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Some Thoughts on Changing My Name

Changing your name involves lots of paperwork.
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If anything can be said of the transgender community as a whole, we’re one of the few communities out there that actually looks forward to waiting in line at the DMV. Granted, maybe that’s a bit of a generalization- like anything, there’s plenty of DMV related horror stories swirling around out there too- but I’m now considering the day I finally got to hold my new license, with my name on it, in my hands to be one of the best days of my life. (And being barely 20, I’m hoping it’s one of many awesome days).

Changing your name and, eventually, gender is one of the bigger milestones of the transgender community. There’s coming out, there’s finally walking outside the door presenting as yourself, and then hormones if that’s what you have your mind set on.

Your name and your social security number compromise the basis of how most of the world knows you. You can’t pay your taxes with a nickname, you can’t start a bank account without a social security number, and so on. To have a name on your driver’s license or social security card that doesn’t match what you go by and identify as isn’t just frustrating- if you’re like me, handing over an ID with a female name on it or a debit card with the wrong name just feels, well, wrong. Dysphoria, in its many myriad forms, is a part of being transgender.

And when you know deep inside yourself that the name on your debit card isn’t the name you answer to- you can’t help but flinch every time you leave the house.

I had been living as myself for over two years before I finally got to change my name. And wow, what a rush it’s been. I’m still at that point where I’m staring at my new ID and I’m pretty sure I’m dreaming.

But I would be remiss to talk about changing my name without touching upon the actual process itself. Which leads to my next point: it’s harder than it needs to be.

I don’t necessarily mean that what I did is difficult: if you really wanted to boil it down, I filled out a bunch of forms, stood in line, sat in waiting rooms, and waited for documents to come back in the mail. It’s no less difficult than, say, registering your business for tax purposes. But the hard part? The fact that it’s never the same process depending on your city, county, state, or even country.

I’m fortunate to live in a state and county where changing my name and gender is a matter of going to court, usually with a therapist’s letter in hand, and providing a sincere explanation of why I’m changing my name (I’m sure the $100+ fee helps too). But were I to have changed my name down in California, I would’ve had to pay almost four times the cost of what I paid in Oregon.

The other prickly issue is changing gender markers, both on driver’s licenses and birth certificates. While I need a letter from a therapist to prove I intend to live as my identified gender, others need more than that. For example in some states, proof of surgery is still required in order to change one’s gender marker on their ID or birth certificate. In others, someone may not be able to change their gender on their birth certificate at all, regardless of whether they’ve had sex reassignment surgery or not.

And while more a minor nitpick, sometimes the name change process varies as well. In Oregon, for example, you’ll need to meet with a facilitator several times over the course of a month as you review and fill out various documents- one, for example, you’ll need to post either in a public place or at the courthouse as proof that you’re changing your name. If no one opposes or objects to your name change, you’re good to go and simply have to wait for the judge to sign off on your order.

But in California, the process differs in that you’ll need to attend a court hearing, scheduled in advance. Don’t get me wrong. If I had to go to court in Oregon, I’d happily be the first in line to see the judge. The problem is, it’s a whole new set of rules when you move. Consistency is a virtue in itself. And I doubt I’m alone in wishing for it.

But it wouldn’t do me well to dwell on it. After all, I still have to change my name with my insurance company. But I’ll be doing so with an ID that finally matches who I am and perhaps, in a way, I won’t necessarily mind.

About Byron James Kimball

Byron James Kimball
Byron James Kimball is a freelance writer based in Salem, Oregon. Along with a love of food and gaming, Byron is passionate about the issues that the transgender community faces on a daily basis.

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