Can I use a shorter version of my first name?
August 20, 2009 11:16 AM   Subscribe

If the name on my birth certificate is 'Jeffrey', can I use 'Jeff' on my next passport or drivers license?

It's not a huge issue, but I feel more like one than the other. I can't believe this is going to be a big deal but is it? Do Jonathans always have to avoid 'Jon'?
posted by flowerofhighrank to Law & Government (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Jeffrey is your legal name, so that is the name that should appear on your passport or driver's license. You can, of course, legally change your name to Jeff.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:18 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

A new TSA program might cause you some problem.
posted by jourman2 at 11:23 AM on August 20, 2009

Why would you want to use a different name on your license? It seems like a very bad idea.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:26 AM on August 20, 2009

New rules require new cautions = TSA and ticketing for flights etc.
posted by Freedomboy at 11:27 AM on August 20, 2009

Personal anecdote: My name is Francesco, it has always been Francesco. I'm named after my grandfather who was named Francesco. On my birth certificate, my name is listed as "Frank".

As a teenager, as I was building up an identity in the bureaucracy, I would always simply put "Francesco" as my given name. As a result, perhaps through a lack of automated verification (which may have change in the intervening years) I was issued a social security card, a driver's license and eventually a passport with that name. Not to mention any number of lesser official documents.

The only time it has ever caused an issue was when I needed to get a police background check for a work visa I was applying for. The police noticed the difference in the documentation and called me in to explain it. It took me half an hour to convince them that I was not cultivating two identities for nefarious purposes, but once I did they issued me a clean police report that identified me as "Francesco $LastName, known alias: Frank $Lastname".

So, I guess what I'm saying is that I have no idea how illegal it is (or even if it is), but if you do it and get away with it, it's likely no one will care. Of course, that doesn't mean you should and I am the furthest thing from a lawyer.

Also, you didn't specify where you are, but the above took place in Canada.
posted by 256 at 11:33 AM on August 20, 2009

no, just use jeffrey
posted by lockestockbarrel at 11:35 AM on August 20, 2009

Jeff is a nickname. Jeffrey is your given legal name.

With all the regulations nowadays, you don't want to put yourself in a position where you'd say, be denied entry to the country or hassled by the cops, because you preferred Jeff to Jeffrey.
posted by jerseygirl at 11:40 AM on August 20, 2009

My legal name is Matthew, but I have several credit cards that say Matt and no one gives a shit.
posted by mattbucher at 11:44 AM on August 20, 2009

When I went to the DMV to renew last year, they forced me to put my middle name on my ID because my passport and birth certificate had it on them - I never had my middle name on any DMV issued ID before then (I'm 38, and this is in New York state). YMMV, but I'd have to say have all your legal documents with matching names just to avoid any unnecessary problems.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 11:50 AM on August 20, 2009

I've used the short form of my first name for many years on everything — passport, state IDs, credit cards — even though the long form is used on my birth certificate. I've never had any problems.
posted by enn at 11:53 AM on August 20, 2009

Jeff for things like credit and club cards; Jeffrey for legal documents like passports, degrees, or drivers licence. (I live in Canada).
posted by jeffmilner at 11:53 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can also be J Middlename Lastname if you want to be.
posted by anastasiav at 12:05 PM on August 20, 2009

Whether or not other people are going to care, the way to make it easiest on yourself is to always use Jeffrey. For instance, why switch to a nickname for credit cards? You'll often need to provide your name exactly as listed on your credit cards in order to validate purchases. If you follow a rule of using Jeffrey anytime you're filling out a form (except forms with a space for "nicknames"), you won't have to think about this. If you switch back and forth between Jeffrey and Jeff based on some idiosyncratic standard you invented, then you'll always have to think for an extra second.

Some of the above advice about how no one cares is questionable. Can you really foresee that you'll never be in a situation where someone who takes their job seriously is going to need to confirm that you're the same Jeffrey so-and-so who filled out some other form? Nope. In fact, it's likely that your names will have to match up at some point.

