a different story as to how it's done based on the county you live. The following is my experience with changing my name in Hamden county:

Massachusetts - Hamden County Name Change
--------------------------------------------------------------------
I filed my change of name in Hamden County Probate Court in Springfield, MA on April 30, 2003. In order to do this I needed to fill out a name change form, provide a copy of my original birth certificate with a seal from the city stamped on it, and pay the court fee of $80.

Once that was completed, in about 1 week I received a letter from the court with the exact wording of a legal notice that had to be run in my local newspaper, and a court date to return with proof that the legal notice was run in the paper.

The local paper charged me $50 to run a legal notice for one week (the court requested minimum). After I met the courts minimum requirement for publishing in the papers, I can return back as soon as I wanted.

I made sure that I saved several copies of the newspapers and still have them to this day, and brought back the legal notice with the newspaper clipping.

About one week after this, I received back a copy of the original name change form from the court showing it had been signed by the judge and was stamped with the court seal. At that time, I purchased 4 extra copies of my name change form for $10/each.

I was able to use photocopies of my name change, whenever I appeared in person such as banks, credit card companies, even my car loan. I needed an original court copy for my mortgage and a few other places.

All in all, my name change itself was quite easy to do. The paperwork trail afterwards is the time consuming bit and waiting for it to all filter down into my credit report also takes quite some time. Hope this helps others living in my area.

Other resources

In April 2011 a reader wrote:

In Massachusetts you can change the gender designation on you drivers license even if you haven't had srs yet. ...When a friend told me I was unaware and what a difference it made early on in my transition! Of course you need a letter from you doctor saying that you identify as the gender you are changing it to and they do check it! I had to wait in line for 30 minutes because the woman I was dealing with was trying to find anything wrong with my forms so that she could send me away. I always find it interesting that she had no problems with me when she believed I was a woman and you could visibly watch her change her attitude...ignorant people, we're surrounded by em. Any way, I looked on the massDot web site and didn't see the form up there anymore but it is available you will just have to ask for it or use their fax service to obtain it.

Massachusetts state law


Precedent for transsexuals

[no specific case noted]