Pennsylvania 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.

Pennsylvania allows for women in our community to change their names before they have sex reassignment surgery (see Legal Precedent below). However, at least one reader has been denied name change prior to surgery (See September 2006 letter), so be sure to have all your materials in order.

1. Start the process

You will need to fill out forms at the courthouse in the country where you live. Here’s the state site with numbers for each county:

http://www.health.state.pa.us/vitalrecords/County_Courthouse_Listing.htm

Look up the number on the web page above or in the phone book and call first.

Here's Philadelphia County:

Philadelphia County City Hall
Broad & Market Streets
Philadelphia , PA 19107 
Phone: (215) 686-3460
http://www.phila.gov/ 

Call your country courthouse. Instructions for the call:

Have a pen and paper handy.

Say you’d like to speak with someone about doing a court order for name change and what you need to do.

Write down the name of the person who helps you, and take notes. Bring those with you when you go down to fill out forms.

Ask them:

What documents will I need to bring with me?
How much does it cost?
How long does it take?

2. Take care of pre-hearing requirements

Go to the courthouse with everything they told you to bring. I recommend bringing a letter from a therapist or doctor if you can, saying that you are a transsexual and listing your new name. This might make things a little easier and more official-looking.

You will probably have to pay a fee. Some states run a background check, and some also require you to publish a printed notice that you intend to change your name. You will be assigned a court date when you will appear before the judge, usually a few weeks later.

I recommend getting an envelope or folder and keeping all this stuff in it.

3. Show up on your assigned court date

They will have you bring everything that was prepared since your first visit in before the judge. Sadly, the more professional and feminine you look, the easier it may be, so wear your nicest outfit that you'd wear to church or a job interview.

4. Get certified copies afterwards

You can use these later for changing other documents. Some places may want to keep a copy, and you always want to hold onto your original.

Once you have this, it's super-easy to change everything else, and you won't have to deal with your old name any more!

Other resources

A reader writes in September 2006:

Today 28th of sep i wnet to have my name changed i had an attorney and all of the required documents were in hand and properly filed. However the judge refused to sign the pettition on the grounds that a judge johnson of a pa commonwelth court had previously made a desision that a person wishing to change their name from a male to female name must have evidance of thier conviction to continue on with SRS in an effort to prohibate defrauding the public with a female name and presenting as a female wothout haveing the SRS done. Now as we all know in section 2 subsection 10 the HBSOC states that part of the real life experiance is to have that name change done BEFORE surgery. Therefore is it suggested that along with the required paperwork a copy of the HBSOC is submitted as evidence of intent and procedural compliance to the HBSOC. Also it would be adviseable to have in hand ANY case law pertaining to the issue of name change for TG/TS gurls .

(sent a few days later) VICTORY IS OURS, I presented my finding to my attorney upon that she submitted it as evidances at a continuance. The judge did question me about my chosen name because it was so far seperated from my surname. However with the compleling evidance of the supreme court ie Justice Zappala's opinion the judge granted the name change pettition

You asked for a follow up on how the case was resolved well the judge was all but forced to sign the order. After i had done the research finding Supreme court justice Zappala's opinion in the McIntyre case my attorney pre subbmitted the finding to the court as evidance. After questioning me about my chosen name because it is so far seperated from my birth surname he had no real choice but to sign the pettition. So as i am writing this to you i am officially and legaly name changed. As a foot note my attorney did a verification of presidence on the McIntyre case and it is as of today October 5th 2006 still a valid claim and defence.

A reader writes in 2008:

I recently underwent a judicial change of name in the state of Pennsylvania. I did use an attorney and unfortunately, he wasnt too aware of transgender issues. After viewing the site regarding name changes, I requested letters from both my psychiatrist and psychologist indicating that I am diagnosed with gender identity disorder. I also had them include that I am living and presenting as female fulltime (since May 2007) and that I am planning for gender confirmation surgery within the next year. They also indicated that awarding/ordering the name change would greatly benefit me in the goal of long term therapy and treatment for the gender identity disorder.

The hearing itself went rather smoothly. The judge asked if I was changing my name to avoid creditors and whether or not I was doing so to avoid criminal prosecution. He also inquired whether or not I had ever been convicted of a crime.

All answers were no. In the end, the hearing lasted 15-20 minutes and my name change was ordered. I was dressed very feminine, white wide leg pants from victorias secret, a purple turtleneck and white heels. I'm not sure if that any influence or not.

Other resources:

For those able to cover the costs themselves - Kristine Holt (www.holtesq.com) is a good resource, being a transsexual woman herself.

Legal services are available at the Mazzoni Center:
http://mazzonicenter.org/programs/legal/index.php

Pennsylvania state law

The applicable Pennsylvania law is at 54 Pa.C.S. § 701-705. It can be found on the web:

http://members.aol.com/StatutesP2/54.Cp.7.html

Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes

NAMES (TITLE 54)
CHAPTER 7. JUDICIAL CHANGE OF NAME

§ 701. Court approval required for change of name
(a) General rule.--It shall be unlawful for any person to assume a different name by which such person is and has been known, unless such change in name is made pursuant to proceedings in court as provided by this chapter.
(b) Informal change of name.--Notwithstanding subsection (a), a person may at any time adopt and use any name if such name is used consistently, nonfraudulently and exclusively.

§ 702. Change by order of court.
(a) General rule.--The court of common pleas of any county may by orderchange the name of any person resident in the county.
(b) Procedure.--Prior to entry of an order of approval of change of name, all of the following shall apply:
1. The court must forward to the Pennsylvania State Police a duplicate copy of the application for change of name and a set of the person's fingerprints. The person applying for the change of name is responsible for costs under this paragraph.
2. The Pennsylvania State Police shall use the fingerprints to determine if the person is subject to 18 Pa.C.S.Ch. 91 (relating to criminal history record information).
3. The Pennsylvania State Police shall:
i. if the person is subject to 18 Pa.C.S.Ch. 91, note the name change on the person's criminal history record information; or
ii. if the person is not subject to 18 Pa.C.S.Ch. 91, destroy the fingerprints.
4. Within 60 days of receipt of the material under paragraph (1), the Pennsylvania State Police shall certify to the court what action has been taken under paragraph (3).
5. The procedure in this subsection shall not apply to proceedings involving:
i. An election to resume a prior surname pursuant to section 704 (relating to divorced person may resume prior name).
ii. Name changes involving minor children in adoption proceedings pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. § 2904 (relating to name of adoptee).
iii. A name change involving a minor child whose name is being changed pursuant to section 703 (relating to effect on children).

Precedent for transsexuals

In 1998, a transsexual woman in the process of changing sexes won a legal battle to change her name. Reversing a trial judge, the divided three-judge Superior Court panel in re: Brian Harris, PICS Case No. 97-2655 (Pa Super. Dec.11, 1997) Olszewski, J; Popovich, J. concurring, Saylor, J. dissenting (18 pages), allowed Ms. Harris to change her first name to "Lisa". The majority said Harris could change her name because she proved her commitment to changing sexes.

Appellant was judgment free and was not seeking a name change to avoid any financial obligations or commit fraud.