Legal Lee Me

Hi, I am Jeremiah Lee. As of March 12, 2024, the law recognizes the name I have used for most of my adult life.

A parent’s choice

I don’t know much about why my parents chose Jeremiah Lee for me at birth. My parents gave all 4 of their children Biblical names and raised us in a conservative Christian church.

There’s a book about Jeremiah in the Bible. He was a prophet, which is Old Testament speak for political activist.

When god called Jeremiah to be a prophet, Jeremiah objected. “I do not know how to speak, for I am only a young man,” he said. He was sensitive, introspective, and shy. God replied, “I have put my words in your mouth. I have appointed you to uproot and break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”1

Jeremiah traveled around his country trying to convince people religion should be about strengthening one’s inner spirit and ethical conduct instead of public acts in a temple. He sharply criticized priests early on, which didn’t make him many friends. Yet, kings were interested in what he had to say. He encouraged them to reject selfishness, materialism, and practices of social injustice.

Throughout his life, Jeremiah lamented the burden of the truth he had to speak and the fate of the people who refused to listen. He knew he had been chosen by god for a purpose, but felt inadequate to fulfill his destiny and therefore responsible for the suffering of people he couldn’t reach. Jeremiah later learned messages of hope were more convincing to the people he was trying to persuade and for his own mental wellbeing.

I am more like the prophet Jeremiah than my parents could ever have imagined.2

A child’s choice

As a child, adults often would sing, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog!” from Joy To The World by Three Dog Night when meeting me. I didn’t like that because I thought frogs were gross and gave people warts. As an adult, I think frogs are fascinating creatures and know they have nothing to do with HPV. I also enjoy providing mighty fine wine to good friends.

I chose to go by Jeremy in first grade because it was shorter to write on my schoolwork with my early penmanship. My mom continued to call me Jeremiah when it was just us—or when I was about to get in trouble. Her death and my desire to establish a more grown up identity led me to return to my birth name of Jeremiah in eighth grade.3

A teen’s choice

I felt indifferent to the family name of my father growing up. A few small teases from classmates didn’t bother me much.4 My first thought of using a different last name came when thinking about a more professional online presence. I worked as a web designer in high school. My 1337 online pseudonym didn’t translate well to yokels I was pitching the value of a website to in 2000.5

When working at a local radio station, I learned many on-air hosts did not use their legal names. They created personal brands. Picking an entirely new name felt overwhelming. Lee, my middle name, went from an ignorable tradition and piece of trivia to a simple, elegant solution. Lee punctuated my 4-syllable first name well. It was one of the most common last names in my birth state of Virginia and in my genetic ancestry from Korea and Great Britain. I registered on June 13, 2002.6

A family’s choice

While I used Jeremiah Lee as an online stage name, I did not desire to change it legally until 2008. One side of my family rejected me, my husband, and my same-sex marriage in Jesus’s name. The legal process for changing my name in California was straightforward, but time consuming and an expense I never prioritized over my burgeoning career. Also, I couldn’t figure out a new middle name.

An immigrant’s choice

I started the process in California for changing my legal name shortly after Arthur and I decided in 2016 to move to Stockholm. Unfortunately, the queue for a court appearance was over 3 months long. The delay would have complicated my visa process in Sverige (Sweden, sv-air-ee-yah), so I decided to wait. I did not expect I would have to wait 6 years.

Name changes are a state matter in the US. When I left California, I no longer had access to the California court system. The US federal government then would only recognize a name change from my country of residence. I heard anecdotes of name changes causing chaos at Migrationsverket. Immigrants in Sverige live in constant fear of doing anything that could complicate the processing of a visa renewal, residency application, or citizenship application. Every job change felt like a risk, but came with more money. A name change felt like an unjustifiable risk.

