The Volokh Conspiracy

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Law & Government

No Name Change for You, Princess


From In re Perez, decided yesterday by the Texas Court of Appeals (Corpus Christi-Edinburg), in an opinion by Justice Clarissa Silva, joined by Justices Gina Benavides and Leticia Hinojosa:

Perez sought to change her name to this symbol:

{In Perez's brief, she notes that the symbol may be represented through text by typing "O(+>". Perez acknowledges that the symbol depicted was first adopted by recording artist Prince Rogers Nelson (Prince). In 1993, Prince issued a press release regarding the adoption of the name wherein he described it as "a symbol with no pronunciation."}

Perez stated that requested the change because "[t]he new name has a very spiritual meaning to [her]." Perez further noted that "[she] now identif[ies] as this person."

Nope, said the court:

Chapter 45 of the Texas Family Code governs the request for a name change of an adult….[:]

The court shall order a change of name under this subchapter for a person other than a person with a final felony conviction or a person subject to the registration requirements of Chapter 62, Code of Criminal Procedure, if the change is in the interest or to the benefit of the petitioner and in the interest of the public.

What constitutes "the interest or … benefit of the petitioner [or] … the interest of the public" is not described by the applicable statutes.

While a petitioner's "own proper reasons" and conscientious feelings about the necessity of being known as and referred to by a specific name may be sufficient reasons to support a name change, a petitioner does not have the absolute right to a name change by court order…. As Perez acknowledges, the symbol to which she seeks to change her name was originally adopted by pop star Prince. In her petition, Perez identified the reason for her requested change as "[t]he new name has a very spiritual meaning to [her]." While we do not doubt the sincerity of Perez's intention, "[i]mposition by assuming the name of a celebrity or other well-known entity … may negate the right to a legal change of name." See In re Erickson (Tex. Ct. App. 1977).

Although Perez does not directly cite to the First Amendment, strongly held religious beliefs do not require a trial court to grant a name change when the requirements of § 45.103 have not been satisfied. Among the requirements in § 45.103 is that the name change be "in the interest or to the benefit of the petitioner and in the interest of the public."

The trial court could have concluded that the name change was not in the interest of the public because the symbol to which Perez seeks the name change has no pronunciation and is not easily replicated through text, which may confuse or frustrate the public, including government entities, such as law enforcement or the Social Security Administration. See In re Muse (Tex. Ct. App. 2018) (concluding the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the petitioner's name change to "Lord Shawn-Lee House of Muse" as only a first name with no surname). Thus, we cannot conclude that the trial court abused its discretion by denying Perez's request to change her name….