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Name Changing Takes Some Effort

By Edited Jul 5, 2015 2 3

My recent and ongoing name change after divorce experience has re-opened my senses to the many changes in the system since the Homeland Security Act has been implemented. Changes not listed on the appropriate websites (DMV, SSN, etc.) didn’t help my research much before I got my divorce decree with my name change. I thought I had everything prepped correctly to go about how to change my name once I had the certified divorce decree in hand. I found out that name changing takes some effort!

To begin with one should know that it is allowed in the United States to change your name without lawyers or courts (minus filing fees). There are two fundamental ways of accomplishing this:

  1. Common law or common usage. Pick a new name and use it consistently. The information shared here is not for minors, they need parental consent. Some of the reasons for name changes are; legitimize parentage, dislike of current name, return to ancestral name, don’t care for sound or pronunciation of present name, divorce, marriage, for professional advantage, and even to correct errors in birth certificate.
  2. Change by court order. A procedure that is written law. Each state has specific rules and procedures for this method.

The first method is a nice way for one to accomplish something for oneself by oneself, but it has some downsides. It is questioned by authorities and officials, and it is not certain in all states. Just think about having to convince a bureaucrat that the name you have assumed is legal through common usage. Good luck with that. Some states may have ambiguous details in the common usage law that make that method uncertain to use. Certainly one should check into the most current law in his state for common law.

The second method is accepted (unquestioned) in all states. The written document is definite, and quick. All states have their own specifics to follow on the validated method. One important note is just that it is a more provable method especially after a person or witness has died. For example, if a name changer had used the court order way, and a deceased person had previously named him in a will (in the old name), how would he prove that he was indeed the same person? The written document is unquestioned.

Neither method rids one of legitimate obligations. They still must be carried out.

Marriage/Divorce Notes
Way back when, the status of a married woman was seen in these words, “by marriage the husband and wife are one person in law; that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband, under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs everything; . . . For this reason, a man cannot grant anything to his wife, or enter into covenant with her for the grant would be to suppose her identity, and to covenant with himself.” (Blackstone, pg 13). Really? Thankfully this was common English tradition centuries ago. Now many women do not take their husband’s sur name, and if they do it can be changed back in the divorce decree, in fact their maiden name can be used (not just the last name, but the whole name, first and middle if it had been changed previously).

social security card(60867)
My ongoing recent experience has been quite revealing and it is worth sharing to save others from the roadblocks that occur. From my research into the matter at hand I thought I knew how to proceed accordingly. The bottom line was to have the certified divorce decree to begin with since I used the change by court order method. I had to call a clerk at the county courthouse (we used the no lawyer method), and investigate why I hadn’t been sent my certified copy which had been paid for. She had to check out (verify) that it had been paid for. Smart me, I had the receipt in case any problems arose. She found the receipt online (everything is done online), and assured me that the certified copy would be in the “will call” drawer under my (old) last name first initial with “no fee” written on an attachment. So, I went armed with what I had read online for my SSN name change since I could bring the certified copy to the SSA office which was nearby and convenient. While I talked with the county court clerk I asked her if I could get more certified copies because the SSN name change required it and so did the DMV and the passport name change. She told me that my little 2 page certified divorce decree costs $22.50, and I would have to pay for extra copies. Wow, how flabbergasting and depressing this gets. She then assured me that she had heard that SSA doesn’t keep the certified copy, and I would get it right back. Well, there is a God. The SSA clerk was quick and didn’t even look at my certified decree. She did look at the SS5 which is the social security name change form I had downloaded, filled out, and handed her. She picked it up and headed away from the desk and I asked her for a copy (I know to get copies of everything I give to any bureaucracy). She told me she was just going to shred it, that they don’t keep copies, so I let her shred it. She handed the decree back to me without taking any photocopy of it or anything. I told her I noticed that she hadn’t looked at it, and would she mind making sure that my name change was correct (on her online typing). She did, and had to correct all 7 pages she had so quickly changed - she hadn’t included my first name which was different from what I had been using. So, lesson number 1 - have the clerks double check to make sure all that you have done and correctly filled out is correctly filled out by them.

Okay, that was relatively easy, so I asked her if I could head over to the DMV office and continue now that I had proof (receipt) of the name change from SSA. She said, “No, it has to be in the system overnight, so go tomorrow.”  Okay, I had to re-drive 40 minutes to and from the next day, but hey, that’s okay, or so I thought.

The following day I headed to the DMV office armed with my certified divorce decree, and proof from the social security office that I had started the ball rolling with them. After a 2 hour wait (pick a number when you enter, and this is in a rural area) I got to present my goods. “Where is your proof of physical address?” I was asked. Of course I didn’t have this, I didn’t have any bills with me proving my physical address! Nowhere do the instructions on the official site state that this is required. I ended up going out to my car and getting my car registration for proof. Okay, then more questions, signatures, an eye test, and, a request for $21.00 cash or check to pay for a new license. What??? I had just renewed my license in June and nowhere does it state that I would have to pay for a new license. I didn’t have cash or check on me. Luckily my bank had an outlet a short distance away. It is almost closing time at the DMV, and I am told that I will have to start all over when I return!!!!!!  I had to wait in line because my clerk had waited on someone else in my absence when I went to get my car registration, and now I had another challenge to meet. I was getting cranky and hating the system big time, but I kept clearly focused on the task and was able to get the money and return to the DMV office before they closed, and take my place in line for my clerk. She did start over, but realized she still had all my signatures on the various papers I had to sign so we were able to finish in time for me to wait to get my fingerprint and photo. Of course the digital fingerprint scan needed to have an override, and that meant waiting for another clerk to do so. I smiled at the clerk and said something about, “Why don’t they just implant bar codes like it’s been predicted?” She looked straight into my eyes and said, “This is next, this is coming.” It was chilling. She also warned me that whatever I did I would need proof of physical address - the Homeland Security rule had begun in April.

So, please know that the current rules aren’t on the official websites, you don’t need to go to SSA first for proof of name change receipt for the DMV regs (they didn’t need it, I could have gone there first with certified divorce decree which they did photocopy, cash, and proof of physical address). Even phoning the offices doesn’t mean you will receive a correct response, so go knowing you may have to make it an adventure! Wish me luck on the passport change next.


Sep 5, 2011 11:54am
Wow! What an ordeal! Fascinating information. Thanks for helping us through this process.
Sep 5, 2011 1:05pm
Yes, and I still have more to do!
Jun 26, 2013 6:21am
Time and money, the two things I have been notoriously short of for the 30 years that I have been Vallin. But it is essentially common-law as people now tell me my "legal" birth name doesn't even SOUND right. Except to my Mother!
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  1. How to Legally Change Your Name Without a Lawyer. Newark: Do-It-Yourself Legal Publishers, 1998.

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