Changing Your Name to Reflect Your Identity
Having a name that reflects your identity is important. Having official, government-issued identity documents is crucial to many aspects of everyday life, from driving a car, paying with a credit card, applying for jobs or school, voting, or boarding a plane. According to the 2015 US Transgender Survey, only 11% of the respondents reported that all of their identifying documents reflected their preferred name and gender while 68% reported that none of their documents reflected their preferred name and gender. Having documents that reflect an individual’s identity is one way to help transgendered people lead authentic lives.
Transgendered people suffer many legal, social and financial hardships as a result of their identity. These difficulties are in addition to the harassment and violence transgendered people experience. Transgender people suffer a number of forms of legal discrimination which often result in both higher costs and less income. When a person’s legal identity is mismatched with how they present, they can experience discrimination in employment, housing, healthcare, and financially where they can be denied a host of tools such as loans or credit cards. While there are laws on the books that protect against some forms of discrimination, there is no law or policy prohibiting discrimination in insurance protections. One way to potentially mitigate some of these issues is to presenting documentation that corroborates a person’s identity presentation.
The general process for updating a name and gender marker on documents and records is typically as follows:
- Legal name change
- Update social security record
- Update license or state ID
- Update financial, insurance, school and employment records
- Update passport
- Update birth certificate
Obtaining a Legal Name Change
The first step of altering one’s identity to seek a legal name change by petitioning the court. In Pennsylvania, a name change petition must include the petitioner’s intention to change their name, the reason for the name change, the current residence of the petitioner and any residence the petitioner has lived in the last five years. Medical history and surgical procedures are not relevant for a person seeking a legal name change, and a successful petition does not necessarily require an intimate explanation in support of the request for a name change. The Commonwealth is invested in assuring that the name change request is not being pursued for some nefarious purpose such as avoiding payments of debts or to effectuate some sort of fraud.
In addition to filing the petition, the individual seeking a name change must publish the intended name change in two newspapers of general circulation in the county where the petitioner resides and a completed judgement search. However, there are some instances where the publication of the proposed name change could create a significant safety risk to the petitioner. If this is the case, the petitioner can raise these concerns with the court and request a waiver of the notice requirement.
If there is no opposition to the name change petition, typically, there is no need for a formal hearing and the petitioner need only provide proof of publication and other required documents in order to obtain a signed decree ordering the name change.
Updating Your Social Security Information
Once an individual obtains a court order allowing for a name change, they may use that to obtain updated documents reflecting their new name. The first document to change is the social security card because typically a social security card is required to change subsequent documentation. To obtain a new social security card, they must appear in person to their local social security office with a certified copy of their name change order.
The Social Security administration can also help individuals seeking to change their gender marker. This requires bringing additional documentation to the social security office such as a valid 10-year passport showing the applicant’s updated gender, a birth certificate showing the applicant’s updated gender, a court order recognizing your change in gender, or a signed letter from a doctor on letterhead showing appropriate clinical treatment.
It is important to note the nature of obtaining several of these documents may take time, as they make require other changes to take place first.
Updating State Identification
After obtaining an updated social security card, you need to update the State ID. Bring your court ordered name change document along with a new social security card, the PennDOT forms and any required fees. You may also be asked to provide other documentation supporting your identity such as a state issued government ID or passport. There are name change forms and request for gender change forms. No one likes going to the DMV, but name change forms must be submitted in person at your local Driver’s License Center. Upon completion of the process, you may be asked to update your voter registration information.
Updating Other Vital Account Information
It is important to keep one’s total identity intact. This requires going through and changing one’s name on all important documentation. Financial institutions have different documentation requirements for updating account information. It is also helpful to update all accounts with your a new identity such as bills and legal documents. Be sure to check in with utility companies, financial institutions in which you are involved, title and deed information, and professional licensing providers.
The process for updating your passport depends on your passport status, but generally changing your identity on your passport follows a similar process to applying for a passport and producing supporting documentation of your legal name change.
If you are seeking to change the name on your passport within one year of its issuance, you must submit the form, your most recent passport, your original or certified court order and a color passport photo.
If it has been more than one year since your passport was issued you must submit the form, your most recent passport, your certified name change order, and the applicable fees.
You may not be eligible to submit your form via mail, in which case you must apply in person with the form, evidence of citizenship, certified name change order, a valid ID and a photocopy of that ID, one color passport photo and the applicable fees.
Update Birth Certificate
Upon issuance of a court order name change decree, Pennsylvania permits the issuance of an amended birth certificate reflecting the new name change. Obtaining a new birth certificate requires submitting the form, the applicable fees and a certified copy of the name change order.
Unfortunately, amending the sex designation on the birth certificate is more complicated. The request to change the sex marker on a birth certificate requires sending a letter to the vital corrections unit requesting a name and sex change. The request must include the certified name change order, the completed form and letter from your physician on letterhead stating that they are your attending physical and that you have completed or are in the process of completing appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition. The letter must include a verification stating that they declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing letter is true and correct.
Maintaining a consistent identity where all your legal and account information matches your presentation may help reduce the likelihood of being a victim of legal discrimination. The path to becoming who you are is a difficult one, and it may feel like the process of legally changing your identity daunting, but a knowledgeable and dedicated attorney can help support you through the process. If you have any questions about the process of changing your name or gender, do not hesitate to reach out to our Main Line family law and divorce lawyers. They can be contacted via email, or please call us at our offices at 215-283-5080.
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