U.S. Resident Alien 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.

A reader writes in September 2003:

A note to US resident aliens wishing to change name.

Changing name can be very complicated for non-citizen permanent residents of the USA because there are at least the laws of two counties involved, at a minimum one country for passport and another for "green card". Name changes can get very complicated when trying to synchronize changes under two nations' bureaucracies that make no accomodations for this. Moreover it is a legal nightmare to have passport and green card mismatched as to sex.

One solution for "green card" holders is to seek US citizenship. The application for US citizenship (form N-400) includes express provision for changing legal name at the moment of being sworn in as a US citizen. Persons following this procedure will be sworn in as a new US citizen by a Federal Judge rather than by a civil servant and will typically have to travel a Federal courthouse to be sworn in.

There are several advantages, the cost is typically less, humiliating publication in a newspaper is not required (in states that so require for "ordinary" name changes) and the name change is ordered under US Federal Law rather than state law. Thus the change has the force of law in all states as contrasted with only one state. Universities who refuse to change names may be forced to comply with a Federal Court order even where they routinely brush off a state court order. As a final aside, since homophobia is still alive and well in the BCIS (formerly INS) it might be wise to consider adopting an epicene [androgynous] name.

Update from September 2004:

Effective 1 September 2004, the USCIS no longer accepts petitions for change of name with N-400 Application for Naturalization. Petitions already filed will be processed but no new ones will be accepted. The petition is usually drafted by the USCIS and formally filed during the first or only N-400 in-person interview.

So, in short, if you are applying for Naturalization as a US citizen and have not already had your interview then you can no longer expect to be able to use this process (Federal law) to change your name.

Prospective citizens should be aware that US Certificates of Naturalization contain Name, place and date sworn in, date of birth, former citizenship, height, marital status and, yes,unfortunately and irrelevantly, sex. It is almost impossible to get a certificate of naturalization changed once it has been issued.

Other resources


Precedent for transsexuals

[no specific case noted]