It’s a seemingly simple question, one that’s uttered daily from the barista at the coffee shop to a potential boss at a job interview: “What’s your name?” But a name is more than just a way to address someone. And when the name you were given at birth no longer fits, changing it can be a complicated (and costly) process.
For those who are embarking upon the name-change journey, the nonprofit Colorado Name Change Project (CNCP) is a valuable resource. Created in November 2016 by lawyer Emma Shinn, CNCP helps individuals navigate Colorado’s court system, as well as state and federal agencies to change not only one’s legal name, but also their gender marker. Thus far, more than 7,200 people have used CNCP’s website and form generator; 90 percent of those people identify as transgender.
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Shinn said that she and some friends began discussing the idea for CNCP in the summer of 2016, but the motivation to make it a reality didn’t come until the presidential election that November. There was feeling of fear, not only on a personal level, Shinn says, but in the entire trans community.
“That was really the impetus for making it happen,” Shinn says. “I had also gone through my name change, and I realized how big of a pain in the butt it is, and how confusing it can be for the layperson.”
This legal journey is often time-consuming and expensive. The average timeline for legally changing one’s name can range from three weeks to three months, depending on the county in which the petition is filed and the timing of the publication piece (unless a motion is filed, name change petitioners must publish their proposed name change in a local newspaper), according to Shinn. The cost for changing one’s name can range from about $230 to $325; the cost for changing a gender marker varies by county.
To make this process easier, CNCP’s website details the process, step-by-step: getting fingerprints taken for a background check (it takes about three weeks to get the results back); filling out the proper forms; filing the petition; attending the court hearing; publishing the proposed name change and finally receiving the signed copy of the decree for name change. After all the boxes are checked and the decree has been signed, the name change is legal and petitioners can move on to the next step—updating identity documents.
It’s at this point that trans people can also change the gender marker, a process that’s a bit easier in Colorado, Shinn says, as a letter from a medical health provider or behavioral health provider will suffice for evidence. Once an individual’s name and gender have been changed, then they can begin the process to alter important forms of identification, like a social security card, driver’s license, passport, and more than 20 other documents.
Shinn says a major sticking point for some people who are interested in making changes to identity is just not knowing where to start. CNCP simplifies the process, making it easy for individuals to complete the process on their own.
“However, the biggest hurdle that I’ve seen is cost,” Shinn says. “People in the transgender community are faced disproportionately with joblessness and homelessness; if they’re not jobless then a lot of them are underemployed. So, it’s a challenge for a lot of trans people to get the $69 just to start the fingerprinting.”
Because of this need, CNCP recently started awarding micro-grants to help cover the filing costs for individuals in need. As of press time, Shinn says they’ve given three micro-grantsand are working on formalizing the application process so more can be distributed.
For many people, the idea of having the correct name and gender on a driver’s license or passport is a non-issue. However, for a transgendered person, this means stability. It means applying for a job and not having questions raised on a background check; it means being able to travel without questions.
But there’s also a more fundamental importance.
“There’s also the intrinsic value of having a name that represents who you actually are and having that confidence, having that piece of paper that says the state or the federal government recognizes you,” Shinn says. “It allows people to put the fears of applying for jobs and all that stuff behind and to say, ‘You know what? I can do this,’ to move forward with their lives.”
Get Involved: For more information on the Colorado Name Change Project, or to make a donation, visit namechangeproject.org. CNCP also conducts free workshops explaining the process to change your name or gender on the fourth Saturday of each month at the the Gender Identity Center of Colorado, 3460 S. Federal Blvd., Englewood.