I have a huge name.
January 2, 2008 11:59 AM   Subscribe

Like a lot of Latinos, I have a huge name. I am afraid that, in the long run, it may get me in trouble in the US. Help me prevent it.

I am a foreign national currently living in the US on a L-1 visa and I have a huge big-ass name. It's quite common in where I come from, but experience is showing me that it is something completely alien to this country. And worse - as systems vary, everywhere I go I get registered with a different truncated version of my name. Let me start from the beginning.

Let's assume my full name is "BERNARDO ANDRADE DE CARVALHO E SANTOS". I altered it a bit for privacy reasons, but basically it's exactly like this. Day to day, I have used Bernardo Carvalho with no problems. However, when I came to the U.S., problems began.

First, my I-94 form, which is the form foreign nationals must fill upon entering the US. I was warned by my relocation people days before coming into the country: "Your name is pretty big, make sure you make it all fit on the I-94, if it's not all there you'll be in trouble to get your social security card". And that was not just a rumour - there are people in my company who got in trouble to obtain a SSN because their names differed from the passport to the I-94.

Even though my name has more characters than the I-94 form, I actually made it fit with some craftsmanship. And it went like this - Name: BERNARDO ANDRADE Surname: DE CARVALHO E SANTOS. Easy as pie! When I went for my SSN, it was easy as well. My card shows my name exactly as it is in my I-94, which is my correct name.

So we are good there. I-94 check, SSN check. Then the problems began.

I went to open a bank account, and the systems in my bank don't allow more than 23 characters or something. After thinking it over with the manager, we decided to go with "BERNARDO CARVALHO-SANTOS" as my name in the banking documents (cards, checks, whatever).

Then I went to DMV. The systems there are even more restrictive and don't allow more than 20 or 21 characters. And there was no flexibility on picking a name that looked like what I have in my bank. The DMV people picked it for me, and now I am "B DECARVALHO-SANTOS". That means I had to go back to my bank and change my last name there to "DECARVALHO-SANTOS", so I had the same name on my driver's license and cards.

Also, I don't even know how my company's internal systems are registering me, but I am sure there is some bizarre version of my name there too.

Now for the part that concerns me - I have different names everywhere. And I am afraid this will get me in trouble tax and credit-wise and in other aspects I can't even think of right now. I am (hopefully) in the US for the long run, and I know I will probably have to do a legal name change if get citizenship one day. But that is going to take years, what can/should I do now to avoid any problems?

Or maybe I am just being paranoid? :-)
posted by falameufilho to Law & Government (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
On any form where it matters, there'll be a space for "other names you've used." You can use that space to toss in a basket of variations.

In general, stuff is tied to your SSN rather than your name per se, and if any red flags get raised that a human being looks at, there shouldn't be a problem.

Look at it this way - a lot of people in this country change their name, usually women who get married. Just as many have it misspelled all the time; my last name is pronounced the same as a very, very common last name, but is spelled differently. (Think "Bob Jhones" or "Andrew Jonson.") I'm sure there are at least a few semi-important records out there that have my name wrong. But it all works out in the end... more or less. The important thing is to keep an eye out and try to keep things in sync as much as you can.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:09 PM on January 2, 2008

In my experience, it seems like most of my Latino students (I tutor people looking to learn English) handle this by picking a short form of their name say Bernardo for first name and Santos for last name and treat the rest as a middle name (at least on forms).
posted by drezdn at 12:15 PM on January 2, 2008

Best answer: As a programmer, I am extremely embarrassed for my profession. Most of this is probably due to ancient file/database formats. But some of it is surely laziness.

Anyway, if I were you, I'd try to minimize the damage. Leave the I-94 and SSN as they are, because they match your passport and are probably the most important. As for the other systems, go with DECARVALHO-SANTOS since the DMV is forcing it on you.

In my experience, when people ask for two forms of ID a driver's license and credit card work. So if the names match there then you shouldn't have any problems. For tax purposes it's really the SSN that counts. As long as the names look similar (which they do) I doubt it will raise any flags.

Now you have two names which correlate well. Hopefully most non-idiots can figure out what's going on. It's not quite the same, but I have a generational suffix on my name (IV, 4th). It's on my driver's license and bank account but not my credit card. I'm real lazy about when I use it. Sometimes agencies will confuse me with my dad, but usually giving them my birth date or SSN clears everything up.

