SRLP’s Name Change Guide
Updated September 2016
- Only New York City residents may change their name in New York City Civil Court. New York State Residents will need to go to their county’s Supreme Court.
- These instructions only apply to people who are at least 18 years old. If you are under 18, your parent or guardian will need to petition on your behalf and you will need to show the judge the name change is in your best interests.
- This page only has general legal information. For legal advice, please consult a lawyer. While we try to keep this information up-to-date, we cannot guarantee that it is current because of how quickly laws, fees, agency rules and court procedures can change.
- For more information or for legal help and you are transgender, gender nonconforming and/or intersex, please contact the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) at 212-337-8550, extension 308. You may also call any other qualified legal services provider or the clerk of your local court to learn more about name changes.
Getting All the Papers
- To change your name in NYC, you need a Petition and your Birth Certificate. We recommend using the Petition available on the New York County Civil Court web page, available here. You can also download blank copies of our sample Petition at the bottom of this page.
- Complete the Petition by adding your personal information. If anything from #5-9 in the Petition applies to you, simply explain. For example, if you have ever been convicted of a crime, say when, where, and for what you were convicted and what happened with your case.
- For the grounds of your application, say whatever you want the judge to know about why you want a name change. You do not need to use any of the language in the blank Petition—it is just an example. It is completely up to you what you want to share with the judge about your reasons for changing your name, just so long as what you say is true.
- Name changes usually need to be published in a newspaper, unless the judge says you don’t have to because of a risk to your safety or because of you invoking 64-a, found here: http://law.justia.com/codes/new-york/2014/cvr/article-6/64-a. If you have any specific reasons why you would be at risk if you published, add them to #11. For example, many survivors of domestic violence or hate crimes believe they would be at risk if they are required to publish their personal information.
- Sign the Petition with your current legal name and have it notarized. Many banks will notarize for free if you bring your ID and your paperwork. You may also have it notarized at the clerk’s office at Name Change Court. If you do not understand English, whoever translated the Petition for you should sign and have notarized an “affidavit of translation.”
- Get a certified copy of your birth certificate in NYC or New York State unless you were born outside New York or if you already have one. If you were born in NYC, go to www.nyc.gov/html/doh/home.html or call 212-788-4520 to find out how to get a copy. If you were born in New York State, go to this page.
- If you are an immigrant who has status in the U.S. and lives in New York, you have a right to change your name here. If you do not have a birth certificate, you should be able to use immigration documents instead such as a Passport or a Travel Document. If you are an undocumented immigrant and live in New York, you may also be able to change your name here, but it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer first because you may have to give notice to USCIS.
- Under the law, trans people are not required to show medical evidence about our transitions to change our names. Most of the time, judges correctly follow the law. But some judges still wrongly deny a name change for trans people if there is no medical evidence. If you wish to include medical documentation, you may have your doctor, social worker, or psychologist write a letter explaining why they support your name change petition, but it shouldn’t be required. If your name change gets denied because you did not include medical evidence, you can either seek legal help to get your name change granted without it, or you can submit the medical evidence at that point, your choice.
- If you have criminal convictions, you will also need to submit a certificate of disposition for each conviction or a rap sheet. You can get a copy of your certificate(s) of disposition from the court where you were convicted and it is free if you have benefits, otherwise it costs $10 per disposition. The Legal Action Center is a non-profit that helps people get copies of their rap sheets (212-243-1313). If you choose to submit a rap sheet, you should look it over closely. Often, there are mistakes on rap sheets. If your rap sheet shows that there is a warrant open for your arrest, it is important that you take care of that before you file your rap sheet in court. Talk to a lawyer for advice.
- Attaching other documentation about things you say in your Petition can make the process easier. For example, if you are asking to be excused from publication because of domestic violence and have an Order of Protection, attaching a copy of that order to your application can help. Also, if you cannot afford to pay the fee for filing a name change, bringing a copy of an award letter or other proof of income or inability to pay may help you waive the fees.
Filing the Papers
- Once you have your papers ready, you can file your name change application in the civil court of any of the five boroughs, no matter which borough you live in. (Manhattan: 111 Centre Street Bronx: 851 Grand Concourse; Brooklyn: 141 Livingston St.; Queens: 89-17 Sutphin Blvd.; Staten Island: 927 Castleton Ave.). This overview is Manhattan-specific. Please note that the process differs in different boroughs of NY. However, you can change your name in Manhattan no matter what borough you live in. If you go to court in another borough, please call the court clerk to make sure you are doing everything correctly.
- After you go through security to enter the court, go to the clerk’s office that handles name changes. In Manhattan, it is room 118 on the ground floor level near the exit.
