Prior to 2005 the federal government, through policies of the State Department and Social Security Administration, accepted middle names as legal names and permitted persons known by a middle name to obtain a passport or Social Security card under the middle name as long as they could prove they were the person named on their birth certificate.
In a 1990 letter to the author, the State Department explained: “The passport is a document of identity as well as of citizenship. Therefore, it is important that the name written in the passport be the one which best identifies the applicant for all purposes. . . . There are certain minor changes to a name which do not require the submission of documentation other than acceptable identification in the name presently used. . . . [A]n applicant may drop the use of a given name where more than one given name is shown on the citizenship evidence. . . . Therefore, if a person is using his middle name as his legal name, the passport will be issued in his middle name.” (Gilda Feldman, Attorney Advisor, US Department of State, to Joelle Runkle, Aug. 6, 1990)
The State Department still adheres to that policy although the SSA does not (See, “SSA Policy”).
Following are relevant excerpts from the “US Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual,” Volume 7, updated in September 2014, which is easily accessible on the internet (7 FAM 1300 Appendix C: Names to be Used in Passports).
1311 Determining the Best Name to Write in the Passport
a. You must verify that the name to be written in the passport is the name which best identifies the applicant as reflected in the citizenship and identity documentation submitted. Generally, the name requested by the applicant on the application is the name that should be written on the passport.
b. The name on the application need not be exactly the same as the signature on the application and the name shown on the identifying document(s).
c. However, there must be a link between the citizenship evidence, identifying documents, proof of name change (if provided), previous passport or Passport Information and Electronic Records (PIERS), the applicant’s signature, and the name requested on the application.
1316 Minor Differences in Names
The following minor differences may be approved provided that the identification documentation reflects the name requested on the application: . . .
(4) Dropping a Given Name with proper identification. An applicant may drop the use of a given name when more than one given name is shown on the citizenship evidence (for example, Aloysius Sherman Peabody to Sherman Peabody). A married person who assumes a spouse’s surname may drop a first or middle name.
(5) Using Initial(s) Instead of Full Given Name(s) with proper identification. It is preferred that the full name be shown on the passport; however, an applicant may use one or more initial(s) instead of the full given name(s) where the citizenship evidence contains the full name(s) (for example, John Francis Xavier Reilly to John F.X. Reilly, Francis Scott Fitzgerald to F. Scott Fitzgerald). Surnames must be written in full.