I don't know who I am any more
October 7, 2010 12:51 PM   Subscribe

In the US (Illinois, specifically) I changed my name legally, or so I thought. Now it appears the name change may not have happened. How can I confirm beyond a doubt whether the name change legally exists or not, and if not, what's next?

Roughly a decade ago, I changed my name in Chicago, and began using that name for all personal and professional business. Now I need a copy of the paperwork so I can renew my expired passport (which has my old name), and nice/helpful as they were, nobody in Chicago or Springfield seems to have a record of the change. So far I've spoken with Vital Records in Springfield, the Circuit Court in Chicago, and Vital Statistics in Chicago; nobody can find a record in my old name at all, and the only hit for my new name has a *very* different old name attached.

Relevant to the question about whether or not the legal change actually happened: I paid a fee, I filled out a form, I stood in line in a storefront in Chicago, and I submitted the paperwork I received to the DMV to get my license changed. I began using the new name immediately, and shortly thereafter moved to California, obtaining credentials under the new name. Since then I've opened bank accounts and credit lines, bought cars, taken out mortgages, and paid many, many bills using the new name -- so that's what my credit report shows. Of all the paperwork in my possession, only my social security card and passport have the old name. I do not remember if I sent the name change paperwork to the social security folks back in 1999.

So, the first question: are there any other places I should be calling in Chicago/Illinois to see if there's a record of the change?

The second question: if there's no record, does my 10+ year history of consistent name usage give my name change any kind of legal standing, or have I been unintentionally using a fake name all this time?

The last question: if there's no record and no legal standing from my 10+ years of usage...what now? Should I be attempting to change it legally in Illinois? In California? Should I not attempt to change it, and start trying to move all my paperwork (including mortgages and bank accounts) back to my old name? Is there a name for the type of lawyer who specializes in this?

All knowledge sharing appreciated, except "you should have kept a copy of the paperwork", because this I already know.
posted by davejay to Law & Government (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Did you try the DMV?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:56 PM on October 7, 2010

Response by poster: Not yet; at the moment, attempting to contact their 1-800 number results in a horrible, painful midrange buzz and no ringing/answering whatsoever.
posted by davejay at 1:03 PM on October 7, 2010

Response by poster: Speaking of that, the toll free number appears to be for within Illinois only, and there's no non-toll-free number listed. If anyone has the DMV non-toll-free number, that'd rock.
posted by davejay at 1:04 PM on October 7, 2010

The local vehicle services number is 312-793-1010. I think that's basically the DMV, but it might be too specific towards vehicles for what you need.
posted by niles at 1:07 PM on October 7, 2010

Oh, here's the page with that number, along with several other resources.
posted by niles at 1:08 PM on October 7, 2010

I changed my name in Virginia through the the Circuit Clerk, but talk to the County Clerk when I needed a new copy of my paperwork. My process to both change my name and get copies sounds a lot easier than yours.

I tell them my new and old names, the date range when it was enacted, and show my ID. They pull the physical document and make a copy. If you can't get to the Circuit or County Clerk's office in person, you should be able to arrange for them to pull it with a letter swearing you are you, a SASE, and some money. Based on my mother's genealogical research and requesting birth/death/marriage docs, it may take several weeks for you to either get a copy or a note saying that it is not available/findable.

It sounds like their electronic index may be screwy if your old name/new name includes a very different name. This is why you want them to go and pull the physical file. The DMV won't accept just any form with the County stamped on the top; the generally want the notorized, judge-approved document before they'll change the name. It must exist somewhere.
posted by julen at 1:17 PM on October 7, 2010

IANYL. In Illinois, at least today, I think that you need to petition the court for a name change, and it is a relatively involved and annoying process. I believe that you actually have to appear before a judge to do so. Currently, it's a lot more involved than most states, and is a lot more than filling out forms. Maybe that has changed, but it kind of sounds like you got ripped off with this process: I paid a fee, I filled out a form, I stood in line in a storefront in Chicago, and I submitted the paperwork I received to the DMV to get my license changed. It would not surprise me if the DMV just ignored what you sent them because it was not legally sufficient.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 1:30 PM on October 7, 2010

I filled out a form, I stood in line in a storefront in Chicago, and I submitted the paperwork I received to the DMV to get my license changed.