- Get on the line marked “name change.” Tell the clerk you are filing for a name change and give the clerk your papers. If you were born in New York, the clerk will keep your original birth certificate. If you were not born in New York, the clerk will make a photocopy of your birth certificate and give you back the original. The clerk will also tell you that you need to pay a $65 fee.
- If you cannot afford this fee, tell the clerk that you need to “proceed as a poor person” and fill out the form that the clerk will give you (it will ask you questions about your income, property and expenses, such as rent). You should hear in a couple of days whether your petition to proceed as a poor person was approved. If it was approved, you will be given an index number and a court date. If it wasn’t, the clerk will either ask you to come in with more information or proof of your income or tell you that you will have to pay the fee. You may call the clerk (646-386-5609) or go to their office in person to check on it if you don’t hear from them.
- If you can afford this fee, go to the cashier to pay. The cashier only accepts cash (in exact change), money orders, and certified checks, NOT personal checks or credit cards. The cashier will give you a receipt with your index number on it. Keep this receipt. Then go back to the clerk, who will take your papers.
- The clerk will assign you a date for a name change hearing. If you know you can not make it on that date, just tell the clerk and ask for a later date. Your name change hearing will probably be scheduled for around one to four weeks after the date you file your papers. (This procedure can be different in other boroughs. For example, in Brooklyn, you will usually see a judge on the same day you file the papers.)
- If you are currently incarcerated or on parole for a violent felony offense, you will need to give notice of the hearing date to the DA and the court where you were convicted.
- Name change hearings vary according to the judge you get. Generally, the hearing is fairly straight forward. When you get to court for your hearing, make sure to let the court officer know that you have arrived. There is a calendar outside the courtroom that will list your name and a number. It is easier for the court officer if you give them the number beside your name. Then, sit in the courtroom until you hear your name called. For those in Manhattan, Court usually starts at 11:00 am in Room 428 on the Fourth Floor at 111 Centre Street. You will have to go through security to get inside.
- Sometimes there is almost no wait at all. Other times you may need to wait for one or two hours before you are called. When you are called, walk up to the front of the courtroom, directly in front of the judge. The judge will ask you a few questions. Just respond briefly and honestly. The questions are usually easy and never last very long. Sometimes, your name will not be called at all due to the fact that the judge decided not to ask you any questions.
- Once the judge finishes deciding about all of the name changes, the name change files will be given to the clerk. You and everyone else there will then be asked to wait, usually for around 10 to 30 minutes, until the clerk is ready. Then, the clerk will give everyone instructions on what to do next.
- Most of the time name changes are approved the first time. If yours is denied, be sure to get a copy of whatever the judge wrote explaining the reasons for the denial. Don’t panic—many problems are very easy to fix and your name change will probably be granted on a second try. Call the Sylvia Rivera Law Project or another legal service provider right away if you want help appealing or filing again.
Publication and Service
- If you haven’t been excused from the publication requirement, the clerk will give you a photocopy of your name change order, which has already been signed by the judge, and explain the publication requirement. You will need to publish within 60 days of the date the order was signed. Then, you will need to file proof that you published within 90 days of the date the order was signed.
- The order may say you have to publish in a certain paper. If you have a choice, the Irish Echo is the least expensive place to publish. It has a flat fee of $35. If you submit the notice by Friday at 2 p.m., you can have it published in the edition that comes out the next Wednesday. Then, you can pick up the proof of publication that Friday. The New York Beacon is the second cheapest paper. The clerk will give you the addresses of the papers.
- The judge might also have decided you need to “serve notice” of your name change on certain places, like the Division of Criminal Justice Services. If so, make a copy of the order and mail it to the address the clerk gives you. Be sure to take the envelope to the post office and have them give you a Certificate of Mailing (which costs less than $1.00). This is your proof of service.
- Once you have the proof of publication and/or service, go back to the court and give that proof to the clerk. If you missed the 60 or 90 day deadline, ask for a “nunc pro tunc” form so you can explain why you were late and ask the judge to accept your proof anyway. These requests are almost always approved.
- Once your proof has been accepted,your name change is complete! You can then buy certified copies of your name change order for $6 a piece. If you decide you need more later, you can always go back to court and get more. You can use the certified copy of the name change order to change your name on documents including your Social Security card, driver’s license, state ID, Medicaid card, passport, immigration documents, or birth certificate among others.
Changing Your ID’s
Now that you have legally changed your name, you can start the process of updating all of your ID documents. Please check out SRLP’s Guide to Changing Your ID Documents for more information.