sweet jeebus i want to stop explaining this
December 27, 2013 5:32 AM   Subscribe

Soooo...my name is Siobhan. However, the typist for my birth certificate spelled it Siobahn, which means my legal name is misspelled. It's not an alternate spelling, like Suzanne/Susanne. It's just wrong. I called Vital Statistics in PA and the woman there said I have to pay for a name change via a lawyer. I explained it was a typo, not a name change. Am I looking at several hundred bucks to fix this or is there something else I can do? I use the correct spelling for everything except legal stuff and bills. It's just getting to be annoying and I want to get this fixed the cheapest way possible.

I found the following here but I don't have anything official with my correct spelling because, well, it's not my official name. I can't imagine the driver's license people just letting me change the spelling of my first name when I get it renewed.

How to Correct the First Name on a Birth Certificate for an Individual 18 Years of Age or Older An individual who has reached the majority age of eighteen (18) may be able to correct the first name on his/her birth certificate. If you have an incorrect Certification of Birth, please list the information to be corrected on the reverse side under "Corrections Desired". It will be necessary for you to sign in the designated area in the presence of a notary. In addition, a photocopy of any one document that conclusively establishes the use of the first name must be submitted. Acceptable documents include a baptismal record, school record, marriage record, driver’s license or Social Security card.

Any idea what I need to do? I just kind of hate the idea that I have to pay to fix someone's mistake, even though I really do understand it was an unusual name.
posted by sio42 to Law & Government (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't see how you're going to be able to do this without a legal name change. I mean, I understand why you say your name is Siobhan, but legally it isn't: it is Siobahn on all your legal documentation, and to change that documentation will require a name change. In PA, this is not something you need a lawyer for, thought it will cost several hundred dollars.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:49 AM on December 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

If you don't have any official documents (school records?) you may well have to go the Court Order route (which I'm guessing is what the lady meant by via a lawyer). Or, you could get married and "change" your name then (I officially changed my first name via marriage), but I doubt that it'll be any cheaper.
posted by edgeways at 5:53 AM on December 27, 2013

My middle name was misspelled on my birth certificate by my mother when I was born, and my father went back four days later to pay to correct it. Sorry, but I think that's normal. There are all sorts of wacky spellings and there's no way for the people at vital statistics to know what's a mistake and what's intentional so many years down the line.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:56 AM on December 27, 2013

Can you appeal to your local state rep or state senator? Maybe there's other channels to fix mistakes like this. You shouldn't have to pay to fix a mistake.
posted by readery at 5:57 AM on December 27, 2013

Your parents never noticed this on anything? None of your childhood papers were issued in the correct name? It does say "any one document", I would at least ask them if there's any chance that anything from back then says Siobhan on it.

You're going to have to pay either way, obviously, but there's a difference between how much you pay to correct and how much you pay to change. In a pinch, I'd probably spend the $10 to just send in the application with a notarized letter from your parents saying that's what they'd intended (and maybe with some explanation as to why they never corrected it, because that's odd) and just see if they take it. But that's more of a "could work" than "is really likely to work". The whole baptismal record thing is clearly for just such events as this, but if you weren't baptized, if the whole system was reasonable then it'd accept documentation from people who were there at the time and knew what happened even if they weren't clergy. The system, of course, is often not reasonable.
posted by Sequence at 6:00 AM on December 27, 2013

Unfortunately, no one noticed til I was like 5, which is when I got signed up for preschool and someone asked about it.

No one in my family is Irish and my birth mother had read it in a book a few years before.

My legal parents are both dead, so I could get my birth mother to notarize something, I guess.

I will try the state rep route. That's a good idea.
posted by sio42 at 6:08 AM on December 27, 2013

So, have you been using the name "Siobahn" the whole time? Where have you been spelling it "Siobhan" and where have you been spelling it "Siobahn"? It sounds like right now it says "Siobahn" on your driver's license and you'd like to get that changed?

If your parents didn't correct it for your entire childhood and used/told you to use the incorrect spelling on all your legal/official documents (like, do you have any diplomas? what does it say on those?) at this point you basically are named Siobahn for legal purposes, even if your parents didn't intend to name you that.

I think your best argument in favor of correcting your birth certificate would be to present documents in which your name is correctly spelled from as early in your life as possible - kindergarten report card? preschool graduation certificate? pediatrician's records?
posted by mskyle at 6:09 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just so I'm understanding, every document you've ever been issued uses this misspelling? I've applied for a PA license before and they usually just type in what you put in the application. I've never seen them copy from the birth certificate.

You need to stop using the misspelling on things. There's no law that says you have to continue the misspell your own name. As long as you're not trying to defraud someone, spell your name the way you want it to be spelled.

