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US Name Changes

If you are legally a resident of the United States, you must legally change your name in your county of residence. Again, that’s where you live, not where you were born. Birth certificates are changed with the state (or province, if you were born in Canada, or country, if you were born elsewhere) in which you were born; legal name changes are handled by the county in which you currently live.

In the US, you can legally change your name to anything you want, as long as you are not out to defraud. No one cares that you are changing your name to one typically associated with the opposite sex, and you do not have to have transitioned in any way, socially or medically, to change your name. Likewise, you can change your first, middle, and/or last name all at the same time. Changing more than just your first name is not more difficult or more expensive than changing just your first name.

Legal name changes are handled by your county’s probate court. The court may or may not have its own website. You can google for ‘(your county) probate court’ and you should get an address and phone number if not a court website. If you have access to a local phone book, you can check the blue government pages for the county probate court as well. Call the probate court and ask for the Change of Name Department. They’ll transfer you to the appropriate person. Tell them that you want to legally change your name, and they’ll take your (old) name and address and send you the form.
See also US Driving Licenses, US Birth Certificates, and US Passports.

If you are a minor

A minor, in the United States, is anyone under the age of 18. If you are turning 18 tomorrow, you are still a minor today. Legally changing your name as a minor requires not only the consent of your legal guardian (usually a parent); they actually have to fill out the form for you and sign it. If your parent/guardian isn’t willing to do that, you will have to wait until you are 18 to legally change your name. In the meantime, you can research what exactly is required for a legal name change in your county, and start getting stuff together so you can change it as quickly and painlessly as possible once you’re 18. You can even request the forms before you’re 18, but it’s not a good idea to get the forms too far in advance because they may have changed by the time you turn 18 and you’d have to get new forms and do them over anyway.

If you don’t know what county you live in

A county, if you’re not aware, is bigger than a city but smaller than a state. There are multiple cities and towns in a county, and multiple counties in a state. If you don’t know what county you live in, Google ‘(your town/city) (your state) county’. The results should contain a reference to your county. For example, googling ‘Boston MA county’ yields results that include the words ‘Suffolk County’. Alternatively, if your town or city has its own Wikipedia page, its county should be listed there. Be sure you search for the specific town or city you live in, not just the nearest large city.

If you’re worried you can’t afford it

Find out how much it costs, first. It may be quite a bit less than you think. But if you’re short on cash, you can apply to have the fees waived. This blog post has links to the waiver forms for all 50 US states. Just click on the state you live in.

Questions to ask while you’ve got a human on the phone

  • What is the filing fee? This information should come with the form they send you, so you probably don’t need to ask, but it can be nice to find out in advance.
  • How much do certified copies of the name change cost once it’s completed? You’ll need at least a few certified copies (the certified part is important) to give to banks, insurance companies, Social Security, DMV/RMV, etc. as evidence of your legal name change so that they can update your bank account, ID, and other documents.
  • Am I required to hire a lawyer? Some counties do indeed require that you hire a lawyer and have them do it all for you, no matter how simple or straightforward the forms are. The lawyer will charge a fee.
  • Am I required to publish an announcement anywhere? Some counties require you to publish an announcement of your name change in your local newspaper. If there’s more than one newspaper that exists in your area, you’re usually allowed to choose which one to publish in, but sometimes the court will choose for you. The announcement will be with the birth and wedding announcements, so will probably go unnoticed by most of the paper’s readers. The newspaper will usually charge a fee for printing the announcement.
  • How long does it have to run? They may require that it run for two weeks or something.

Filling out the form should be pretty straightforward. Remember that when it asks for the signature of the petitioner, that’s your old name, not your new one. There’s one question that everyone always has, though:

What should I put as the reason? Do I have to say that I’m Trans?

You do not have to come out as Trans or give your whole sordid gender history to the court. They provide several lines under the ‘reason’ section just in case you have a lot to say; you are not obliged to fill that whole space with writing. Most people list ‘common usage’ as the reason, which is completely fine. That just means ‘everyone calls me that anyway, so I want to make it legal to make my life easier’. The court should accept that reason without any issue.

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