(Information on this page is not legal advice, and should not be taken as legally accurate or current information. It is based on research and personal experiences.)
Legally Changing Your Name
You Can Do It Yourself
In most cases a name change is a fairly simple legal process and – for the court staff – a routine administrative procedure. You can fill out and file the paperwork yourself and do not need to pay a lot of money to an online name change service or an attorney. Going to court or standing before a judge may seem daunting; bringing a support person with you can help.
Many people in Portland get help through the ID Project at Outside In. The ID Project assists and supports transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming folks in changing their legal documents to match their gender identity, including court name / “sex” change, DMV name / “sex” changes, and sometimes birth certificate requests. Their services are available to any trans* person, regardless of age or income, and depending on a person’s level of need, they can offer aid from basic guidance to financial assistance and personal support.
Anyone interested in assistance, financial or otherwise, through the ID Project should call (503) 535-3919 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . The ID Project is staffed by volunteers – the voicemail is checked three times a week and calls will be returned in up to three days time.
Forms and Processes
Legal name changes are done through a local circuit court. Some Oregon counties have name change forms available at the courthouse or on their website. If the county court does not provide forms, you can get a change of name kit at a legal publishing store (like Stevens Ness).
(Name change kits that you see online for $30-$40 include more forms for changing your name with federal agencies, banks, credit cards, etc. Any of these forms can be obtained for free from those institutions, either online or in person.)
The exact procedure for a name change varies from county to county, so you need to get instructions from the court that will be issuing the change. If you’re changing your name in Multnomah County, go to the Family Court office (Room 211 in the Multnomah County courthouse, 1021 SW 4th Ave) and ask the clerk for a name change packet. It contains all the forms you need and detailed step-by-step instructions that walk you through the whole process.
Changing Your Name in Multnomah County
Remember to bring valid photo ID each time you come to the courthouse. On your first visit, you’ll fill out a petition to change your name and post it on the bulletin board in the clerk’s office. (This satisfies the requirement for public notice of your name change.) You’ll need to pay the cashier the fees for filing, for a copy of the decree, and for the forms. Total fees are currently about $175. You’ll also schedule a court date (usually about 4 weeks out) for the actual name change.
On the second visit to the courthouse (your court date), you go back to the Family Court office and file your posted petition with the clerk, then appear before the judge, who will sign your name change decree. You then have to go back to the Family Court office and file the rest of the paperwork. They’ll mail you a copy of your name change decree in a few days.
Common Law Name Change
In theory, you can change your name simply by using a new one consistently and keeping documents that show you have used it over time. However, you can run into difficulties in proving your identity without a legal name change decree.
Legally Changing Your Gender/Sex
Oregon state law regarding gender change refers to changing “sex”. Laws may be worded differently in other states. This is the Oregon statute:
CHANGE OF SEX
33.460 Jurisdiction; grounds; procedure. (1) A court that has jurisdiction to determine an application for change of name of a person under ORS 33.410 and 33.420 may order a legal change of sex and enter a judgment indicating the change of sex of a person whose sex has been changed by surgical procedure.
(2) The court may order a legal change of sex and enter the judgment in the same manner as that provided for change of name of a person under ORS 33.410 and 33.420.
(3) If a person applies for a change of name under ORS 33.410 and 33.420 at the time the person applies for a legal change of sex under this section, the court may order change of name and legal change of sex at the same time and in the same proceeding. [1981 c.221 §1; 1997 c.872 §23; 2003 c.576 §309]
In Multnomah County, the process for legally changing your gender is similar to that for changing your name. In fact, since the state has no official forms for changing gender, you use the name change forms and adapt them by crossing out the word “Name” and writing in “Sex”, then fill in your name and old gender/new gender in the appropriate blanks. Many people use the word “Gender” on the forms rather than “Sex”, and have had them accepted by the court. Your results may vary according to the particular judge who signs your paperwork and how strictly they interpret the wording of the law.
Change of name and change of gender can be done simultaneously. Ask the clerk in the Family Court office for details.
In general, a legal change of sex or gender requires some proof of sex reassignment surgery (SRS), such as a surgeon’s letter. Since the definition of SRS is a little fuzzy, especially with regard to genital surgery, a very generally worded surgeon’s letter may be sufficient, simply stating that you have had complete and successful SRS, without going into the details of the type of surgery.
Depending on the court and the judge, other supporting documents may be useful, including letters from therapists, a name change decree, evidence documenting how long you have been living as your present gender, and a written statement explaining why you wish to have your gender legally changed.
It is also possible that the judge will not ask to see any supporting documents at all and will sign your paperwork without question. But it is probably better to err on the side of caution and bring all your documentation with you.
Since a change of sex/gender is more of a legal gray area, you may want to get legal advice if you have questions.