Do Jonathans ever write Jon? I don't know. Do Johns write Jack? Do Julias write Julie? Do Elizabeths write Liz or Lizzy or Beth? Actually, I'll bet most people with nicknames keep them as nicknames and use their legal names when filling out forms.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:15 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

no one gives a shit or no, just use jeffrey

It's somewhere in the middle. I.e. some people will give a shit, others won't. If you don't mind dealing with the times when someone does (and they may be inconvenient times, and the objection may be expressed in an unfriendly fashion by people in authority) go right ahead. I and "Jim" on a professional license, "James" on a drivers license, and have my last name spelled incorrectly on more than one credit card.
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:27 PM on August 20, 2009

Your passport could say Jeffrey [LastName] aka Jeff. My father's has an "aka" on it. Or is did 20 years ago.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:37 PM on August 20, 2009

One problem that can crop up with using the name Jeffrey is that an alternative spelling is Jeffery (ery rather than rey). Even when I'm quite explicit about the spelling it still gets keyed in incorrectly from time to time. But no one ever mistypes "Jeff."
posted by Jeff Howard at 12:45 PM on August 20, 2009

Yeah, I get Jeffrey, Jeffery, Jeffry, and even Jefferey. And the occasional person who wants to spell it the Geoff way. And over the phone I get "Jess" since apparently I slur my efs.
posted by jeffamaphone at 12:52 PM on August 20, 2009

You can probably do this, but it will cause problems with computers and bureaucrats. Unless you have a very unique last name (on the order of Doug Ten'Napel), don't even consider it. Even if you do, avoid doing it because it will be somewhat inconvenient.
posted by Electrius at 12:53 PM on August 20, 2009

More importantly, I think: if your name is Jeffery, can you SIGN your name "Jeff LASTNAME"?
posted by jefficator at 1:33 PM on August 20, 2009

More importantly, I think: if your name is Jeffery, can you SIGN your name "Jeff LASTNAME"?

My Oregon DL is signed with my nickname. Issued in 1991, never had a single problem. I did have to sign all my mortgage paperwork with my full legal name, which I had literally never done before in my life. I felt like I was committing fraud.
posted by peep at 1:52 PM on August 20, 2009

In the past, this has totally been no big deal. Government agencies in the US are working together to make it a big deal in the future, however. It's already a pain in the ass if you want to fly.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:15 PM on August 20, 2009

Jeff is a nickname. Jeffrey is your given legal name.

One is entitled to use an alias without filing a DBA, name change, or any other legal paperwork. If you establish that name and do business with it, you get to have one extra name, as long as it's not done with the intent to defraud. It's an AKA.

Most banks will want to see a DBA for a completely different name, but they can be persuaded if you show them the relevant law. My bank has no problem cashing checks reading Tom when my given name is Thomas.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:51 PM on August 20, 2009

If it's important to you, just get a legal name change. I have heard these are relatively cheap and relatively easy.
posted by marble at 7:49 PM on August 20, 2009

I'm a Jeffery who doesn't want to officially be "Jeff"--but I dislike being called Jeffery.

It seems to me there are two tiers of nicknames: The first tier are names like "Jeff" for "Jeffery" and "Tom" for "Thomas." I would tentatively put names like "Chuck" for "Charles" here, too. These names seem somewhat official and interchangeable with nicknames.

But nicknames like "The Stifmeister!" or such aren't official at all.

So to reference the bank cashing a check example: If the check said "Tom Jones" instead of "Thomas Jones," I foresee no problem. But if the check is written to "Puddinhead," then there'll probably be problem.

Why are some nicknames more equal than others?
posted by jefficator at 7:33 AM on August 21, 2009

It's because they're different things. Jeff is a diminutive for Jeffrey, and is connected to anyone given the longer form of the name, whereas "The Stifmeister" is specific and related only to one person.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:54 AM on August 21, 2009

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