The sixteen-year-old child was born female but identifies as male. The child is transgender and undergoing a medical transition via hormone therapy from the female gender to the male gender. The child was diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria, a medical diagnosis that refers to the emotional distress of having a gender identity that is different than the gender assigned at birth. Treatment for Gender Dysphoria includes addressing psychological distress through social transition and medical treatment for the body. Part of the social transition may be changing one’s name to reflect the person’s experienced gender.
The child’s continued use of a feminine name caused anxiety and embarrassment. The child was known socially as “Charlie” and wanted that to be his legal name.
The parents petitioned to change the child’s first and middle names. The petition provided all the information required by law.
Three days later, the trial court denied the petition without a hearing, citing the lack of a “valid reason” for the name change and the parents filed a motion to alter or amend.
On appeal, The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court. The Court stated that all persons have the right to change their name at will, as long as the change does not interfere with another’s rights and is not being made for fraudulent purposes. Absent any fraudulent or legally impermissible intent, the State has no legitimate concern in a petition to change a person’s name.
Tennessee’s statutory name-change procedures are found at Tennessee Code Annotated§§ 29-8-101 to -105. The procedures are applicable to both minors and adults.
To change one’s name, one must file a petition giving the reasons for desiring the name change or correction. The only restrictions on changing one’s name are found in Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-8-101, which restrictions are based on certain criminal offenses (sexual offenses) and where the court finds the petition is being made to defraud or mislead. The determinative factor in a petition to change the name of a minor child is whether the change is in the child’s best interest. Three witnesses testified in court, and all of them stated unequivocally that the requested name change was in the child’s best interest. Additionally, statements and letters from three professionals were admitted into evidence, and all of them stated unequivocally that the requested name change was in the child’s best interest. No evidence was introduced indicating any basis for concluding that the requested name change was not in the child’s best interest.
This case is also noteworthy because, according to the Court, “There appear to be no cases in Tennessee that addressed the change of a child’s first or middle name.” All the caselaw until now concerned changing a child’s last name.