We take for granted just how useful, how imperative, our names are in our day to day lives. We nonchalantly scribble them down on forms, blurt them out awkwardly when we introduce ourselves to strangers, and write them clumsily on our personal belongings. When our names are congruent with our identities, we barely even notice they’re there. For many transgender and gender diverse people, it isn’t so clear-cut.
It’s important to acknowledge right off the bat that finding your own name is hard. Every time we meet someone, every interaction we have, we ascribe value and character to the names we know based on values and attitudes of those people. Some names can be ruled out straight away – the name of your grade 4 bully, or your recent ex for example. Some names you float for a little while, but they don’t sound just right rolling off your tongue. Other names are too close to your birth-name, or too far away. A name might be too gender-neutral, or not gender neutral enough. We choose our names with function and purpose in mind, and trying to find a name that ticks all of our boxes can be tricky and time consuming. Be mindful that this process is not a race; we work out our identities in our own time.
Once we do find a name, we run into the next hurdle; What do I do with it?
Some people like to ask their partner, or close friends, to use that name for them as a sort of “trial period” to see how it feels. Others create online accounts where they can be known by that name and affirm it for themselves. You might change your name on your phone, so that Siri or Alexa address you correctly. Just because you’ve tried a name out doesn’t mean you have to stick with it! Identity is a messy thing, and sometimes we just need to throw things at the wall until they stick.
Once we’re set on a name, we might start sharing it with the people in our lives, and this is often a part of the wider picture of coming out. There are all sorts of ways to phrase it, but it’s common to say things like “from now on can you please refer to me as [name]”, or “I’m going to be going by [Name] from now on”. There is no right or wrong way to express this, so use whatever feels right for you. You might update your social media accounts to reflect your name and identity, or approach your school or employer and have a chat with them about using your preferred name over your legal name in the workplace.
I use the term “preferred name” loosely, as it implies that using that name is optional for others, and I truly don’t believe that is the case. In this context, it’s intended to distinguish the name someone self-identifies with from the name they are legally known by.
Lastly, you may wish to have your name recognised legally. This is a daunting step that is actually significantly easier than it sounds – you just need to know what the steps are. As exciting as this step may be, there are a couple of things you need to consider first. These are:
- You may only legally change your name once in a 12-month period, so it’s important to recognise that this is a step that is best taken once you’ve cemented a particular name in your mind. The only exception to this is if you wish to change it back to the previous name, which often isn’t ideal.
- There is a fee of $173 to legally change your name, so you may also have to weigh up the financial factor as well.
- Your legal name is not automatically updated on your documents, so you will need individually update your name everywhere it is recorded. This means going to the Department of Transport to update your license, going to your bank to update your card and account, contacting the Australian Tax Office to update their records and so on.
- You can’t remove your birth name from the records – it will still be on your birth certificate, government records, and you’ll have to write it every time a form asks for ‘names you have been previously known under’.
The first step is to grab the forms off of the government’s Births, Deaths and Marriages website. If you are under the age of 18, you will need your parents to fill out and submit the forms for you. If you are over 18, you’ll want to grab form BDM400 – Application to Register Change of Name (Adult). The form isn’t too invasive, so don’t stress if you need someone to help you complete it!
Once you’ve completed the form, the next step is to either take it to the Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages in Perth or post your application to them – the department will not accept emails or faxes.
You’ll need to bring with you 3 identity documents, 1 from each of the categories listed on the form. The first category is photo ID, such as a Drivers License or Proof of age card. The second is evidence of operating in the community; examples for this category include a bank card, a birth certificate or a Medicare card. The third section is evidence of your currently residential status, which can include drivers license renewal notices, financial statements (e.g those letters/emails from your bank that you ignore) or tenancy agreements if you’re renting. If you don’t have the documents listed above, don’t stress! The full list is available on the form, and there are options available if you don’t have photo ID. If you are posting your application, you’ll need to make sure you include certified copies of all the documents.
Once you’ve submitted your application and it is approved, you’ll receive an updated Birth Certificate and a Change of name certificate in the post. Make sure you keep these documents safe, as you’ll need them to update your details!
Our names are powerful tools for asserting and affirming who we are, and finding a name that reflects our identities can be a journey in itself.