SSA Policy

Prior to 2005 the federal government, through policies of the State Department and Social Security Administration (SSA), accepted middle names as legal names and permitted persons known by a middle name to obtain a passport or Social Security card under that name.

In 1990, the SSA told this author: “There is no Social Security regulation requiring an applicant for a Social Security card to use his or her first name and middle initial rather than using an initial and full middle name. If you choose, however, to use a variation of the name on your birth certificate, you must be able to establish that you are that person.” (Delmar D. Dowling, Acting Director, Office of Public Inquiries, Social Security Administration, to Joelle Runkle, March 14, 1990)

While the State Department still issues passports under middle names (See, “US State Department Policy”), the SSA does not issue Social Security cards under middle names. Despite avowed deference to state law concerning names, the SSA adopted its own definition of the term legal name on December 17, 2005, defining it as the name recorded on one’s birth certificate (or other citizenship document) unless subsequently changed through legal process, but at the same time saying the middle name could be omitted or stated incorrectly (RM 00203.200D). On May 2, 2011, it changed the definition to one’s first name and last name, specifically excluding a middle name (RM 10212.001).

The following SSA policies concerning middle names and the use of a first-name initial, which are easily accessible on the internet, are excerpted below:

RM 00203.200 Evidence of Identity for an SSN Card (superceded by RM 10210.405)

RM 10205.125 Entering NH’s Name in SSNAP

RM 10212.001 Defining the Legal Name for an SSN

RM 10212.150 Name Corrections on the SSN Card

RM 10212.165 Examples of Name Changes and Corrections that SSA Cannot Process

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RM 00203.200 Evidence of Identity for an SSN Card (12/17/2005; NO LONGER IN EFFECT)

D. Policy – Use of Legal Name.

1. Defining a legal name.

Generally, the legal name is the name shown on the birth record unless it has been changed after birth by a legal action, such as a marriage or court order. For official purposes, the legal name consists of at least two parts: the given name(s) (generally, this is the full first name and middle name, either of which may have more than one part) and the family name or last name (full last name, surname, or family name; which may have more than one part). A suffix (i.e. Junior, II, Senior) may be part of the family name or last name.

The legal name must be used to sign legal documents, deeds, or contracts. A middle name(s) or suffix may be included as part of the legal name but whether the middle name or suffix is included, omitted, or incorrect does not matter.

2. Evidence of Legal Name.

An applicant for an SSN card whose name has not changed since birth must submit an identity document showing a name that agrees with the name shown on the birth certificate or other birth record. An applicant for an SSN card whose name has legally changed after birth must submit an identity document showing the legal name. . . .”

RM 10205.125 Entering NH’s Name in SSNAP (National Account Profiles)    (Effective 03/07/2011)

A. Acceptable characters

. . . SSA follows Public Law 100-235 when printing characters on SSN cards. This law requires all Federal databases to follow standards determined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and to use 26 letters of the alphabet without diacritical marks. . . .

NOTE: The NH’s name is printed on the SSN card as it is entered in the SSNAP. However, the name is displayed on the Numident as follows:

  In the first name, spaces, apostrophes and hyphens are removed. For example, Mary Jane is displayed as MARYJANE; D’BRICKASHAW is displayed as DBRICKASHAW; and JO-ANNE is displayed as JOANNE.

  In the middle and last names, spaces remain; hyphens are replaced with a space; and apostrophes are removed along with resulting spaces. For example, RANDEL EL remains RANDEL EL; JONES-DREW is displayed as Jones Drew; and O’SULLIVAN is displayed as OSULLIVAN.

B. Identifying first, middle, and last names

Beginning with cards printed on 09/08/07, the NH’s first and middle name are always printed on the first name line on the SSN card, and the last name and suffix, if any, are always printed on the second name line on the SSN card. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the first name, middle name, last name and suffix, if any, are entered in the correct fields in SSNAP. Do not show an initial as the first name. . . .

F. Name shown on card

. . . If the combination of first and middle names exceed 26 spaces, SSNAP reduces the middle name to an initial in the “Name to be shown on card” field and shows as much of the first name as possible, followed by the middle initial. . . .

RM 10212.001 Defining the Legal Name for an SSN (Effective 05/02/2011)

A. What is the legal name.

For SSA enumeration purposes, a legal name consists of a first name; and last name (or surname). The legal name is the name used to sign legal documents, deeds, or contracts.