It seems all you need it one piece of official documentation to do it. So start now. Sign up for a class with your local community college to learn something you've always wanted to learn. Get your transcript. That's a school record. Submit it.
posted by inturnaround at 6:17 AM on December 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

I was told a long time ago that I had to use the legal spelling because otherwise it was fraud.

I use Siobhan in my personal and professional life, for email, Facebook, etc. At work, anything non official uses Siobhan, but my ID and time sheets all have Siobahn because that is my legal name.

I'd be happy to sign up for a class but that would be as much as just paying for the name change. I guess I could just wait til next year when my license renews and try it then.
posted by sio42 at 6:23 AM on December 27, 2013

I was told a long time ago that I had to use the legal spelling because otherwise it was fraud.

IANYL, but that sounds fishy. It's not fraud unless you want it to be fraud. It's a "specific intent" offense, i.e., you have to deliberately be trying to defraud someone.

Indeed, when you sign a document, there's nothing stopping you from signing "Mickey Mouse" and having that be effective against you as long as you intend to have it be a binding signature. That's why signatures with an "X" have always been effective. The other side may object, because it's easier to prove intent to be bound when you sign your real name. But if they don't, and you go along with whatever it is you're supposed to do, you can functionally use whatever the hell name you want.

That being said, if you're signing an official document, and the other side--be it a government entity or a private party--insists that you use your correct legal name, they're allowed to do that. Failing to do so wouldn't necessarily be fraud, but it would prevent you from doing business with them.

The long and short of it is that you can theoretically get away with using your preferred spelling of your name on official documents, but if someone calls you on it, you can be required to use the legal spelling. If that bugs you, the only way to do anything about it is to get your name changed. Fortunately, you can do that for about $150. Check out the self-help documents for my county's Court of Common Pleas about petitioning to change your name. It's not that hard. You basically fill out the documents, pay the filing fee, get fingerprinted, and appear before a judge. It's a pain in the ass, but the time and money you'll spend getting this fixed is probably worth the decades of hassle you'll face if you don't just take care of it. And trying to get your birth certificate "corrected" will probably cost even more than that, because it's not something that's done very often, so the procedures involved aren't going to be easy to work, if it can even be done.

Bite the bullet and get 'er done. If you've more detailed questions, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by valkyryn at 6:51 AM on December 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

I was told a long time ago that I had to use the legal spelling because otherwise it was fraud.

I'm not a lawyer, but I really believe that this is bad advice.

Think about it. If that were the case, then there's no way for you to establish that it was a typo because any proof you present to the state would be evidence of fraud. Clearly that's not true. They're looking to prove that this is the name you use. Except you've muddied the waters by using both names.

In fact they're looking for evidence that you're using the correct spelling in your life. In order for that to be a thing, you have to start using it.
posted by inturnaround at 7:06 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

My last name is spelled incorrectly on my birth certificate, as is my father's last name. They were both crossed out with a pen and corrected. My mother's maiden name on my birth certificate is spelled also incorrectly and never corrected.

I've lived with that for 65 years, been in the military, done my taxes, held jobs, gotten driver's licenses, gotten married, had kids..

It's never been a problem that I've spelled my name correctly and ignored what was on the Birth Certificate, it's never been questioned. I will admit that I'm hoping that they'll refuse to let me die because of the mistake.....

I would relax about it....
posted by HuronBob at 7:21 AM on December 27, 2013 [7 favorites]

I've lived with that for 65 years, been in the military, done my taxes, held jobs, gotten driver's licenses, gotten married, had kids..

That is as may be, but governments are a bit more. . . exacting. . . about official documents these days, partly due to just the increased levels of bureaucratization in your lifetime, partly due to increased concern about these things post-9/11. Regardless of the cause, that sort of fix doesn't strike me as plausible these days.

posted by valkyryn at 7:51 AM on December 27, 2013

My little brother had a similar problem when he turned 17 in 1980. No one had realized that his birth certificate had my older brother’s first name on it. So instead of "John Bill Smith" it read "Bob Bill Smith". We were able to get it legally "corrected" (not sure of terminology) - without a lawyer or fees.

We had to go to several people and have them sign some type of form that stated they always knew him as "John Bill Smith". One was the principal of his elementary school who had to state what name he always went by in school regardless of what his birth certificate stated.

This was in NJ in 1980 so obviously your mileage may vary but it was done without a lawyer or fee. I know I had to do most of the leg work with him as my mother at the time did not drive.

posted by MrsMGH at 8:09 AM on December 27, 2013

Hold on. There's a bit of confusion in this thread.

Name-change procedures vary from state to state, but in all the jurisdictions I'm familiar with, changing your "legal" name does not require amending or correcting your birth certificate. Rather, there is a separate procedure (which Valkyrn has linked to above for PA, it seems) for obtaining a name-change order from your local court -- which in Pennsylvania, is the Court of Common Pleas.

