Coming out as trans means the birth of the real you.
For many trans people, that means changing your first – and sometimes middle or even last – name.
Some trans people find that getting their new name is a significant rite of passage that marks the beginning to discovering the person they’ve always been inside. Yet for others, it’s just a necessary step to prevent being “outed” by society. Many even change their last name during the process, a step that may be necessary to hide their identity from family members.
Either way, a name change can be a necessary nightmare.
Unfortunately, a name change process varies from county to county as well as from state to state, meaning there are few guides to be found when it comes to beginning this process.
The good news is that South Florida’s coast is progressive. While you still have a good deal of paperwork to fill out, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll suffer any ignorance from the court system itself.
In fact, there are even centers (including SunServe) that will happily assist you through the entire process. And before you lose hope because of potential expenses, requesting a form of indigence from the court can reduce or even nullify your fees for a name change, depending on the county.
Whether you’re choosing your new name because you’re afraid that a masculine name would ‘out’ you to a police officer that sees you as a woman, or because you want to mark the beginning of your new life ahead, this guide will hopefully help those in South Florida who are looking to begin the process.
Note: The information provided is a guide, not legal advice. Laws vary from county to county and may change or vary based on individual circumstance. If you need further assistance, it’s best to reach out to one of the organizations listed at the end of the article for more accurate or up to date information.
1. Beginning steps
To begin, go to your county courthouse and request the paperwork for a legal name change, which may cost around $32 (although the fee may also be waived with the right paperwork). The receptionist may ask what type of name change you’re planning to get, which is necessary to determine which paperwork you’ll need; for example, changing your last name due to marriage is a much shorter process. When asked, answer that you want to change your first name. It’s unlikely they will require any further information, but if so, remember that you are not required to out yourself.
While you’re speaking to the receptionist, also request the form of indigence. Even if you feel that the form will be denied based on your income level, your past debts will also be considered and you might be relieved to find it’s approved.
Once you receive your name change instructions, you’ll find that everything is thoroughly explained. You have as much time as you need to fill it out, but if you choose to find a friend or professional to assist you, make sure they fill out their name on the paperwork in the designated area to identify themselves as an assistant in the legal process. For legal purposes, this article would even count as a resource and would need to be listed.
Some of the other required information includes all past addresses within your lifetime (within the U.S.), social security, past felonies, and any schools that you’ve attended.
2. Submit fingerprints
If you’ve already received your instructions from the court, they’ll include instructions for when and where to complete this step. The state of Florida usually requires name change applicants to get their fingerprints taken, a process that generally requires a fee of around $25 regardless of whether or not your indigency form was approved.
The process itself takes about five minutes not counting possible waiting time. Upon completion, you receive a form that should be delivered to the courthouse before the rest of the process can continue.
3. Return your documents to the court
Once your documents are complete and your fingerprints have been taken, return to the controller’s office at the courthouse to file for the name change. There’s a small processing fee that may vary. Then comes the waiting.
4. Wait for a letter
Once everything has been submitted, wait for your letter from the court. Because the reasons behind changing a first name may be considered ‘nefarious,’ Florida courts will require that a judge review the name change before it’s approved.
If anything has been found out of place that prevents the name change, you’ll receive a letter to clarify what needs to be modified or completed prior to your ruling.
However, if everything is in order, you’ll have one of two outcomes.
The first is a court date, which means appearing before a judge on the given date.
This might seem like the worst-case scenario, but it usually just involves appearing in court where you’ll be asked by a judge why you wish to change your name. How you answer is your decision, but so long as your reason doesn’t involve anything nefarious, it’s unlikely that the judge will give you a hard time. This is not the case in many states, where name changes have been denied, so be sure to count your blessings if you’re applying in South Florida.
The other possibility is that you’ll receive a letter saying that the court case was waived and your name change was approved by a judge’s review. In this case, your letter will include a court approval and is legally binding, but keep in mind this is a non-notarized form. To amend your driver’s license, birth certificate, passport or social security, it may be helpful to return to the courthouse controller’s office for a notarized name change order.
5. Updating your documents
Once you’ve done your name change, you need to update your Social Security card. It’s usually best to update Social Security before driver’s licenses or identification since Social Security is federal as opposed to state identification, which is local. It’s also safe to hang onto the receipt from the Social Security office if possible.
The most obvious next step is updating your driver’s license or identification. If you’ve been lucky up to this point, you may find the atmosphere of the DMV to be the most intimidating part of this process. But as long as you come equipped with the letter from the judge and a receipt from the Social Security office, you should have no problems.
Per current Florida law, a letter from a therapist is all you need to prove your gender. So for many, it’s ideal to do both at once. Speak to a certified therapist ahead of time if you wish to complete this step, but consider printing out the current Florida laws for gender changes on licenses if you’re worried that the staff of the DMV will try to deny you.
All other documents you have will also need to be updated, including rental leases, bank accounts, insurance and your name at work. You’ll find that the name change process is fairly long, as some steps may not become applicable until you do your taxes the next year; but no matter which documents you’re updating, rest assured that there are people to help you along the way. And trust me, it’s well worth the hassle once you’re done.
For more help regarding a name change in Broward County, reach out to SunServe at Sunserve.org. In Palm Beach County, reach out to the Compass GLCC at CompassGLCC.com, and in Miami-Dade, contact the Pridelines at Pridelines.org.
The Transgender Law Center has a state by state guide to name changes available at https://transgenderlawcenter.org/archives/13454