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May 8, 2013

One person, many names — quite legal!

Filed under: Ken Edelstein — admin @ 5:43 am

One Person, Many Names – Quite Legal

As I write this blog entry, I mentally kick myself for being so positive, for so long, and so wrong. For well over a decade I have been a notary. It has always been my firm belief that any person, at any point in time has only ONE legal name. I am positive many will disagree with what follows. However, read and consider my arguments and those of my licensing authority; on this topic. You just might change your mind too.

The start of today’s awaking came with a routine set of loan docs. Routine, yes, but with a twist. The bank docs had the lady’s married name, title had her maiden name. I am not sure if the names are due to a recent marriage or a recent divorce; however that really does not matter. I spoke to the women in question and she confirmed that she possessed current and valid driver licenses in each name. My usual question would have been – “What currently is you correct legal name?” However speaking to the NY County Clerk’s office really opened my eyes.

“You can notarize any name that can be supported by proper government issued photo ID”, was their guidance. They added that a totally different name (different first name) would also be acceptable under a specific example (which they elaborated upon). Stepping back from
the woman’s marital/name issue a bit. Suppose she emigrated to a foreign country, and in the process received a passport from that country, let’s say Israel – in her “traditional” historical family name. Now she has three “rock solid” ID’s – all different. And, according to my contacts at the New York County Clerk’s office – all of them qualify for being notarized!

My head was buzzing at the end of the signing. I gave her the notary oath twice! Once for each of the two names! I told her that this was a first for me, and went against all of my years of preconceptions. I have had similar situations in the past and fought tooth and nail with title and escrow about “their” problem. I was a staunch “one name at a time” person.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating accepting “stage names” or contractions, or missing Jr.’s or Sr.’s etc. I still require government issued – valid and current – photo ID. And, of course that photo ID must exactly (or more) match the name to be notarized. But my acceptance gate has opened a bit. Now if the affiant can prove “each” name – I can notarize them. Your state regulations many differ. Here in NY State the guideline is a bit vague. It mandates the notary to see “adequate proof” and leaves it to individual notaries to determine in their own mind what is

The big change for me is that it is no longer “only one”.



  1. Can you prove that in New York State, the suffix (Jr, III, etc.) is part of the name and not a description (like the weight or hair color) and hence subject to change without issuance of new ID?

    Whatever the answer is to my first question, suppose the New Yorker wants to visit Vermont and use a Vermont notary. Is his name governed by New York or Vermont law?

    Comment by Dennis — May 8, 2013 @ 11:54 pm

  2. Dennis – the most obvious proof that the name incorporates the suffix is that it is included in the \Name\ box on the birth certificate. It is likely that all aspects of a notarization performed in any state are subject to the notary laws of the state where the notarization takes place. A possible exception is the few states that permit notarization outside of their jurisdiction – that situation is way above me and would require an attorney to answer your question.

    Comment by Kenneth A Edelstein — May 9, 2013 @ 12:21 am

  3. There are about 14,000 variations of birth certificates in circulation, some of which have space for a suffix, some of which don’t. Also, the latest birth certificate suggested by the Centers for Disease Control has the suffix in the same box as the name, but the previous edition does not. Their website has an explanation of the revision process, but there is no explanation of the change. Most of the people who drew up the new certificate were doctors and health researchers; they weren’t all that interested in the name, cuz they don’t even get to see that in their statistics.

    Comment by Dennis — May 9, 2013 @ 2:00 pm

  4. As we are talking about NY State I checked with Wiki and found approx. 1100 jurisdictions in NY State. I’m assuming for the sake of this discussion that all of them issue birth certificates of their own design. Taking your 14,000 and dividing by 1100 gives roughly the number 14 as the average birth certificate format changes for each jurisdiction. Somewhat unlikely, as municipalities tend to chug along with what has worked in the past and try to avoid the cost of changes.

    Comment by Kenneth A Edelstein — May 19, 2013 @ 11:41 pm

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