Yesterday I saw a FB ad for a credit card offering cards with your chosen name, and several comments were sneering about “Why don’t you just get a name change? Anyone can.”
So. Having just finished the court process of changing my name, here’s what it involved:
1. I mailed in my application on May 4. I had to include two checks, $175 for the court fee and $99.65 for the publication fee. I used two stamps because it was heavy.
2. As soon as I received the filed petition back from the court, I got my fingerprints. These are ink-based, unlike the electronic ones they do for teachers around here. $35 to the fingerprinting agency of my choice, $43.25 to MSP for processing the criminal background check. It had to be mailed flat, so there was a mailing cost as well.
3. I was given a court date of June 22. This was on Zoom, and I thankfully didn’t have to wait long. I spent less than two minutes in front of the judge.
4. It took them three business days to make the signed order available. I ordered them yesterday (6 certified copies = $16).
Total cost: $268.90 + mailing costs, so call it $280.
Total time from start to finish: 8 weeks (and I’ve been impressed with the court’s turnaround time, except for the three business days).
There are agencies (such as Affirmations in Ferndale) that provide financial support for people changing their names, but naturally there are financial need thresholds for that.
And when I get my certified copies, the real work begins: First, off to SSA. Then, SOS (and another $10 to get my DL changed). And only then, go through the list of legal stuff: Mortgage, car, student loans, bank, credit cards, job, health insurance, etc.
Okay, mine went smoothly. It is not true that everyone can change their name. If you are currently involved in a family court case, you can’t. Guess what happens to a lot of married trans people when they tell their spouse they’re trans? Divorce court! Guess what happens to a lot of divorced trans parents when they tell their ex-spouse they’re trans? Back to court to change custodial agreements. Both of those scenarios block the name change process.
Also, the reason for the criminal background check is to make sure you’re not changing your name for fraudulent reasons. Certain felony convictions block a name change, regardless of how old they are.
In Oakland County (which I assume is fairly typical), you have to be 22 to change your own name, and you have to have been a resident of the county for one year. If you’re under 22, you need consent of a parent or legal guardian. If you haven’t been a resident long enough: Wait. (I was wondering about why it’s 22 instead of 21, and then it occurred to me: You can’t have been an adult resident of Oakland County for one year at 21 because you haven’t been an adult for one year at 21.)
Also: Having a court date on Zoom means that you have to have access to an appropriate computer. Sure, many libraries provide these for free, but the court date might fall outside of library hours (my appointment was 8:30; Ferndale Public Library opens at 10), and that’s not exactly conducive to a private court session. Plus, for many people, a library or similar situation might not be accessible. I’m sure the court can be flexible, but that’s yet another hurdle for some people.
The publication is to give creditors an opportunity to claim that you’re defrauding them. This is an archaic process, since so much is tied to SSN instead of name, and it exposes people who are hiding from stalkers and abusers. This publication (and fee) can be waived if you can demonstrate that publishing this information will put you at risk, but that’s another step in the process.
And at the end of all this: Your legal name is changed. So you have to go tell your job, and your landliege, and whoever else you need to tell. More exposure that a trans person might not be ready for.
I have several credit cards. I appreciate having had the ability to switch one of them to my chosen name before going through the name change process, so I could experience how it felt to have that recognition without investing in a permanent situation. As trans people go, I am far less vulnerable than my trans siblings: My job has accepted my name and gender, as has my spouse. I don’t rent, so there’s nobody to evict me.
I decided to legally change my name last year, but after the school year had started. I waited until summer break so I could properly focus on the list of things to do. I did luck out with the timing: The hearing date was absolutely perfect for me. In the meantime, though, I’ve had a credit card with my chosen name (now my legal name!) on it, and that has harmed absolutely nobody.