And welcome to America!
posted by sbutler at 12:25 PM on January 2, 2008

Best answer: The biggest thing I would worry about would be getting a 'no-match' letter. That is, it is a letter sent out by the SSA when an employee's name doesn't match their social security number. A few companies use this to find and fire illegal immigrants, so it might not be a bad idea to find out what name your employer is using and how far it is from your real name. HR should be able to help you with this and it wouldn't be a bad idea to be on their radar in advance.
posted by Alison at 12:35 PM on January 2, 2008

Those of us who have spaces in their last names have no end of grief with computer billing systems. But using slightly different versions of your name at DMV, at the bank, and with the IRS isn't really an issue. My bank thinks my last name is DENBESTE. The IRS knows that it's "Den Beste". California DMV used to think it was "Den-Beste". I never had any trouble because of the mismatches.

On the other hand, I'm native born. It might be more of a problem for someone here on a visa.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:47 PM on January 2, 2008

at the bank, at the dmv, put the onus on them to solve the problem. they're there to serve you after all, and you shouldn't need to apologize for your long name. welcome to our country and our culture of customer entitlement!
posted by bruce at 12:49 PM on January 2, 2008

Best answer: Your employer would be using the name on the I-94/SSN, as you supplied the I-94 and the SSN when filling out the I-9 and W-4 forms supplied at the time of hiring.

The main problem associated with having many names comes in the green card process. Google FBI "name check" delays. People have been caught up here for years while the FBI decides whether or not they are terrorists. Unfortunately, I don't have a good solution for you, short of permanently changing your name to a short form and replacing all of your ID (passport, visa, SSN, everything).

@Alison, the implementation of the no match rule has been suspended pending appeal.
posted by crazycanuck at 1:45 PM on January 2, 2008

I have a Brazilian co-worker with the last name "de Carvalho Carpintero" and he hasn't seemed to have many problems. I think he usually ends up just using "de Carvalho" on American forms, but when he's not allowed to have a space he just mashes them together and hasn't run into many problems that I know of.
posted by atomly at 1:58 PM on January 2, 2008

Bangladeshis have really long times too (my name is actually short by most standards, and it's 3 words). From what I know, my relatives in the US have had no trouble with names, even if they have to shorten their first name to A.S.M or some variation thereof. We've never run into issues either - I suppose it helps that we set our names when we got our Malaysian IDs, which made everything else easy.
posted by divabat at 6:11 PM on January 2, 2008

In response to crazycanuk --

While the implementation of the "no match rule" has been suspended, the SSA still sends out notification of unmatched names. The rule would have required employers to fire employees who don't resolve no-match notifications within 93 days. Labor interests feared that this would would be used for union breaking. However, some employers do use the letters they receive to weed out and fire illegal workers independent of the no-match rule, and it pays to be careful even if one is a legal worker. It wouldn't hurt to be on HR's radar screen about this. (further reading here)
posted by Alison at 7:00 PM on January 2, 2008

I'm with sbutler -- this is laziness on the part of programmers (and their bosses), and no small amount of cultural blinders. I know that they have computers in Latin America, so how do they handle it there? Surely better than cramming everything into LASTNAME/FIRSTNAME/MI fields.

There's a kid in town with an Hispanic name. Call him CARLOS MARIA-RIVERA for argument. In court records he is:
and of course

It's embarrassing.

On the other hand, it's an interesting phenomenon. My great-grandparents changed their name on immigration from ANDERSEN to SMITH. It's always been a family joke that some bored clerk at Ellis Island played a joke on them, but there doesn't seem to be any historical evidence for this. Most families changed their names at least a little bit just to fit in. Sean Penn's family apparently changed theirs from Piñón when they moved from Spain to Russia and then to America in successive generations. Lots of PLOTZNIKs and LIPSCHITZes did the same, just to fit in. Nowadays, that's seen as cultural self-denial, so we have the problem you describe.

Oh, and there was quite a kettlebrew at Wikipedia over the name of the article for Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, with different "reliable sources" using different formulations, from Cristina Kirchner to Cristina Fernandez to whether the "de" was legitimate for her to use or just her husband. Nuts. Even her campaign website and the presidential website AND the national electoral commission website all used different versions!
posted by dhartung at 8:49 PM on January 2, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks all for the great responses. I am definitely calmer now ;-)
posted by falameufilho at 10:03 AM on January 4, 2008

I officially have a hyphenated last name: First Last1-Last2. Social security card, driver's license, etc. However, it's long, so I often just go by First Last2 or First Last1 Last2, using Last1 as my middle name, or using only its first letter. This has caused me some problems-- since my university had me down as First Last1 Last2, the Dept. of Education would, every semester, send me a letter saying they would not give me loans because I was not enrolled. Every semester I went down and made the correction, but the next semester it would happen again. Inconvenient, but not terrible.
posted by alexei at 1:19 AM on January 12, 2008

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