An inside look at the process of a name change when you are transgender.
By Jamie Lewis
I changed my name recently. As it turns out, people struggle to take a woman named Jacob very seriously, so a choice was made. That’s right – I am a transgender woman. I’ll start by saying that the legal process of changing your name is harrowing. How to accomplish this task was pretty vague on the county website. After being directed to the appropriate office, I receive a court date and they informed of the documents I need to fill out. What wasn’t mentioned was that these forms were only available from the Juvenile Court’s page (kids, always changing their names you know…). Thankfully I was tech savvy enough to find it there. After my court date, I was granted a legal name change.
My first stop was my credit union. This was one of the most stress-free experiences of the entire ordeal. The rep that helped me was a friend and former coworker. From there, we went to the Department of Motor Vehicles. I’ve never been a big fan of the DMV, this trip, however, was entirely different. Kudos to the gent at the entrance who let me know I could actually use a kiosk for a name change; all I had to do was present the court order when they called my name. That worked, without a hitch. The guy that processed it even remarked: “Think the new name suits you better anyway.” Indeed DMV worker human… indeed.
The Social Security office was also quite seamless. We were in and out in under 20 minutes with a letter in hand letting me know that my new card was on the way. At this point it seems like little to no trouble in completing this task, so what’s the big deal? Bear with me, from this point on it only gets better.
A few days later, I called my insurance company (home and auto). We were driving to Florida, so the last thing I want is to have issues with my car insurance if pulled over. What follows is some of the actual dialogue from the call…
Insurance Human: “Thank you for calling [company] may I have your name and policy number please?”
Me: “Sure my name is Jamie Lewis and my policy number is [number].”
IH: “Ok miss Lewis and what can I do for you today?”
JL: “Well I’ve recently changed my full legal name and am needing to update records on your end accordingly to make sure I’m legal before I go out of town.”
IH: “Yes ma’am I’m happy to take care of that for you, may I have the name of the primary policy owner?”
JL: “Sure, it’s Jacob R Lewis.”
IH: “Umm, ok wait, so are we adding you to this policy?”
JL: “No, I’m already on the policy, I’ve changed my name.”
IH: “Great, and ma’am what is your relation to Mr. Lewis?”
JL:”’I am Mr. Lewis, or at least I was, now I’m not.”
IH: “You… wait… so…”
JL: *Turn voice back to Jake’s voice* “Does this help?”
IH: “Oh man, umm yes everything’s umm… fine. One moment let me see… I’ll be right back please hold.”
Once she got back on the phone everything was ok, except for the total shift in the demeanor of the representative. I was never ma’am again for the duration of the convo, only (very awkwardly I might add) “Jamie.” I was to email my court order and copies of my old and new ID and new Social Security Card. She told me that once those were received everything would be updated on my policy and that there should be no problems. I made sure to ask if both policies would be updated because we had only talked about the homeowner policy during the call. She assured me they would update both. Then I would be able to log on and print new cards and they would send a new homeowner’s policy in the mail.
Let’s try this again
After emailing everything to them, I received an email letting me know the requested changes had been performed. I tried to log on and print the cards, but could only view my homeowner’s policy. Weird huh? It’s almost like I could anticipate this… When I called this time I ended up with a man who was as nice as can be, had it all pulled up, and was just totally perplexed. Then suddenly, he figures it all out.
Insurance Human #2: “Ohhh, here it is. Ok so the reason you can’t see the auto policy is because you aren’t listed as the owner of it.”
Me: “Yeah, that’s what I figured… Let me guess, Jacob Lewis right?”
IH2: “Ma’am I can’t really disclose that.”
JL: “Look in the history of the homeowner’s policy, I am, or at least was, Jacob Lewis.”
IH2: “Wait, what did…”
He managed to be just as awkward as the previous representative, but at least he did manage to end the call with “Have a nice day Miss Lewis. Thanks for choosing [company].” This was at least somewhat humanizing if more than a little forced. But hey, at least now I’m legal to drive, right?
Next up is my health insurance, which is through my wife’s employer. She handled most of this, scanning and emailing forms at work, but like most things in this process, it couldn’t go without a hitch. In addition to the court order, copies of old and new ID’s, and a copy of my social security card, they also needed a new birth certificate.
You would think that the county would let the state know about your name change, right? Wrong! Apparently, governmental agencies basically hate each other and are mostly unwilling to share any information. In order to get that birth certificate, you’ll need to send ID copies and a certified copy of the court order to the state, along with $30 for reprinting, and in 4-6 weeks they’ll get you a new one mailed out.
