Name Change FAQs

Written by Tara Allison, Esq., Former TransOhio Board Member & Legal Counsel. Originally published by TransOhio, December 2006, www.transohio.org/news/DecTransOhio.pdf

The name change process in Ohio.

I say “in Ohio” because the law related to changing your name is state law, meaning that it varies from state-to-state. So, in this case, my comments will reflect Ohio’s law on this matter.

Ohio laws are “codified” (i.e., logically organized by topic) in the “Ohio Revised Code.” Section 2717.01 of the Ohio Revised Code controls this process and is entitled “Proceedings to change name of person.” Yeah, I know, it’s not very creative, but at least it’s clear. Anyway, the pertinent part states:

“A person desiring a change of name may file an application in the probate court of the county in which the person resides. The application shall set forth that the applicant has been a bona fide resident of that county for at least one year prior to the filing of the application, the cause for which the change of name is sought, and the requested new name.

Notice of the application shall be given once by publication in a newspaper of general circulation in the county at least thirty days before the hearing on the application. The notice shall set forth the court in which the application was filed, the case number, and the date and time of the hearing.

Upon proof that proper notice was given and that the facts set forth in the application show reasonable and proper cause for changing the name of the applicant, the court
may order the change of name.”

Ok, that’s what the law literally says, but what does all that mean? Well, first, notice that the last sentence states that the court “may order the change of name.” It’s discretionary. That means the court doesn’t have to order the name change. I’ll get back to this in a few minutes.

Second, notice that in Ohio, this entire process is handled by county probate courts. In most instances, the probate court has developed step-by-step instructions and “fill-in-the-blank” forms to help you through the process. For the most part, the process consists of:

  1. Completing and submitting an application to the court for changing your name
  2. Advertising your application in a local newspaper at least 30 days before the hearing on your application
  3. A hearing where, after some questions to ensure you’ve complied with the process, the judge officially orders your named changed to your new name.

The specific instructions (and the forms) should be available through your local county probate court. For example, in Franklin County, Ohio, these instructions and forms are posted on the probate court’s website:
www.franklincountyohio.gov/probate/departments/name_change.cfm

This website is very helpful, but I can’t guarantee that every county’s probate court has done this. In some of the less populated counties, the probate courts have far less resources to set up and maintain such helpful websites. In such a case, you should take time to call the probate court clerk and ask for guidance and assistance through the process.

Keep in mind, in order to successfully change your name; you must follow all the court’s rules exactly. Anything short of that and you could be denied your name change.

What about the “discretionary” thing? How do they decide when to grant the name change and when not to?
Well…let’s see if I can shed a little light on this subject. Along with the statutory law (that is, the textural law – statutes passed by the Ohio General Assembly, signed into law, and codified in the Ohio Revised Code), there is case law, which is law that
is formed by the process of the courts interpreting and implementing the statutory law. In Ohio, the highest court is The Supreme Court of Ohio. Cases decided by that court are binding on all other state courts in Ohio. This means that if The Supreme
Court of Ohio declared that the law in Ohio is to be interpreted and applied in a certain way, then all Ohio courts must interpret and apply the law in that same manner.

In the case of name changes, The Supreme Court of Ohio has said two things that are particularly relevant to the transgender community when seeking to change their name in Ohio.

First, because changing a name through judicial decree implies an official consideration and endorsement of the new name (i.e., the State is doing this), the Supreme Court of Ohio had to develop a standard to guide other courts in deciding when to grant (and when not to grant) a name change. In Ohio, the standard for
deciding whether to permit a “legal” name change is proof that the facts set forth in the application show “reasonable and proper cause” for changing the name (this was decided by The Ohio Supreme Court in the case of In re Willhite (1999), 85 Ohio St.3d
28, 1999 Ohio 201, 706 N.E.2d 778). So, as long as you have a “reasonable and proper cause” for changing your name, the court should grant the name change.

What does “reasonable and proper cause” mean?
First, you can’t change your name in an attempt to commit fraud on someone (e.g., to hide from creditors, to skip out on child support, etc.). Those would be improper causes. Secondly, that brings me to the second relevant case.

In the case of In re Maloney (2001), 96 Ohio St.3d 307, 2002 Ohio 4214, 774 N.E.2d 239, The Supreme Court of Ohio overruled a lower court ruling, and permitted a transsexual male to change his name from Richard to Susan as part of his sex reassignment therapy.

What significance does that have?
Well, courts are bound to follow precedent, and in this particular case, The Supreme Court of Ohio permitted a transsexual male to change his name from a man’s name to a woman’s name. So, if The Supreme Court of Ohio has already decided that that constitutes a “reasonable and proper cause” for changing a name, other courts can’t turn around now and say that it’s not a “reasonable and proper cause” for changing a name.

Why is the case law important to your process?
In Ohio, judges are elected, and not everybody who becomes a judge has ever come across a name change case. Normally, lawyers guide you through the process, and in doing so, they normally do this kind of research “legwork” for the court (which is normally submitted to the court in the form of motions and briefs).

However, few in the transgender community can afford an attorney for a process that has, for the most part, become “self-serve.” During the process, if you find yourself, alone, in front of a judge who is unfamiliar with your particular situation, courteously bring the referenced cases to attention of the court. It might save you another trip back to the court, while the judge gives himself time to do the research that I’ve just given to you.

So, now you know what to do or at least how to go about doing it (i.e., finding all the forms and instructions for changing your name). More importantly, if in the process of changing your name you run into a judge that is unfamiliar with this area of the law, you can help him. Remember; always be courteous and respectful towards the judge!

I hope this helps.

Last, but not least, I highly encourage each of you to do this with the help of a licensed attorney. The law changes with each newly decided case; and attorney can make sure that the cases that I’ve written about here are the most current. You can fill out all the forms and give your attorney this research; it should cut down significantly on the bill.

Keep in mind, changing your name is very important to your transition process – so do it right!

Written by Tara Allison, Esq., TransOhio Board Member & Legal Counsel. Originally published by TransOhio, December 2006, www.transohio.org/news/DecTransOhio.pdf