Will Florida Grant a Transgender Name Change?

The Associated Press is reporting that a transgender man’s request to change his legal name has been rejected by a Georgia Superior Court Judge.  The man, a sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve, wants to change his legal name from Rebeccah Elizabeth Feldhaus to Rowan Elijah Feldhaus.

In rejecting the request, Judge J. David Roper wrote, “The question presented is whether a female has the statutory right to changer her name to a traditionally and obviously male name.  The Court concludes that she does not have such right.”

So would a transgender person’s petition for a change of legal name to reflect their gender identity be granted in Tampa Bay, Greater Sarasota, or elsewhere in Florida?

Earlier this year, a story was circulating about a Fort Myers transgender man who wanted to change his name from Kimberly Danielle Huff to Billy Gene Huff.  Huff, a professor at Gulf Coast University who was looking to become a professor at University of South Florida, filed a petition for change of name in Lee County, Florida, and his petition was initially rejected.

However, Huff was told the judge would reconsider his petition if Huff filed a letter from a doctor that says he “is undergoing appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition to the new gender.”  Despite misgivings about the request, Huff provided a letter from his endocrinologist, and ultimately the Lee County judge granted the name change.

I would suggest that the Lee County judge was wrong to hold up Huff’s request.  I would also suggest that a transgender person in Tampa Bay, Greater Sarasota, and elsewhere in Florida should not have the tough time that Huff had, so long as he or she had an attorney who was familiar with name change case law and LGBT family law issues.

Put simply, a transgender person has the same right as a cisgender person to change his or her legal name in Florida.

Florida has a long tradition of allowing people to adopt any name that they want.  Before there was a statute addressing name changes, a Floridian could adopt virtually any name at will, so long as it was not for a fraudulent, criminal, or wrongful purpose.  Isom v. Circuit Court of Tenth Judicial Circuit, 437 So. 2d 732, 733 (Fla. 2d DCA 1983) (citing Moskowitz v. Moskowitz, 118 N.H. 199, 202 (1978)).

To keep track of name changes for business, contract, and government purposes, states began enacting statutes setting out procedures and records for name changes.  See Porter v. State, 31 P.3d 519, 521 (Utah 2001).

States enacted one of two basic types of statutes.  See Jane M. Draper, Circumstances Justifying Grant or Denial of Petition to Change Adult’s Name, 79 A.L.R.3d 562, s. 2(a) (1977).  The first type of statute requires an applicant to put forth a good and sufficient reason for the name change.  States that enacted this type of statute view court-recognized name changes not as a right but as a matter of judicial discretion.  In re Tainosian, 97 Neb. 514 (1915).

Other states, including Florida, enacted statutes that limited judicial discretion and strongly encouraged courts to grant petitions for name change in the absent of a wrongful or fraudulent purpose so long as the application was facially sufficient.  79 A.R.3d at s. 3(c).  Because the denial of a request for change of name is contrary to common law and statutory policy, a court must have a substantial reason to deny a petition for change of name in those states, like Florida, that have the more permissive statute.  In re Change of Mullin, 892 So 2d 1214, 1214 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005); Brown v. Name Change, 611 So. 2d 1355, 1356 (Fla. 2d DCA 1993); Casey v. State, 604 So. 2d 1281, 1281-82 (Fla. 5th DCA 1992).

The current name change statute, Section 68.07 of the Florida Statutes, aids a court in determining whether there is a wrongful or fraudulent purpose by requiring an applicant, in a sworn petition, to state, among other things, the following:

  • -whether the petitioner has been generally known or called by any other names and if so, by what names and where;
  • -whether the petitioner has ever been adjudicated a bankrupt and if so, where and when;
  • -whether the petitioner has ever been charged with, pled guilty or nolo contender to, or have been found to have committed a criminal offense, regardless of adjudication, and if so, where and when;
  • -whether the petitioner has ever been required to register as a sexual predator under section 775.21 or as a sexual offender under section 943.0435;
  • -whether any money judgment has ever been entered against the petitioner and if so, the name of the judgment creditor, the amount and data thereof, the court by which entered, and whether the judgment has been satisfied;
  • -that the petition is filed for no ulterior or illegal purpose and granting it will not in any manner invade the property rights of others, whether partnership, patent, good will, privacy, trademark, or otherwise; and
  • -that the petitioner’s civil rights have never been suspended or, if they have, that full restoration of the rights have occurred.

Additionally, unless someone is looking to restore a prior legal name, every applicant for a name change in Florida is required to get fingerprinted and go through a full background check by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Florida Department of Law Enforcement.  Moreover, if a judge wishes, he or she may conduct an evidentiary hearing so that he or she can make a determination of whether the request for a name change is for a wrongful or fraudulent purpose.

Accordingly, it would seem to me that the Lee County judge went beyond the requirements of the law and potentially committed reversible error by initially rejecting Huff’s request to adopt a name that matched his gender identity.  There is nothing inherently wrongful or fraudulent about changing a name to that associated with a different gender, even without any sort of gender reassignment surgery or therapy, unless there is independent evidence that a person – transgender or otherwise – is looking to commit fraud or some other crime.

Florida law is clear.  Barring an illegal or wrongful purpose, unless your civil rights are suspended, a name change should be granted.  Isom, 437 So. 2d at 733 (“In keeping with common law tradition, in Florida a person may adopt a name other than his or her own so long as no fraudulent or wrongful purposes are involved…Therefore, a petition under this statute should generally be granted unless sought for a wrongful or fraudulent purpose [citations omitted].”).

If you have questions regarding name change or other Florida LGBT family law rights, schedule a consultation with Family Diplomacy: A Collaborative Law Firm at (813) 443-0615 or CLICK HERE to fill out our contact form.

Family Diplomacy managing attorney Adam B. Cordover has been on the front lines of Florida LGBT family law rights.  He was an attorney in the first same-sex dissolution of marriage in Florida to challenge the state’s so-called Defense of Marriage Act and constitutional amendment banning recognition of same-sex marriages.

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