Session September 5, 2017
from the Circuit Court for Williamson County No. 2016-249
Deanna B. Johnson, Judge
parents of a minor child filed a petition to change the first
and middle names of their child but not the surname. The
trial court denied the petition without a hearing on the
ground: "The Petition fails to state a valid reason for
the name change, especially in light of the fact that
Petitioners seek to change someone else's name." The
parents filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment. They
supported their motion with letters written by the
sixteen-year-old child, the child's doctor, the
child's therapist, and one of the child's teachers,
each explaining why the name change was in the child's
best interest. Without ruling on the motion, the trial court
set the matter for an evidentiary hearing during which the
mother, father, and child testified, and the letters from the
doctor, therapist, and teacher were admitted into evidence.
Thereafter, the trial court denied the motion to alter or
amend because "the controlling law has not changed,
" no "previously unavailable evidence became
available, " and "Petitioners have not shown that
there was a clear error of law or that an injustice
occurred." The trial court also ruled on the merits of
the petition and denied and dismissed the petition. This
appeal followed. We have determined that the trial court
erred by denying the motion to alter or amend the initial
order because the petition stated a claim for which relief
could be granted. As for the court's ruling on the merits
of the petition following the evidentiary hearing, we have
determined that the evidence preponderates against the trial
court's finding that Petitioners failed to show that it
was in the child's best interest to change his first and
middle names. We have also determined that the court's
legal conclusions were based on an erroneous assessment of
the law. Having determined that (1) Petitioners complied with
and satisfied all procedural and legal requirements for a
name change, (2) the preponderance of the evidence
established that changing the child's first and middle
names was in the child's best interest, and (3) there is
no legal basis upon which to deny the petition, we reverse
the judgment of the trial court and remand with instructions
to enter judgment approving the petition to change the
child's name as requested in the petition.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Reversed and Remanded
Elizabeth Noel Sitgreaves and Thomas H. Castelli, Nashville,
Tennessee, for the appellants, Mark and Lynda A.
G. Clement Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the
Court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J. and W. Neal McBrayer,
G. CLEMENT, JR., P.J., M.S.
action was initiated on May 16, 2016, with the filing of a
Petition for Name Change by both parents of the minor child.
The parents ("Petitioners") did not seek to change
their child's surname, only the child's first and
petition, which was signed by both parents, provided all of
the information required by the controlling statute, Tenn.
Code Ann. § 29-8-102. The petition also affirmatively
stated that the person whose name was to be changed had not
been convicted of any of the criminal offenses that prohibit
name changes, that there was no desire or intention to
mislead any present or potential creditors, and that they had
no fraudulent purpose for the requested name change. Three
days later, the court denied the petition without a hearing
pursuant to a Memorandum and Order entered on May 19, 2016.
The order stated:
This matter is before the Court on the Petition for Name
Change filed by Petitioners, Lynda and Mark [A.]
("Petitioners") on behalf of their daughter, Leyna
Jayne [A.] ("Daughter"). The Petition fails to
state a valid reason for the name change, especially in light
of the fact that Petitioners seek to change someone
else's name. When Daughter is of the age of majority, she
can Petition the Court on her own. Accordingly, the Petition
for Name Change is hereby denied.
thereafter, the parents filed a motion to alter or amend and
an amended motion to alter or amend that was supported by
written statements from both parents, the child, and the
child's treating physician, therapist, and
teacher. The supporting statements and letters set
forth the following relevant facts:
1. The minor child, who was sixteen years old, had been using
the name "Charlie James [A.]" socially for over a
2. The child is transgender and is currently undergoing
medical transition via hormone therapy from gender female to
3. Gender identity refers to one's innate sense of
oneself as male or female.
4. Gender Dysphoria ("GD") is a medical diagnosis
that refers to the emotional distress of having a gender
identity that is different from the gender assigned at birth.
5. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Health Disorders ("DSM-V"), GD is the
clinical problem and not simply having a transgender
6. GD may consist of a person adopting the behavior,
clothing, and mannerisms of the experienced gender. Treatment
for GD includes addressing psychological distress through
social transition and medical treatment for the body.
7. Part of the social transition may be changing one's
name to reflect the person's experienced gender.
8. The continued use of the feminine name, "Leyna Jayne
[A.]" causes the minor child anxiety and embarrassment.
9. Although the child is able to use "Charlie James
[A.]" in some settings, the name change is needed in
order to change the school records and other legal documents.
10. Both of the child's parents support the name change
because of the child's gender identity.
11. In Petitioners' initial motion to alter or amend,
they detailed an instance where the child had a severe panic
attack during a standardized test upon seeing the feminine
name and had to go to the emergency room.
12. The child submitted a statement in support of the
petition. In the statement, the child detailed the emotional
pain he endured by being "tethered" to his current
13. The child's therapist, Adam C. Marshall, stated that
the child's birth name caused the child emotional harm.
Mr. Marshall stated: "I am recommending this legal
change in name because I believe it will aid in improving
Charlie's anxiety and depression. Not only do I expect
this to have a direct impact on Charlie's emotional
well-being, but I expect it to help improve struggles at
school, work, and in relationships across the board."
14. The child's doctor, Kristin M. Rager, MD, MPH, FAAP,
FSAHM and one of the child's teachers submitted
statements in support of the name change.
15. All of the statements and letters demonstrated that the
requested name change was in the child's best interest.
response to the motion, the trial court entered an order
setting the Petition for Name Change for a hearing on
September 1, 2016. When the petition came on for an
evidentiary hearing, counsel for Petitioners presented three
witnesses, both parents and the child, each of whom stated
unequivocally that the requested name change was in the
child's best interest. Additionally, the written
statements from the child's treating physician,
therapist, and teacher were admitted into evidence. Following
the hearing, the trial court entered an order denying the
motion to alter or amend the judgment and denying the
petition for a name change, finding Petitioners failed to
establish that the requested name change was in the
child's best interest. This appeal followed.
raise the following issues for our consideration:
1. Whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying
the motion to alter or amend as it made a clear error of law,
new evidence was made available, and the motion should have
been granted to prevent an injustice.
2. Whether the trial court erred by applying an incorrect
3. Whether the trial court erred in holding that Petitioners
failed to demonstrate the name change was in the child's
4. Whether the trial court's denial of the petition
violates the child's First Amendment rights because it
compels his speech.
5. Whether the trial court's denial of the petition
violates a fundamental right of Petitioners to select a name
for their child under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S.
determined that the first three issues are dispositive of
Motion to Alter or Amend the Initial Order
initial order, the trial court denied the petition for a name
change without specifying the procedural basis for its
decision and without affording Petitioners an evidentiary
hearing. When the trial court entered its initial order, the
only filing in the trial court was the two-page Petition for
Name Change. Because the trial court had no evidence,
affidavits, or exhibits to additionally consider, it is
readily apparent that the court denied the petition pursuant
to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) for "failure to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted."
R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted tests only the legal
sufficiency of the petition. Bell ex rel. Snyder v.
Icard, Merrill, Cullis, Timm, Furen & Ginsburg,
P.A., 986 S.W.2d 550, 554 (Tenn. 1999). When reviewing
the sufficiency of a petition or complaint, the court must
construe the pleading liberally in favor of the plaintiffs,
taking all allegations of fact as true, and the petition
should not be dismissed unless the relevant and material
averments contained in the petition fail to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted. Id. Moreover, the
petition should not be dismissed unless it appears that the
plaintiffs can prove no set of facts that would entitle them
to relief. Id.
considering this issue on appeal, we take all allegations of
fact in the plaintiff's petition as true, and review the
trial court's legal conclusions de novo with no
presumption of correctness. Id. (citing Tenn. R.
