Hadassah Chayim (left) and Síle Kelleher.
Two North Carolina Trans Women Win Name Change Cases

By Parker Marie Molloy

Originally published on Advocate.com February 21 2014 6:23 PM ET

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.

"Something as fundamental to identity and expression as one's own name should not be subject to government interference," TLDEF staff attorney Noah Lewis, who represented both women, said in a statement today. "These rulings confirm that each one of us has the right to be known by the name of our choice."

In court, Lewis argued that the provision barring multiple name changes raises constitutional concerns, as denying these name changes would appear to violate the constitutional right to freedom of expression. The judge agreed, ruling that "denying a name change would cast doubt upon the constitutionality" of the law, granting the change.

In the years leading up to today's ruling, Kelleher had become the target of discrimination and accusations of fraud anytime she found herself forced to present legal identification.

"I am finally free to be myself with a name that matches who I truly am," Kelleher said in TDLEF's statement today. "No one should be forced to use a name that doesn't match who they are. I am absolutely thrilled that I will no longer be subject to scrutiny because of my name."

Contributor: 
Parker Marie Molloy