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Trans women win North Carolina legal challenges surrounding name changes

LGBT Legal Cases Transgender Rights

North Carolina state sealA little bit of transgender rights legal news this morning: two trans women have succeeded in their legal quests to challenge a state law limiting how many times individuals can legally change their names.  Now, thanks to court orders, the two women will finally have the legal names they prefer.  The Advocate reports:

Earlier today, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund proclaimed victory in a case involving two North Carolina trans women seeking legal name changes.

The women, Síle Kelleher and Hadassah Chayim, were denied legal name changes under an 1891 law that limits the number of times an individual can legally change their name for reasons other than marriage, divorce, or reverting to their birth name.

Kelleher had been prevented from changing her birth name to Síle, as she had changed her name once before, in 1995, when she first transitioned. Following family pressure, Kelleher attempted to live again as male, reverting back to her birth name in 1999. When she transitioned back to female in 2008, she was unable to legally change her name — until today’s ruling.

Chayim’s name change was blocked because she had legally changed it from her birth name to a traditionally male Jewish name a number of years back, prior to coming out as transgender.

The North Carolina law in question dated from 1891.  Noah Lewis, a Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund staff attorney, argued before the court that the statute violates the women’s constitutional right to freedom of expression as well as their privacy and liberty interests.  

“Something as fundamental to identity and expression as one’s own name should not be subject to government interference,” Lewis said in a statement. “These rulings confirm that each one of us has the right to be known by the name of our choice.”


  • 1. davep  |  February 24, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Any idea what the original purpose of that 1891 law was supposed to be? All I can think of would be maybe trying to prevent people in debt or in trouble with the law from avoiding their responsibilities, but it seems odd to me that such a law would even exist in 1891.

  • 2. Rick O.  |  February 24, 2014 at 10:10 am

    Surely you are right, and if you think that back then were no centralized records, let alone digital ones, just moving to the other end of the state and obtaining a new name might have been sufficient to disappear. N.C. also has (had?) a law banning costume or other masks covering the face in public for exactly the reason you'd think – KKK.

  • 3. Michelle Evans  |  February 24, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    There is big news about transgender rights in California this afternoon, where a group that has attempted to place the rights of transgender students on the November ballot, has failed to garner enough signatures. The ballot measure is now dead, although the group (the same people behind Prop 8) say they will fight on to have more signatures validated, and thus move forward (or backward as is the more appropriate metaphor in this case).

  • 4. davep  |  February 25, 2014 at 9:31 am

    That's excellent, Michelle! Do you have a link to a news story?

  • 5. davep  |  February 25, 2014 at 9:38 am

    Never mind, just spotted it in the newer thread. thx!

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