App. P. 13(d); Stein v. Davidson Hotel Co., 945
S.W.2d 714, 716 (Tenn. 1997); Pursell v. First American
Nat'l Bank, 937 S.W.2d 838, 840 (Tenn. 1996);
Cook v. Spinnaker's of Rivergate, Inc., 878
S.W.2d 934, 938 (Tenn. 1994)).
initial order, the trial court succinctly explained its
reasons for denying the petition:
The Petition fails to state a valid reason for the name
change, especially in light of the fact that Petitioners seek
to change someone else's name. When Daughter is of the
age of majority, she can Petition the Court on her own.
Accordingly, the Petition for Name Change is hereby denied.
considered the court's reasoning, we conclude that the
trial court's decision to deny the petition was based on
a misapprehension of the applicable law. The trial court
misapprehended not only "what" constitutes "a
valid reason" for a name change, but "who" may
file a petition seeking a name change. Because the decision
was based on an error of law, the trial court should have
granted Petitioners' Tenn. R. Civ. P. 59.04 motion to
alter or amend.
persons have the right to change their name at will,
as long as the change does not interfere with another's
rights and is not being made for fraudulent purposes."
In re Lackey, No. 01-A-01-9010PB00358, 1991 WL
45394, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 5, 1991) (citing Dunn
v. Palermo, 522 S.W.2d 679, 682 (Tenn.1975)) (emphasis
added). And as our Supreme Court stated in a case involving a
female lawyer who wanted to keep her maiden name following
marriage, a person's legal name is that given at birth,
or as changed as provided by law. Palermo, 522
S.W.2d at 688-89. "[U]nless and until changed in the
prescribed manner, and absent any fraudulent or legally
impermissible intent, the State has no legitimate
concern." Id. at 689 (emphasis added).
many states, Tennessee has enacted statutory name change
procedures. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§
29-8-101 to -105. "These statutes provide an optional
procedure that is intended not to diminish an
individual's right to change his or her name, but rather
to provide a speedy and authoritative way to exercise
it." In re Lackey, 1991 WL 45394, at *1 (citing
57 Am.Jur.2d Name § 17 (1988)). However,
Tennessee statutes do not provide a separate procedure for
changing a minor's name. Id. Instead, our courts
have held that Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 29-8-101 to -105
"are worded broadly enough to include both minors and
adults. Thus, minors may use the general name change statutes
if they desire judicial assistance in changing their
the minor lacks the capacity to bring suit on his or her own,
the minor's parents, custodian, or legal guardian may do
so on the minor's behalf. Id. (citing Tenn. R.
Civ. P. 17.03). The minor at issue here has yet to reach the
age of majority; thus, the petitioners as his parents are
authorized to file the petition for name change on behalf of
their child. See id.
only restrictions contained in the name change statutes are
set forth in Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-8-101, and none of
these restrictions apply in this case. Tenn. Code Ann.
§ 29-8-102 lists the requirements for name change
applications. It states that applications "shall be by
petition, in writing, signed by the applicant and verified by
affidavit, stating that the applicant is a resident of the
county, and giving the applicant's reasons for desiring
the change or correction." Tenn. Code. Ann. §
29-8-102. Petitioners complied with every requirement in the
determinative factor in a petition to change the name of a
minor child is whether the change is in "the child's
best interests." In re Lackey, 1991 WL 45394,
at *2 (citing Halloran v. Kostka, 778 S.W.2d at 454,
456 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1989)). As the Lackey court
Decisions regarding changing a minor's name should be
guided by the child's best interests. While courts have
generally declined to change a minor's name solely to
avoid insubstantial inconvenience or embarrassment to the
child or the custodial parent, they have approved name
changes when doing so furthers the child's substantial
Id. at *2 (internal citations omitted) (emphasis
foregoing reasons, we have determined that the trial court
erred as a matter of law by holding that the petition
"fails to state a valid reason for the name
change." See Id. ...