Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

The Transitive Property: What’s in a Name?

On Friday afternoon, I stood in line at the county Superior Court, my name change papers shaking in my hand. It was a rather drab place, with gray walls and a grumpy policeman at the front door who looked at me suspiciously and made me take off my shoes and walk through a metal detector. I was more nervous than anything. I was surrounded by people seeking custody for their children, filing restraining orders and complaining about traffic tickets, all expressing how unfair life was to them.

I didn’t feel like a victim—I did before, during my angsty coming out period, when I was jealous of everyone who wasn’t transgender (and believe me, being jealous of more than 95 percent of the population took up a lot of energy). But now, no hard feelings. One of the main reasons why I wanted to change my name is for grad school applications. The name on my transcript is my legal name, which is at the moment my female name.

The clerk at the front desk was this angry black woman who seemed perpetually pissed off. I was a bit scared, since she was being rather terse at the people before me. My turn came. I walked up to the window. She looked at me over her glasses.

“We’ve only got 10 minutes. What are you here for?” she asked.

I couldn’t quite talk. “I want to legally change my name,” I croaked. I handed her my paperwork under the window partition between us.

She stared at me for a moment. I thought that she was going to laugh at me or ask me why the hell I wanted to change my name. But she didn’t. Maybe it was because I wasn’t complaining about the evils of some other human being, or maybe it was because I was this cute little scared Filipino boy. Either way, she must have sensed my discomfort, and she was nice. She asked me what school I went to, my major, told me that I had a nice name and that I looked young for my age. I didn’t think that clerks at the Superior Court would have souls, after all the crap that they have to go through, with divorce and restraining orders and such. But my interactions with this clerk were surprisingly comforting, and I appreciate her for it.

My legal name is Cristina Marie Soriano Bautista, about to change it to Cristopher Marc Soriano Bautista. One of the cool advantages of being trans is that you get to choose your own name. My name is a combination of a name that I chose and a name that my parents chose for me. At first I was going to be “Cristian,” but at the time, I knew several other Christians, and I didn’t want to cause any confusion. But I didn’t know any Cristophers, and I liked how any combination of the three syllables could form a nickname for me (“Cristoph,” “Topher,” and “Toph” came to be my favorites). So I decided on Cristopher. As for “Marc,” there’s a much more meaningful story—if I had been born physically male, my parents would have named me “Marc” because the “m” and the “c” were their initials, and they wanted to have them included in their first child’s name. Therefore, I was Marc. I consider “Cristopher Marc” to be my name more so than my birth name ever was.

In the state of California, it costs $355 to file a name change request. Not only that, but in addition to filing a request, for four consecutive weeks I have to post an ad in a local newspaper that expresses my intention to change my legal name, which costs about $200. It’s a process that takes about $550 dollars total (or more, depending on the newspaper). I understand that legal name change costs are so steep so that people don’t want to change their names to “God” or anything, but part of me thinks it’s a bit unfair for transgender folk. I feel that if trans people could include a letter from a gender specialist or therapist with their name change application, the fee could be waived or at least reduced—but that’s not how it is. It bothers me a bit that I’ll have to spend hundreds of dollars to acquire what many people take for granted. But whether that name or pronoun matches up with their birth certificate, all people deserve to be recognized by their preferred name and pronoun, even it takes several hundred dollars.

With a couple stamps and rifling through paperwork, my request was officially filed. Dec. 2, 2010 at 2:30 p.m. is my court date. On that day, 66 days from the publication of this column, I will finally legally be Cristopher Marc Soriano Bautista. That day can’t come soon enough.

If you want to learn more about Cristopher’s epic adventures at the Superior Court, e-mail him at cmsb@stanford.edu.

  • Miah

    I recently changed my name in San Francisco. I published with ‘The Recorder’ which is some legal newspaper, and it only cost $45. Its best to ask the clerk which news papers you can publish in, and which is the cheapest.

  • Awesome share. Thanks so much!!!