Making Your True Identity Match Your Legal One

Whenever someone wishes to become legally known by a name or gender that is different from the one that appears on their original birth certificate, they must use standardized Court procedures in their state of residence to do so. In most states, anyone considered an eligible resident of the state that they live in may effect a legal name change regardless of their citizenship status. A person may choose to completely change their name to a name of their choosing, or may go through the legal name change process to correct prior mistakes or omissions on the original birth certificate.

Wisconsin permits a person to amend the gender marker on their birth certificate upon receipt of a Court Order “to change the name and sex of the registrant on the certificate due to a surgical sex-change procedure,” (S.A. §§ 69.15 (4)). In most cases, the birth certificate will say “amended” on it after the gender marker is updated, but the Court may also order the Vital Records Office to issue a new birth certificate.

If someone who undergoes a legal name or gender marker change subsequently wishes to update other identification documents such as their state ID, driver’s license, or passport, they should follow the guidelines set forth by the governing body for the document in question, typically a state Department of Transportation for state IDs or driver’s licenses, or the U.S. Department of State for passports. Before initiating changes to any document, one must notify the Social Security Administration of their legal name or gender marker change, and submit an application for an updated Social Security Card if eligible. Then, with a certified Court Order, a person may update other documents as required to reflect their updated name. To update a gender marker on any identification document, proof of surgery is not required. Each agency has an independent form used to update associated documents subsequent to a gender marker change, but the information requested is essentially the same across all documents.

Legal Name Changes

Legal name changes require a series of documents to be filed with the Court of the person’s county of residence. Wisconsin Circuit Courts commonly require a Petition for Name Change, Notice and Order for Name Change Hearing, and Order for Name Change , and ask the petitioner to list address information, their current and desired name and to provide a reason for the change. Name change forms also commonly require a person to disclose whether anyone, such as a state licensing board or bar association, would oppose the name change or consider it an attempt to conceal malpractice. Once these documents have been filed with the Court and their associated fees have been paid, Wisconsin State Law requires that the Notice and Order be published in a newspaper once a week for 3 weeks, although the Court may waive this requirement if the petitioner can reasonably prove that publication of the name change would cause a serious threat to their safety. After the 3-week period, the newspaper is obligated to provide the petitioner with an Affidavit of Publication, which serves as proof that the Notice and Order was published as mandated. The petitioner must then file the Affidavit of Publication with the Court prior to the Name Change Hearing. At the hearing, the Court will question the person about the Name Change Petition and supporting documents, and will rule whether to grant the name change.

Why Might Someone Legally Change Their Name?

  • Their birth name no longer suits their identity.
  • They want to honor someone by taking on part of their name as a tribute.
  • Their birth name reminds them of someone who they do not wish to be associated with.
  • Their birth name was originally misspelled.
  • A myriad of other reasons! Our attorneys can guide you through the name change process regardless of your rationale.
  • Their birth name no longer suits their identity.
  • They want to honor someone by taking on part of their name as a tribute.
  • Their birth name reminds them of someone who they do not wish to be associated with
  • Their birth name was originally misspelled
  • A myriad of other reasons! Our attorneys can guide you through the name change process regardless of your rationale.

Legal Gender Marker Changes

As with a legal name change, someone looking to change the gender marker on their official birth certificate must file a petition with the Court to do so. Wisconsin, along with 10 other states, require proof of gender-affirming surgery in the form of a notarized letter from the doctor who performed the procedure. Name and gender marker changes can be adjudicated simultaneously, as Court also requires an Order to modify a gender marker. To initiate the process of updating their legal gender, a person must submit a Wisconsin Birth Certificate Application, Petition for Gender Change on Wisconsin Birth Certificate and Order on Petition for Gender Change on Wisconsin Birth Certificate to the Court. These forms require the petitioner to indicate their current name, relationship to the person on the birth certificate in question, and a brief description of why they are looking to modify their birth certificate.

What If I Am Nonbinary, Gender Fluid, Agender, Or Otherwise Beyond The Binary?

Although progress is being made to allow everyone to one day be able to identify themselves accurately on their official documents, as of yet listing a nonbinary or other marker is not an option in all states, including Wisconsin. States have their own jurisdiction on this matter, however, so residents of a growing number of states have the ability list a gender other than male or female on documents that require gender to be disclosed.

Many LGBTQIA+ and human rights organizations are continually lobbying for nonbinary, ‘X’, or ‘Other’ gender designations on birth certificates and other legal identification documents at both the state and federal level. A number of landmark cases concerning nonbinary and gender non-conforming people’s right to identify as they desire have been won in both state and federal courts, with similar progress being made internationally. Although people in all states do not have the right to identify themselves as they choose, we hope that this will soon become a reality.

Your Legal Name Or Gender Marker Change Was Granted! Now What?

If, after a hearing, your legal name or gender marker change is granted, you should first obtain a copy of the name or gender change order from the Court, as this document will be required to modify official documents in most cases. The main document that must be updated following a name and/or gender marker change is the birth certificate. In order to modify an existing birth certificate, you must provide the Department of Health Services Bureau of Vital Records with certified copies of the name change order and your existing birth certificate. Both of these documents must be court originals, and will be returned to you once the desired changes are completed. Although updating the name and gender marker on a birth certificate can be done simultaneously, both of these processes have respective fees associated for filing and and obtaining certified copies of the updated document if you should need them as evidence to update your information on other records.

If you legally changed your name, you will also need to update official documents, such as your Social Security card, driver’s license, and passport. If applicable, you should also update your naturalization or citizenship certificate, bank accounts, mortgage, state voter registration, and property deeds. You should also notify the post office of your name change, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs if you receive VA benefits or healthcare. Similarly, if you receive public assistance like food stamps or welfare, you will have to notify your state’s social services office so that your SNAP or TANF documents can be updated.

If you legally changed your gender marker in addition to your name, you should primarily update your passport, Social Security card, and driver’s license. Although you may be able to use your passport if it lists incorrect gender information, doing so will likely lead to more scrutiny in airports and when travelling to less-progressive countries. To avoid delays and difficulty, you should begin updating official documents as soon as you receive your name and gender change order.