What’s in a Name?

There are only a few exceptions that allow a court to deny someone the right to change their name. Being transgender is not one of those exceptions. Changing your name is time-consuming and costly and should not be denied based on sexist notions or transgender bias. —Beth Littrell, Lambda Legal

Superior Court Judge J. David Roper is making a name for himself in all the wrong ways. His latest limelight occurred because Judge Roper denied two transgender Georgians the right to change their names. Despite having followed all procedural steps for a legal name change, Andrew Baumert told that he could not legally change his name to Andrew because it was not a name that Judge Roper “could live with.”

But that is not in accordance to Georgia law at all. The test is not what a judge can live with, but rather the name change cannot fraudulently deprive another of their right under the law.

However, Andrew is not the first transgender Georgian this has happened to. Judge Roper also denied Rowan’s name change too. Both name changes were denied because Judge Roper thought it was deceitful of them to change their name to traditionally male names. But there is no way to interpret their name changes to be fraudulently depriving another of their right under the law. soul (1)

If Judge Roper argues that he reads Georgia law to exclude transgender people, that is outside the plain language definition because fraudulently modifies deprives as an adverb. Although I do not agree with this reasoning, it would be a more compelling argument if the word fraudulent modified the noun “another [person].” This would allow for Judge Roper to more closely reach his distinction of being able to live with someone’s name change.

Georgia law requires judges to go under oath swearing,

“that I will administer justice without respect to person and do equal rights to the poor and the rich and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent on me as judge of the superior courts of this state, according to the best of my ability and understanding, and agreeably to the laws and Constitution of this state and the Constitution of the United States. So help me God.”

Judge Roper did not “impartially” perform his duties as a judge; he centered his own opinions—devoid of law—in denying these two Georgians their name changes. Lambda Legal recognized this and filed suit in support of both Andrew and Rowan urging the Georgia Court of Appeals to grant the changes on three primary grounds.

  1. There was no Improper for the Petitioners the Name Change
  2. Judge Roper Improperly Considered the Name Changes and did not Exercise Sound Discretion
  3. By Denying the Name Changes, the Constitutional Rights of Andrew and Rowan were Infringed

IMPROPER MOTIVE

Both petitioners were seeking a name change to have their names match their gender identity. For transgender people, changing your name to match your gender identity means more than getting over dysphoria—it means having access to safety. Today, there is heightened violence against transgender people, especially transgender women of color. Frequently, legal documentation can prevent or insulate transgender people from this danger by not outing them. Therefore, Andrew and Rowan’s motive was to have legal documentation that would allow them access to safety. They were not trying to “fraudulently deprive another” of their constitutional rights.

IMPROPER CONSIDERATION

Lambda argues that Judge Roper’s consideration was faulty because his determination rested on what he could live with. This is not the test. Judge Roper’s consideration did not rest upon Georgia law.

INFRINGED CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS

Self-expression is a constitutional right that both petitioners were denied when Judge Roper said they needed to pick names that he could live with. As a transgender person, not having the power to name yourself can be a devastating and humiliating process.

Judge Roper also compelled the petitioners’ speech by not letting them choose their own names. This is a violation of the First Amendment. By disallowing both petitioners’ ability to name themselves, the government forced them to partake in speech that they did not want to engage with.

Sex discrimination is protected under the Equal Protection Clause. Both petitioners faced discrimination based upon their gender. Because of the sex they were assigned at birth, Judge Roper did not allow them to select a name that was considered “traditionally” male.

MY RECOMMENDATION

However, one legal point that Lambda should have driven home was Judge Roper’s complete abuse of discretion in clearer language. Although Judge Roper’s improper motive and improper consideration are vital to showing that the Georgia Court of Appeals should overturn Judge Roper’s decision, driving home the materiality of Roper’s abuse of discretion would make the brief stronger.

While Lambda’s brief does a fantastic job of laying out the facts, more emphasis on how both men filed proper name changes should make it clear that Judge Roper acted strictly by abusing his discretion as a judge. Georgia law is clear that “the action of the superior court in granting or refusing a proper application to change the name of a person is based solely on a sound legal discretion. The Georgia Court of Appeals has no choice but to reverse Judge Roper’s decisions because their petitions were filed properly and there was no improper motive.

NAME CHANGE RESOURCES

If you need information regarding changing your name, the following resources are great places to start:

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