1. Middle name and suffix. We do not consider the middle name or suffix part of the legal name. Whether the middle name or suffix is included, omitted or incorrectly shown on evidentiary documents submitted with an SS-5 (Application for a Social Security number Card) does not matter. NOTE: both the middle name and suffix, even if not part of the legal name by SSA’s definition, should be used to resolve situations where the identity of the applicant or number holder is in question.

2. Given name and Family name. Translate given names and family names as shown on documents submitted as SSN evidence to the first and last name on the SSN application, respectively, as follows:

• given name(s) = full first name and middle name, either of which may have more than one part; and

 • family name = full last name, surname, or family name, which may have more than one part. A suffix (i.e. Junior, II, Senior) may also be shown as part of the family name.

Since a person’s middle name(s) or suffix is not considered part of the legal name by SSA, a middle name shown as part of the given name or a suffix shown as part of the family name can be omitted or entered in the middle name and suffix fields of the Enumeration System. If the applicant has a given name with multiple parts and does not allege having a middle name, then the multiple parts should be entered as the first name.

Different versions of the name, which are not the legal name, must be shown in the other name fields in the Enumeration system following RM 10205.130.

RM 10212.005 When to Use the Legal Name for an SSN (Effective 10/26/2010)

A. Policy on using the legal name for an SSN

. . . By law, SSA must verify certain information on the Numident record (e.g., SSN name and date of birth data) for States before the driver’s license can be issued. Also, for homeland security purposes the Numident and other SSA records should show the NH’s legal name. Therefore, SSA records must show the NH’s legal name to comply with State matching agreements and other requirements. If an NH requests a name change because SSA records do not match State or third party records, determine whether to process as a legal name change or as a name correction.

NOTE: SSA does not require applicants who are simply requesting replacement cards to change the name to the legal name if the legal name is not reflected on SSA records and the evidence of identity submitted shows the name on SSA records.

RM 10212.150 Name Corrections on the SSN Card  (Effective 04/05/2011)

A. Name correction vs. change on the SSN

A name correction

•  requires an action to show a person’s legal name on the SSN card as defined in RM 10212.001.

•  does not require a name change event to have taken place because the Numident does not show a prior legal name, . . .

A name change

 • requires an action to show a person’s legal name on the SSN card;

 • requires a name change event to have taken place because the Numident name is the prior legal name of the number holder. . . .

B. When are name corrections processed.

Develop for name corrections when there has been no legal name change event and the Numident record either:

1. Does not show the number holder’s legal name (generally, the latest Numident record will have been established before implementation of SSA’s legal name policy on 12/17/05); OR

2. Does not show the number holder’s preferred version of his or her legal name as permitted under RM 10212.001.

The purpose of the name correction is to update the number holder’s SSN card to show his or her legal name, when requested by the applicant.

NOTE: Replacement card applicants are not required to change or correct their names shown on the SSN card to reflect the legal name per RM 10212.005 if current evidence of identity agrees with the name on the latest SSN card. If an applicant does not want to correct the name shown on the SSN card to reflect his or her legal name but an external entity (e.g., DMV) was electronically unsuccessful at verifying the name and SSN, then

 • process a replacement card application per RM 10210.015;

•  complete all of the name fields following RM 10205.130;

•  suppress the card, if the applicant does not need a replacement card.

NOTE: Despite a successful electronic verification of the name and SSN, some State DMVs require the name on the SSN card to reflect the person’s current legal name. Applicants in these states may be required to request a name correction on the SSN card in order to obtain or renew a driver’s license or identity card. In these situations, develop for a name correction per RM 10212.160. For name changes, see RM 10212.010.

RM 10212.165 Examples of Name Changes and Corrections that SSA Cannot Process   (Effective 05/24/2010)

Do not process the following commonly requested examples of name changes and corrections unless the SS-5 (Application for a Social Security Card) is submitted with evidence of a legal name change, see RM 10212.010.

A. Request for name change to reverse given names.

Johns Andrew Hopkins applies for a repalcement SSN card in the name of Andrew Johns Hopkins (reversing his given names). . . . SSA cannot process the name change because Mr. Hopkins did not submit a legal name change document. Although Andrew is one of his given names, SSA cannot issue him an SSN card in the name of “Andrew Hopkins” because that is not his legal name.

B. Request for first given name to be shown as an initial.

John Andrew Hopkins applies for a replacement SSN card showing his name as J. Andrew Hopkins. . . . Because Johns has not changed his name but wants the SSN card to show an initial rather than the complete first name, this is not a legal name change.

The use of the initial presents problems with data matching exchanges between SSA and Federal and State governmental agencies and other authorized matching agreements. SSA can issue him a card showing his name as “J. Andrew Hopkins” (an initial instead of the full first name) ONLY when his full legal name is “J. (an initial rather than a full given name) Andrew Hopkins.”

