Legal Name Change

The following text can serve as a reference if you are changing your name in the State of Wisconsin.

The following text was written in 2009 by a member of FORGE and updated to align with a 2022 guide published by Trans Law Help Wisconsin. Prices have been updated to reflect a more current amount. Here is a Milwaukee County Name Changes Form guide which can serve as a personal checklist.

So you want to change your name? Keep in mind, it doesn’t come cheap and it doesn’t happen overnight. It will probably cost you around $350 and take about 5 weeks. This guide will help you figure out what to do, where to go and how to get everything you need for your name change. Remember, this process only changes your legal name, not legal sex.

If you would like to change your name but cannot afford to do so, keep in mind that TLDEF offers free legal help and name change services for low income trans* people. More information can be found here. The MKE LGBT Community Center also has a Legal Name Change Clinic, and will cover up to $350 of fees.

Pick your Name

Here you have the opportunity to choose a name that best represents you and your identity. Is there a relative, role model or parental figure that you greatly respect? A favorite character in a book, show or film? Some trans people ask their parent(s) what their name would have been had they been born a girl or a boy or asks their parent(s) to rename them. Find the name that best fits you.

You need to make the following decisions, as well:

  • do you want a middle name?
  • do you want to keep the same initials?
  • do you want to change your last name, too?

If you are changing your name to a masculine one (i.e., Timothy, James, etc.) or feminine one (i.e., Emily, Theresa, etc.) rather than a more androgynous one (i.e., Kerry, Robin, etc.), it might be helpful to have a letter from your therapist for court.

Get Forms and Fill Them Out

You will need three copies of each of the 3 forms:

  1. Petition for Name Change
  2. Notice and Order of Hearing
  3. Order for Name Change

You can print these and bring them to the court ready to file! The process of filling them out can be very difficult so be mindful that you might have to fill out forms again at the court house.
You will need to give a reason for your name change on the “Petition for Name Change,” and I recommend using something along the lines of “Proposed name better suits the identity of the Petitioner.” Remember to fill out all three copies of each form and use black ink only.

Wisconsin allows you to apply for fee waivers! If you can’t afford the court fees and have documentation that you are in need of financial assistance, you may not have to pay! This form can be found here.

Get Them Notarized!

You will need to have each copy of the “Petition for Name Change” notarized by a notary public. You can find them listed in the phone book or by searching online. Also, all banks are notary publics, so if you have a bank account, check with your bank for how much it would cost for them to notarize your documents (it is usually free!). If you go to another notary, it will likely cost you $3-$6 for all of the forms to be notarized ($1-$2 for each copy).

Get them filed

Take all the forms to:

Milwaukee County Court House
901 N. 9th Street
Milwaukee, WI 53233

The hours are Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 5:00pm (it is closed on weekends).

Go to Room 104, the Clerk of the Circuit Court Office. I recommend that you go in the early afternoon so that the court session for the day is already over. Wait in line, and go to the cashier and hand them all of the forms. The initial filing fee is about $180.00. The cashier will keep some of the forms for the case file, will assign you a case number and a judge, and give you the remaining forms. If you have financial need, there are additional forms that you can fill out to have these court fees waived.

Go to the courtroom of the judge assigned to your case, and take the remaining forms to the clerk in the judge’s courtroom. The clerk will assign a date to your hearing 5 weeks out from that day at a specific time in the morning, and keep the forms needed for the case file in the courtroom. Keep the rest of your copies safe, as you need them when you return to court.

Publish the 'Notice of Hearing'

You are required to publish a third-class legal notice (once/week for three weeks) before the hearing date. Your best option for publication is:

The Daily Reporter
225 E. Michigan, Suite 540
Milwaukee, WI 53202-4900

It will cost you $131.25 to publish your notice, and very few people will actually read it. It is best to immediately go from the court house to this newspaper in order to get the publication done before your court date. Once the notice has been published for three weeks, you will be sent a “Proof of Publication” affidavit with a copy of the notice included. It is a good idea to purchase a copy of The Daily Reporter so that you have another copy of the notice as a back-up.

Keep the affidavit safe, as you need it when you return to court.

Go to your hearing

Return to the court house and go to your judge’s court room with your remaining forms and the “Proof of Publication” affidavit. Remember: this is civil court, so you must be on time for your hearing. If you show up more than 10 minutes after your assigned time, you will not be able to have your hearing, and you have to start the process all over and pay filing and publication fees again. Get there early, about 30 minutes prior to your hearing time. Come forward when the clerk calls your case, and hand the affidavit to the clerk (and the letter from your therapist if you have one). You will be placed under oath and asked for the information on the petition. If there are no objections, the judge will grant your petition and sign “The Order for Name Change.”

File your 'Order for Name Change'

Take the forms the clerk gives you to Room 104, and wait in line again. Purchase at least 3-5 certified copies of the “Order for Name Change,” which will cost you $5 each. If you were born in the state of Wisconsin, the cashier will forward the “Vital Statistics Form” to the State Registrar to change the name on your birth certificate, and this will cost you approximately $30 (and is required if born in this state). If you were born in another state, look up the process for changing your name on your birth certificate. Take one certified copy to Room 103 to the Register of Deeds (line to the left in the room), and pay the $30 filing fee. This copy will be sent back to you in 4-6 weeks.

Change your Social Security Card

Take the certified copy of your “Order for Name Change” to:

Social Security Administration
310 W. Wisconsin AVE, Suite 260
Milwaukee, WI 53203

Get a number and wait in line. Present the certified copy and your old social security card to the clerk. This step is FREE! A new social security card will be mailed to you in about 2 weeks, and the clerk will immediately return your certified copy to you. You no longer need surgery in order to change your gender marker with the SSA – you only need a physician’s letter. However, not all clerks may be aware of this new policy so it is recommended that you have documentation of the policy change prepared.

Change your Driver's License / State I.D.

Go to a DMV that is convenient to you. If you want to get all of this finished in downtown Milwaukee, there is a DMV downtown (open until 4:00pm, Monday through Friday) at:

819 N. 6th St, Room 190
Milwaukee, WI 53203

If you are looking to get both your name and your sex changed on your license/state ID, it is best to bring the letter from your therapist and your certified copy of “Order for Name Change” to the DMV.

Explain what you are changing on your license/state ID, fill out the appropriate form, and wait in line. When it is your turn, present your certified copy of your name change (and the letter from your doctor if you are also changing your sex). The DMV employee will make a copy of the “Order for Name Change” certified copy (and your doctor’s letter if you are changing your sex) and return it to you. Pay the $14 fee, take a new picture, and walk out with a new (and correct!) license/state ID.

Note: If you have a REAL ID, you will need a social security card with your new name before receiving your new state ID.

NCTE has created a guide to changing your ID/documentation.


Change everything else

There are different processes for everyone, so it can be helpful to make a list of all of the companies, creditors, banks, etc. where you need to change your name and call them/search their websites to determine the steps you need to take. Some are very simple, and you just need to call, some have forms to fill out, and some will require copies of your “Order for Name Change.” Here is an incomplete list: your bank(s), your credit card(s), work, school/college, student loan(s), electric/gas company, phone company, cable company, the state and federal IRS, your birth certificate (if you were born outside of WI), your voter registration, library card, former school(s), and so on.