When I received my dual citizenship, I did 2 things. I registered and I submitted my legal name change to Skatteverket (Tax Agency) in Sverige. I thought changing my last name would be as simple as submitting the online form, like many interactions with my new home country’s modern, high-functioning government.7 But as my uncle Jonathan has often said to me after listening to my complications most people don’t encounter, “This life just doesn’t seem to work for you.”

A government agency’s choice

Skatteverket denied my name change. Sverige’s law for “family name” (last name) changes requires the name to be used by more than 2,000 people. This law originated as a protection of noble families from unwanted association. The Riksdag (parliament) updated the regulation at some point to be more egalitarian by using a numerical limit. Lee is one of the most common family names in the world, but only ~1,100 people in Sverige have it as a family name.

I appealed, pointing to the original intent of the law. Lee is not a noble name needing protection. The law also lists several possible exemptions I might qualify for. Skatteverket said a court would need to decide. So then I had to sue Skatteverket.

I thought Skatteverket might just defer the decision to the court because there had never been a ruling on the protected status of the Lee family name. To my surprise, Skatteverket’s lawyer actively opposed my name change.

She cited a recent Supreme Administrative Court ruling that decided the popularity of a last name outside of Sverige could not be considered an exemption. I requested the case files. It was wild. Skatteverket denied a refugee from using her mother’s family name. The Administrative Court ruled in favor of the refugee. Skatteverket then appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court, which overturned the lower court’s ruling. Skatteverket spent much time and effort to deny a poor refugee distance from her unwanted family association.

A stranger’s choice

One detail of the final ruling jumped out at me. Evidence of receiving permission from people in Sverige with her desired family name could have been considered, as they were the ones being protected by the law. I decided to get as many Lees in Sverige as possible to endorse my joining them.

In Sverige, much personal information is publicly accessible. A Swede’s birthday, home address, income, how much they bought their home for, and who they live with are just an online search away. I put up a webpage and sent text messages to every Lee in Sverige I could find with a public cell phone number. I also reached out to people using LinkedIn’s paid sales/recruiting messaging feature.

18 people responded. They represented over 1% of the Lees in Sverige. Beyond their willingness to go on public record in support of my name change, many sent encouraging messages. I am grateful for these strangers and their acts of kindness.

A judge’s choice

On 2024-01-18, the Administrative Court ruled in my favor.

On 2024-02-02, Skatteverket conceded.

On 2024-03-12, my legal name finally matched my name.

I consider my last name at birth a deadname. Please do not use it to refer to me.

A society’s choice

I believe every person should get one free legal name change when they reach adulthood. We get to make many decisions about our lives when entering adulthood. How we identify should be one of them. Legal fees and procedures should be reduced to only as much as is necessary to protect the individual and society.

US states require going before a judge. Sverige has antiquated and counterproductive requirements. This does not have to be that complicated. Leave the courts to decide intentionally manipulative choices like Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116, pronounced “Albin”.


  1. Then for some reason god showed Jeremiah an almond tree to prove he was watching over him. I love almonds. Oh, were you expecting a citation for the quotes? Chapter 1 of the Book of Jeremiah in the Bible. ⤴︎

  2. The prophet being saved from death by a eunuch and me being saved from despair by the queer community is another interesting parallel. ⤴︎

  3. I also met a handsome lead singer in a local Christian rock band who went by Jeremiah and saw someone I wanted to be like. ⤴︎

  4. “If you’re the co-hick, who is the head hick?” I was teased about many other things that did bother me. An incomplete list: my weight, ears, nose, adam's apple, elbows, knees, clothes, haircut, being a late bloomer, and smiling too much. Kids are cruel. ⤴︎

  5. sketcha like sketcher, one who sketches. ⤴︎

  6. I registered a few months later to prevent potential squatting from increased exposure due to the Apple Switch commercial. It only ever redirected to ⤴︎

  7. The exception being anything related to immigration. That’s a shit show both in "Moderate" politicians pandering to neo-Nazis and organizational dysfunction within the government agency. ⤴︎