Now, it's certainly possible for amended birth certificates to be issued under some circumstances. But for day-to-day living, and even "official" things like transferring real estate, the birth certificate with the misspelling and the name-change order is all you'd need to establish your "legal" name.

With the name-change order, you can obtain a driver's license with the (corrected) name, correct your name in the Social Security database, and obtain a new/corrected US Passport, among other things. These are all separate systems, and need to be addressed separately. But for all of those, the name-change order is sufficient. An amended birth certificate is not necessary to change your name on those identity documents.

It's a bit more complicated than for someone who marries and changes their name. But all of the talk about birth certificates is really extraneous here.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 8:14 AM on December 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Second the advice to just start using the correct spelling on official documents. My family started using a completely different name for me after I was born, with the name on my birth certificate as my middle name. The new name was on everything through school, now on passports, drivers licence, etc. Any time I've had to show my birth certificate, the discrepancy hasn't even been remarked upon. (MA birth certificate)
posted by transient at 8:21 AM on December 27, 2013

I'm not fond of my birth name, and use my preferred name(based on birth name) on everything - Driver's license, bank accounts, credit cards, work, marriage cert., divorce papers, everything. I'd just start using the correct spelling and not worry about it. IANAL, but I don't think it's fraud unless you use the difference to do something illegal.
posted by theora55 at 8:32 AM on December 27, 2013

Ah ok. I thought if I got my birth certificate updated, it would allow me to start using the correct spelling legally.

However, it seems like I act like I want to change my name even though it's just a fix. If it's only $150 that's not bad. But it was sounding like $500 when I've talked to people before.

I'll have to investigate more of the replies here over the weekend.

Thanks mefites! Glad I'm not the only misspelled out there :)
posted by sio42 at 9:30 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not familiar with the Pennsylvania process, but it looks like it's on the more expensive side. One (credible) source I saw mentioned fees associated with filing the petition ($320) and a judgment search ($120) along with newspaper publication fees ("several hundred dollars") and even fingerprint fees (about $20). Some of these fees can be waived if there's a showing of financial hardship.

Of course, the name-change process for marriage or divorce is really easy. Everything else is usually a lot more difficult.

Pennsylvania seems a bit more costly and cumbersome than other jurisdictions. By way of comparison, when I did my own name change here in Virginia, my total fees were under $50, without any fee waivers. And DC just revised its name-change procedures to eliminate the publication requirement (among other things).
posted by QuantumMeruit at 10:14 AM on December 27, 2013

yeah, exactly. that's what i'm trying to avoid. ESPECIALLY since it's a typo and not an alternate spelling. ugh.
posted by sio42 at 10:24 AM on December 27, 2013

I'm not familiar with the Pennsylvania process, but it looks like it's on the more expensive side. One (credible) source I saw mentioned fees associated with filing the petition ($320) and a judgment search ($120) along with newspaper publication fees ("several hundred dollars") and even fingerprint fees (about $20).

Depends on the county. That sounds about right for Philadelphia, but in my county, you can get the whole shebang done for about $200 in fees plus whatever the local paper charges for this sort of thing (likely in the $25-50 range). So the OP needs to check with his local courthouse to see what the deal is. Larger cities tend to have larger fees, so unless he's in Philly or Pittsburgh, this is probably only going to cost a few hundred bucks.
posted by valkyryn at 11:12 AM on December 27, 2013

My name is misspelled on my birth certificate and I have always used my given name on everything instead of the bc name. It has presented a few problems over the years but I've always been able to resolve it fairly easily. When I got a passport, I had to include a handwritten note (maybe notarized) that stated my name was misspelled on my bc. All my driver's licenses over the years have been in my given name as well. The only time I got mail addressed to my misspelled name was back when the SS administration used to mail out those reports on earnings and a projection of how much I would get after retirement.
posted by perhapses at 1:13 PM on December 27, 2013

Not sure if you have any marriage plans (now or wouldn't mind waiting for future). I was able to alter the spacing of my first name (eg from Kellygrape to Kelly Grape) at the same time as I was changing my last name, with no extra charge. After years of having to use no-space on legal documents, my license and other such forms of identification now have a space. It's lovely.

I'm also in PA, in the Philadelphia area. Have you tried going to your local Social Security office and explaining to them what you hope to do? They may have clear steps.
posted by kellygrape at 2:36 PM on December 27, 2013

I'm also in PA, in the Philadelphia area. Have you tried going to your local Social Security office and explaining to them what you hope to do? They may have clear steps.

I can pretty much guarantee you that won't work. Social Security is a federal agency. Birth certificates are state documents issued by counties. The SSA doesn't have anything whatsoever to do with birth certificates beyond occasionally verifying that people have them.

posted by valkyryn at 5:11 PM on December 27, 2013

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