How to Change Your Legal Name and Gender Marker

Are you or someone close to you in the process of a gender transition? Are you transgender or non-binary and want to be identified properly according to your gender identity? If so, you may be wondering how to legally change your name and gender designation on important government documents. This overview will help you understand the steps you'll need to take to accomplish that task.

Each state has varying requirements. If you're not a U.S. citizen, there are different rules, and you'll need to contact your local government office to determine what you need to do. Also, if you're a minor, you'll need the help of at least one of your parents.

Legal Name Change

In most states, the first step to legally changing your name is to obtain the appropriate form, which is usually called a petition for change of name. A lawyer isn't typically needed to navigate the name change process. You'll likely have to pay a fee, though, when you submit your name change form to the court. In some states, you can even change your gender at the same time as you change your name.

What Can You Change Your Name To?

In general, you can change your name to anything you want. You can't change your name to avoid paying debts or to commit fraud, though. Also, you might need to work with a lawyer if you:

  • Lost a lawsuit and have a civil judgment against you
  • Have a felony conviction
  • Currently owe back taxes
  • Have defaulted on credit
  • Have declared bankruptcy

What Happens After You Submit Your Name Change Form?

After you submit your name change form and pay the associated filing fee to the court clerk (if you can't afford the fee, you may be able to get a fee waiver), you'll receive a notice requiring you to appear in court at a set date and time.

At your court hearing, a judge will ask you some questions to make sure you're seeking your name change for reasons that are legal. You might also need to bring witnesses who can confirm your identity and good character.

If the judge approves your name change request, you can then use the order issued by the court to legally change your name for other purposes. It's a good idea to get several certified copies of your name change order at the time of your court hearing, since many places won't accept photocopied or notarized copies of the order.

Name Change Checklist

A judge's issuance of an order approving your name change is just the first step to being able to be fully recognized by your new name. Most agencies that you do business with are used to identify you by your old name. You'll need to contact them to update your information.

Identity Documents and Other Vital Records

  • U.S. Social Security Card
  • Passport
  • Driver's license
  • Government-issued state ID card (or other identification documents)
  • Voter registration
  • Immigration documents
  • New birth certificate

Legal Documents

  • Will
  • Power of attorney
  • Healthcare directive
  • Living trust

Employment Documents

  • Employee records
  • Employee directory
  • Name in client or customer records

Financial Documents

  • Bank accounts (including ordering new paper checks)
  • Credit cards
  • Investment accounts (pension, 401k, etc.)
  • Utilities
  • Insurance
  • Vehicle title/registration
  • Vehicle loans
  • School loans
  • Mortgage or lease

Health Documents

  • Medical records
  • Pharmacy records

Online Accounts

  • Payment services
  • Social networks
  • E-mail accounts

Memberships

  • Library card
  • Alumni associations
  • Auto clubs
  • Gym/fitness
  • Activism

Loyalty programs

  • Airlines
  • Hotel

Changing Your Gender Marker

The process for your gender marker change varies depending on whether you're changing state or federal documents. Passport changes are controlled by the federal government, for instance, while changes to birth certificates and driver's licenses are controlled by state governments.

Changing Your Gender Marker on Your U.S. Passport

The federal government has simplified the process for changing your gender marker on your passport. It doesn't matter whether you already have a passport or are applying for the first time. Either way, the process is the same. All you need to do is apply for a new passport and select the gender marker you'd like. It doesn't matter if the gender marker you choose is different from the one you've chosen in the past or doesn't match the gender shown on your supporting documents.

You can choose "male" or "female" markers, and an  "X" gender marker option is recently available. The link included in the first sentence of this section has the most up-to-date information on that option. You can get more information at travel.state.gov.

Changing Your Gender Marker on State Documents

Changing the gender marker on your birth certificate or driver's license is governed by the laws of the state where you were born. These laws vary significantly. Some states require a letter from your doctor confirming your gender transition, and/or require a court order, to change a gender marker. Other states have more flexible requirements.

How an Attorney Can Help You

An attorney who can give you legal advice can guide you through the steps needed to legally change your name and gender marker, as well as help you figure out in what order each step should be done to best meet your needs.

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