This sounds strange to me. This is the name change proceedural document for DeKalb County in Illinois. Most counties will do something similar. Note that the third page gives the actual state statute about name changes. All this makes me think that name changes need to include a court appearance in a state circuit court. (When my name was changed (as a minor) in Maine it involved a court appearance, although I was a minor, so that may have been special circumstances.) Also, you should have been instructed to keep a copy of the court decree.

Honestly? I don't think your name was legally changed, although I'm surprised the DMV accepted the name change without the proper paperwork.
posted by anastasiav at 1:31 PM on October 7, 2010

Response by poster: Progress: I just talked to Social Security, and they have the new name on file -- only they have a slightly different spelling than I thought I'd used. So I'm on the phone with the Circuit Court now, looking for the correct spelling. Fingers crossed.
posted by davejay at 1:37 PM on October 7, 2010

Response by poster: Oh, and DMV has *nothing* on file under either name, because I moved out of state and surrendered my Illinois drivers license. Apparently they purge the records. Whee!
posted by davejay at 1:40 PM on October 7, 2010

Response by poster: Two more: the Circuit Court still has nothing, and I'm on hold for Vital Statistics again. However, I do have confirmation (if this person's memory can be relied on) that the initial name change effort was kicked off in the Marriage Certificate office (since it coincided with various marriage goings-on.) So they're next up.

Still curious if anyone knows anything about the impact if my name isn't legal.
posted by davejay at 1:42 PM on October 7, 2010

You didn't go to court? In the late 90s, my husband and some of his family members changed their last name in Illinois. It was an involved process that included swearing in front of a judge that they were not committing fraud and placing a classified ad.
posted by sugarfish at 1:45 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I did not go to court, although I have a vague recollection of someone telling me it wasn't necessary since it was done concurrently to a marriage. Meanwhile the marriage certificate folks don't keep records (they just offer new couples the info for name changing) and I left a message for someone in "room 802", which sounds pretty darn ominous.

I know I used my Illinois driver's license to get my California one in the new name, and the Social Security office has the new name, so there's that. I think it's time to bite the bullet and make my only questions these two:

- what specific type of lawyer should I be looking for, here, to have this handled with me out-of-state, and

- should I be seeking legalization of the name I've been using in Chicago, in California, or trying to revert everything back to my old name (SS, DL, mortgages, etc.)?
posted by davejay at 1:55 PM on October 7, 2010

Best answer: Here's the CA court self help information on adult name changes. It might give you a start there.

If I were in your position, I would seek out a lawyer who deals with gay family law, as they would probably have the most practice in understanding legal name change in CA.
posted by Zophi at 2:21 PM on October 7, 2010

You have been using this name consitiently since the change, right?

Since you got married at the same time, check and see what your marriage license says. It may have your new name. Or it may have nothing about your new name. If so, then submit that as your proof. ("I changed my name at this time to ____ ____.")

Otherwise, most places consider you to be your new name. I wouldn't try to change your name back- what proof do you have of changing your name from new name to old? You need some paper to show the passport people. I changed my name without marriage in California in 2002. It may have changed since then, but I merely had to notarize a piece of paper saying something to the effect of: "My name is old name. I want to change it to new name. I am not doing this to defraud someone." If the procedure is still the same, you can add that you have been using the name since date.
posted by Monday at 2:22 PM on October 7, 2010

Best answer: You would have gotten better responses if you had mentioned that the name change was due to marriage.

In my state, a woman has the choice at the time of her marriage whether to keep her name or take her husband's name, and it does not require court action. It just requires that she remain consistent from that point forward. Otherwise, a name change requires a court appearance and publication of notice.