Did I mention this is also the process that is required for obtaining an updated marriage certificate? Yeah, that’s right, when you get married, the county gives you a certificate, then alerts the state, which files it for reference. When you change your name, the same thing happens, with the notable exception of the ‘alerts the state’ part, which you get to do yourself instead.
Department of Vital Records
After three or four tries, I speak with someone who is completely baffled as to why I want to change my name on my marriage certificate. Thankfully, I don’t have to drag Jake’s voice out to get her to understand, but one more ‘Wait what?’ and I would have had no choice. Apparently, there is no form to achieve this request, you simply write something out on a piece of paper, sign it, and send a check. I would love to tell you that this works, but as of this writing, I have no clue if it does. I sent my check on July 1st. It cleared my credit union on July 6th, and as of September 9th… no certificate.
Hopefully, it comes in soon because I can then satisfy my wife’s employer’s curiosity. Oh and then I can go back to the county clerk and have a local marriage certificate issued (yes, in a complete reversal of the way you would think this works, in order to get a local certificate you have to bring them the updated state version).
The Redeeming Moment
This next company actually deserves praise and we’ll call them ‘Horizon’. This call went a little something like this…
Cellular Human: “Thank you for calling Horizon, may I have your name please?”
Me: “It’s Jamie Lewis.”
CH: “OK, thank you Miss Lewis, and how can I help you today?”
JL: “Well I’m needing to update the name on my account.”
CH: “Alrighty, I’d be glad to help you with that. Which name are we changing?”
JL: “Jacob, that’s the old name, Jamie is the new name.”
CH: “Oh yeah, that makes sense then. Miss Lewis do you have your mobile device with you?”
JL: “I do.”
CH: “OK, I’m going to send you a text with a code, please read it back to me.”
JL: “Sure, it’s [code].”
CH: “Alright Miss Lewis I’ve got that change made for you. Your bill will come in the new name starting with the next cycle. Is there anything else I can do for you today?”
JL: “No sir, you’ve been amazing!”
CH: “Thank you very much, Miss Lewis, thanks for choosing Horizon.”
Notice the professionalism, the nonchalant acceptance of what was going on, and most of all, the continuance of respect throughout the entire conversation. This representative kept it cool and didn’t make me feel like I was literally the weirdest creep to whom he had ever spoken. Furthermore, that the company has such a simple process in place to effect this change was even more amazing. “Horizon” just wants to confirm it’s actually you, then they’re good with it. A reliable network is one thing, but nothing can compare to the joy that comes from doing business with a company that appears to genuinely respect you both as a customer and as a person.
My life insurance company was pretty straightforward, just send in the court order along with a policy change form and that was that. Our mortgagor only needed the court document in an email and they were happy to make the updates. I wish I could say the same for a certain store card I have, which needs the court order and new ID copy along with a
written request as to why exactly I have changed my name.
The local election commission gave me bad info when I called since they assumed I only changed my last name. Apparently for the last name change they just take your word for it, because falsifying a voter’s registration is a big bad felony. Well, we all know that people who change their first name can’t be trusted quite as much and require documentation. I found this out 20 minutes after I left when they called me. This was after first trying to call my wife (maybe to ask her if she was Jamie…?).
The lady that called was very suspicious because there was already someone with that Social Security Number registered to vote! You’d think she would have noticed the ‘Jacob Lewis’ in the former name spot. When I went back in they were totally helpful so I still rate them fairly high all things considered.
The big question
After I publicly came out, a dear friend asked, “What’s in a name?”. I for one can certainly tell you that there is a lot in a name. The thing is, so few people even know of a trans person. Fewer still know one of us personally (indeed, we are much akin to unicorns). Some say it’s easy for folks to be confused.
Why should they have to use new names and pronouns? What’s wrong with the ones we already have? For me, every time someone uses ‘he’, ‘him’, or ‘Jake’ I relive the anxiety I felt during changing my name. Some say it is really hard for some folks to get used to calling me Jamie. While I am totally sympathetic to mistakes, I feel like that mindset breeds laziness. As long as folks have an excuse to hide behind, they don’t have to try to change. Continuing with what is comfortable to them at the expense of what is comfortable to me.
My hope is that people will begin to understand just how much effort goes into owning that new name. Then maybe the next time they run into one of us unicorns, they’ll try just a little bit harder.