Name Changes

Changing Your Name to Reflect Your Identity

Having a name that reflects your identity is essential.  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, less than half of respondents did not have their preferred name and/or gender designation on any identification documents.  Having documents that reflect an individual’s chosen identity is one way that transgender and non-binary individuals can continue to lead authentic lives.

Unfortunately, many transgender individuals suffer legal, social, and financial discriminations simply as a result of their gender identity. These challenges are in addition to the harassment and violence transgender individuals experience in daily life.  Transgender people combat a number of forms of legal and social discrimination, most often in the form of dead-naming.

When seeking a legal name change, one’s gender is not at issue for the court, only the legal name. However, often the name change is directly linked to an individual’s gender identity.  So, many people seek a legal name that aligns with their identity.  While there are processes, costs, and restrictions associated with updating identification documents through the name change process, everyone deserves a name with which they identify.

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 in seeking a legal name change is to petition the court for a name change.  In Pennsylvania, a name change petition must include the petitioner’s reason for the name change, the current residence of the petitioner and any residence the petitioner has lived in the last five years.  To be clear, the stated “reason” for a name change does not need to simply be because someone identifies as transgender – rather, private lives can remain private.

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 purpose behind the name change statute, is to ensure that a petitioner is not seeking a name change to avoid debt payments or effectuate fraud.  In certain circumstances, a name change petition may be denied if an individual has been convicted of a specifically enumerated felony.

In addition to filing the petition, the individual seeking a name change typically must publish the intended name change in two newspapers of general circulation in the county where the petitioner resides.  However, the statute provides the opportunity to waive publication where such publication would cause a significant risk to the safety of the petitioner. The safety of the person seeking a name change is important.

After publication, the petitioner will attend a name change hearing.  At the hearing, the petitioner will provide proof of publication (or, if permission to waive publication was granted, this will not be required).  The judge will review the petition, together with the affidavits of publication, as well as certifications of name and judgment searches.  The judge may offer the opportunity for a petitioner to state why they are seeking a name change; however, such a statement may not be required. 

Shortly after the hearing, the petitioner will receive a certified copy of their Name Change Order.  After you receive your Court Order, you can initiate the processes of updating all other personal identification documentation.



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. In order to obtain a new social security card, an individual may either appear in person at their local social security office with a certified copy of their name change order, or submit an application for an updated social security card through the mail.

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.


Updating State Identification

In order to update your driver’s license, you will need to complete a driver’s license form. In order to update your birth name, you must present your birth certificate as well as a Certified Copy of the Court Order.  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.  Upon completion of the process, you may be asked to update your voter registration information.


Updating Other Vital Account Information

It is important to update your name on all important documentation, including utility companies, medical providers, financial institutions, employers, and others. 


Update Passport

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 this 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 this 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 requires additional steps.  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 a letter from your physician on letterhead stating that they are your attending physician and that you have completed, or are in the process of completing, 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 name and gender marker on all of your legal and account information 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 is 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.  We can be contacted via email, or please call us at our offices at 215-283-5080.



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