A family lawyer in Illinois will know what you should do.
posted by yclipse at 2:38 PM on October 7, 2010

Meanwhile the marriage certificate folks don't keep records (they just offer new couples the info for name changing) and I left a message for someone in "room 802", which sounds pretty darn ominous.

Well, your marriage certificate should have your old name, right? And your birth certificate should have that same name, no? These are both easily obtainable. Is your new name obviously related to your spouse's? My husband's name is John Doe, and my name was Jane Smith, and since the wedding I've used Jane Doe. The marriage certificate does not explicitly SAY I'm changing my name to Jane Doe, but everyone naturally infers it.

Anyway, thanks for reminding me to renew my passport.
posted by desjardins at 3:17 PM on October 7, 2010

Also, you might want to contact the passport office and see exactly what kind of proof they require before you go down any more roads.
posted by desjardins at 3:24 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Passport requirements

I noticed that "can't provide legal proof of name change" was actually on the list- as a must apply in person. I think the right answer might be to call the passport office.
posted by Zophi at 3:50 PM on October 7, 2010

I assume you looked at the passport requirements, right? (Sorry for asking the "is it plugged in?" question...) So I guess you're in the second category and the new name is NOT on a marriage certificate (or you don't have the MC)? Because that's all you would need otherwise. You can also do it with three public records documenting New Name and your birth date/place, but other than maybe something from Social Security for one document, it sounds like that may be a problem.

But you must have shown "proof of legal name change" to the SS folks, unless procedures have wildly changed since then. So how did that happen? For almost all intents and purposes, a driver's license and a SS card* are about as "legal" as your name gets.

* I know you said you still have your SS card in your old name. But apparently they would issue you one in your new name, right?
posted by SuperNova at 4:36 PM on October 7, 2010

Response by poster: You would have gotten better responses if you had mentioned that the name change was due to marriage.

Since I am a man who took his wife's name, I had to follow the standard non-wedding name change paths, so I didn't think is was relevant. Sorry 'bout that. Me being a man is what makes the whole "everyone naturally infers it" thing sketchy for me.

Says the passport office: without legal documentation (court order) I need three pieces of information from five years ago that show the new name being used (tax records, employment, insurance, etc.), and a notarized affidavit from two people who've known me through the name change counts as one of those three pieces if I can get it.

So looks like I have some paperwork digging to do in my garage, at least to get the passport, and I'll lawyer up for the rest. Thanks, folks!
posted by davejay at 4:46 PM on October 7, 2010

Response by poster: Right, new name isn't on the marriage certificate, but it *is* on my SS card at least (if I have the SS folks send me an updated card, which is a no-brainer.) The passport person said SS card and driver's license *don't* count towards those three pieces of ID, which surprised me.
posted by davejay at 4:47 PM on October 7, 2010

Best answer: You might be able to relax a little bit. In particular, don't even consider ever using your old name again. In California the usage method (changing it at will under common law) is sufficient to change one's name. You've been using your new name for a decade, so that really is your name. Just get enough paperwork together to satisfy the passport people at the post office (and if you get a nasty person, come back again and talk to someone else).
posted by exphysicist345 at 10:50 PM on October 7, 2010

Response by poster: Exphysicist345, you just made me a very happy camper. Thank you.
posted by davejay at 10:09 AM on October 8, 2010

I did the common law route, in another state, in the early 90s. Total procedure: go into social security over over lunch break, fill in a short form, receive new card several weeks later, take new card to DMV, fill in another short form, receive new DL several weeks later...[15 years later] submit both of those plus original birth certificate with passport application, receive new passport several weeks later. With those 3 IDs, everyone else agrees that's my name. Period.

So even with post-9/11 I.D. paranoia-inspired rules, government is perfectly capable of accepting your name change as legitimate. I wouldn't worry unless you're anticipating a specific problem.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:54 AM on October 8, 2010

« Older Help me get through conversations with my sister!   |   How to be supportive when you're several states... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.