A Person’s First Name Cannot Be Changed On the Ground of Sex Reassignment
Petitioner invoked his sex reassignment as the ground for his petition for change of name and sex. As found by the trial court:
Petitioner filed the present petition not to evade any law or judgment or any infraction thereof or for any unlawful motive but solely for the purpose of making his birth records compatible with his present sex. (emphasis supplied)
Petitioner believes that after having acquired the physical features of a female, he became entitled to the civil registry changes sought. We disagree.
The State has an interest in the names borne by individuals and entities for purposes of identification. A change of name is a privilege, not a right. Petitions for change of name are controlled by statutes. In this connection, Article 376 of the Civil Code provides:
ART. 376. No person can change his name or surname without judicial authority.
This Civil Code provision was amended by RA 9048 (Clerical Error Law). In particular, Section 1 of RA 9048 provides:
SECTION 1. Authority to Correct Clerical or Typographical Error and Change of First Name or Nickname. – No entry in a civil register shall be changed or corrected without a judicial order, except for clerical or typographical errors and change of first name or nickname which can be corrected or changed by the concerned city or municipal civil registrar or consul general in accordance with the provisions of this Act and its implementing rules and regulations.
RA 9048 now governs the change of first name. It vests the power and authority to entertain petitions for change of first name to the city or municipal civil registrar or consul general concerned. Under the law, therefore, jurisdiction over applications for change of first name is now primarily lodged with the aforementioned administrative officers. The intent and effect of the law is to exclude the change of first name from the coverage of Rules 103 (Change of Name) and 108 (Cancellation or Correction of Entries in the Civil Registry) of the Rules of Court, until and unless an administrative petition for change of name is first filed and subsequently denied. It likewise lays down the corresponding venue, form and procedure. In sum, the remedy and the proceedings regulating change of first name are primarily administrative in nature, not judicial.
RA 9048 likewise provides the grounds for which change of first name may be allowed:
SECTION 4. Grounds for Change of First Name or Nickname. – The petition for change of first name or nickname may be allowed in any of the following cases:
(1) The petitioner finds the first name or nickname to be ridiculous, tainted with dishonor or extremely difficult to write or pronounce;
(2) The new first name or nickname has been habitually and continuously used by the petitioner and he has been publicly known by that first name or nickname in the community; or
(3) The change will avoid confusion.
Petitioner’s basis in praying for the change of his first name was his sex reassignment. He intended to make his first name compatible with the sex he thought he transformed himself into through surgery. However, a change of name does not alter one’s legal capacity or civil status. RA 9048 does not sanction a change of first name on the ground of sex reassignment. Rather than avoiding confusion, changing petitioner’s first name for his declared purpose may only create grave complications in the civil registry and the public interest.
Before a person can legally change his given name, he must present proper or reasonable cause or any compelling reason justifying such change. In addition, he must show that he will be prejudiced by the use of his true and official name. In this case, he failed to show, or even allege, any prejudice that he might suffer as a result of using his true and official name.
In sum, the petition in the trial court in so far as it prayed for the change of petitioner’s first name was not within that court’s primary jurisdiction as the petition should have been filed with the local civil registrar concerned, assuming it could be legally done. It was an improper remedy because the proper remedy was administrative, that is, that provided under RA 9048. It was also filed in the wrong venue as the proper venue was in the Office of the Civil Registrar of Manila where his birth certificate is kept. More importantly, it had no merit since the use of his true and official name does not prejudice him at all. For all these reasons, the Court of Appeals correctly dismissed petitioner’s petition in so far as the change of his first name was concerned.