In this case, his legal name is “Johns Andrew Hopkins,” “Johns Hopkins,” or “Johns A. Hopkins,” and one of these versions of his legal name must be shown on the SSN card.

C. Request for SSN card to show an abbreviation of name.

Maria Theresa Perez applies for a repalcement SSN card for a name change. . . . She requests her name be shown on the SSN card as “Ma. (First name) theresa (middle name) Perez (last name).” . . . SSA cannot show her given name on the SSN card as “Ma.” because in this case “Ma.” is an abbreviation for Maria.” Explain that the SSA record must show her legal name of “Maria Perez” . . .

H. Request for name change because of dropping a name.

Agnes Annette Martin requested a replacement SSN card in the name Annette Martin, the name by which she has been known for years in her community and at work (dropping her first name of Agnes). Even her State Identity card issued last year shows her name as Annette Martin. Annette said that she has never used the name Agnes and no one knows that is her first name. She added that she was told that because of her use of the name Annette Martin over the years that her legal name is now Annette Martin based on common law. Annette’s explanation that some States follow common law concerning her name is correct. However, she does not have any evidence of a legal name change or that her name is legally Annette Martin rather than Agnes Martin or Agnes Annette Martin in her State. Therefore, for SSA to change her name on the SSA record she must submit evidence that she has legally changed her name to Annette Martin.

SSA cannot process the name change request because Annette has not submitted a name change document showing she legally changed her first name.

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[While the SSA recognizes marriage as a legal name-changing event for changes in surnames, it does not recognize marriage as a name-changing event for first names (RM 10212.165 D) unless the state in which the marriage takes place has passed legislation specifically authorizing that change. This is so even if the state itself recognizes the first-name change under common-law principles. Thus, the only states in which the SSA recognizes a change of first name upon marriage are Minnesota (PR 02712.016), Kansas (PR 02712.019), and Oklahoma (PR 02712.040).]

PR 02712.016 Illinois [also Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin] (Effective 06/03/2010)

A. 1. Syllabus.

Under current SSA policy, SSA requires that there must be a state statute which expressly allows for a first name to be changed in the event of marriage in order for it to be considered a valid name change for Social Security purposes.

SSA accepts a marriage as a valid name change event in Minnesota for a person to change both their first and last name, if the new name can be derived from the marriage document because Minnesota has a statute which expressly allows for such a name change.

SSA does not accept a marriage in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin (the remaining five states in this region) as a valid name change event for a person to change a first name because these states do not have a statute for a first name to be changed in the event of marriage.

2. Opinion

. . .  Although these states follow the common law rule which may allow a person to change a first name in the event of marriage (or any other time), Social Security policy requires that a state enact a statute which expressly allows for a first name to be changed in the event of marriage in order for it to be considered a valid name change for Social Security purposes. . . .

PR 02712.019 Kansas  (Effective 03/28/2008)

A. III. Conclusion. Based on the new Kansas law, it is permissible for a man to change his last name to that of his wife’s at the time of marriage by listing that name on the marriage license. Individuals may also begin using their middle name as their first name and maiden name as middle name at the time of marriage, or may change to a wholly different name. In the latter situation, however, the marriage certificate would not be sufficient evidence of identity.

PR 02712.040 Oklahoma (Effective 11/23/2011)

A. PR 08-042 Oklahoma State Law – Marriage Certificate as Evidence in Support of a Legal Name Change (NH Linda M. B~ H~)

. . . Under common law in Oklahoma, any adult or emancipated individual may change his/her entire name at will as long as the change is not for an illegal or fraudulent purpose, without legal proceedings. Consistent with the Change of Name Act, the Oklahoma Marriage and Family statutes require a party requesting a Marriage Certificate to provide the full name by which the party will be known after the marriage.

. . . The Change of Name Act codifies the common law condition that a person’s name cannot be changed for an illegal or fraudulent purpose. In our opinion, absent any evidence of an illegal or fraudulent purpose, the Oklahoma Marriage and Family statutes do not preclude a person from changing his or her first name, in addition to his or her surname, at the time of marriage. . . .

. . . The Marriage Certificate shows Michelle’s name would change from Linda M. B~ to Michelle B~ H~ after the marriage. . . . In summary, because the Agency looks to state law to determine the sufficiency of evidence submitted to support a legal name change, documentation that is acceptable under Oklahoma law to effect a legal name change due to marriage is also acceptable to the Agency for the same purpose. . . .

 

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