I’ve bored a handful of friends with this minor tale of woe, but hey, nothing like a wider audience to bore.
My name is Paul Theodoropoulos. It’s my legal name. Every bill I get, every ( $#!!$$@!!!) "We can lower your mortgage!" junkmail I get, my driver license, my credit cards, my costco card, my REI card, everything – they all say "Paul Theodoropoulos".
California recognizes the common law practice of a name change. That means that if you choose to use a particular name, and do so consistently, then it is your legal name.
Way back in 1959, the era of ‘space cars are just around the corner’ and TV dinners and labor saving devices…well, that’s the year I was born. My dad had used "Pete Theodor" for some time, as it was shorter and easier and more practical than his birth name of Pete Theodoropoulos. it was a labor savings device! Well, my parents thought they’d do me a favor, and shorten my name for me. So on my birth certificate, my name is Paul Christopher Theodor. That’s the name I was given. My parents, good citizens that they were, also got me a Social Security card shortly after I was born, so I’d be all official-like for the bright future.
But I thought Theodoropoulos was cool! I was proud of the unusual name. So, from the age of—oh, probably seven years old or so—I started using Paul Theodoropoulos as my name. No problem. I submitted my homework as Paul Theodoropoulos. I got my first savings account as Paul Theodoropoulos. As i got older, I got my driver license, my credit cards, etc, as Paul Theodoropoulos.
Social Security of course, still considered me Paul Christopher Theodor. In the last decade or so, since they began publishing them, I’ve gotten my social security ‘balance sheet’ mailed to me as Paul Christopher Theodor. All of my earnings have always been there, even though every job I’ve had, i was paid as Paul Theodoropoulos.
I had lost my social security card years earlier. Most employers never even asked to see it—they just asked for the number, and that was that. Seven or eight years ago, I decided I should replace the darned thing, so I went to the local SocSec office, and ordered a replacement. No problem, even with the discrepancy between my ID and who they thought I was (regrettably, when the thing came in the mail a couple of weeks later, it seems I scooped it up with the normal half dozen junk mails that came every day, and tossed it, because i’ve never been able to find it since then).
Things have changed since 9/11 however. Boy have they changed.
I went to the SocSec office a couple of months ago to really get a replacement card. I was going to start a new job, and they required that I show my social security card for employment (the job ultimately didn’t work out, that’s another long, boring story!).
Problem was, I got a great big N-O when I went in for a new card.
SocSec: "Our records show you as Paul Christopher Theodor. You must provide photo identification in that name in order to get a replacement card."
Me: "But, uh, I’ve used Paul Theodoropoulos as my legal name for about forty years. I have no photo ID with that other name."
SocSec: "I’m sorry. But that’s the rules. There are no exceptions, period. "
Me: "Okay. Um. So what do I do?"
SocSec: "Well, you can go to DMV and have them reissue your driver license with your birth name."
Me: "But that’s not my legal name any more."
SocSec: "That doesn’t matter. That’s the only way we can give you a new card."
Me: "How is it that you won’t give me a new card with my current legal name, but you’ve taken in thousands of dollars in Social Security taxes from my paychecks for the last couple of decades, all as Paul Theodoropoulos?"
SocSec: "We don’t care what name the taxes are associated with when we collect them, just the number."
Me: "But then, doesn’t that potentially mean that—twenty or so years from now, when I apply for social security benefits—I might have a big problem getting those benefits, since my name doesn’t match your records?"
SocSec: "Oh, no, it shouldn’t be any problem!"
Me: "Oh that’s reassuring."
SocSec: "The only other way to do it is to get your name legally changed by the court, and present the granted petition to us, then we can change the name associated with the number to your current name."
Me: "Well, I suppose, even though it sounds utterly ridiculous to change my legal name to my legal name, I’ll have to do that."
And that’s what I’m doing. For the low low fee of $320 for the filing, and the $15 for each certified copy of the granted petition, and the $75 to have the petition published in the local advertising rag for four weeks, I get a piece of paper saying my legally recognized name of Paul Theodoropoulos is now Paul Theodoropoulos.
Okay, the petition is to have my legal name changed from Paul Christopher Theodor to Paul Theodoropoulos. But you get the idea.
Now just you wait—how much do you want to bet that Social Security will still deny it? "Well yes, we do have the granted petition for change of name. And your driver license photo ID that matches that. But how do we know that you’re the same Paul Christopher Theodor that’s shown on your birth certificate? That’s the name we have on record for this Social Security number, and we must have a matching ID for what’s in our records".
Your government at work.
**Update, 26 January 2007: At the Social Security office, I stepped up with my granted petition and photo ID, and barely two minutes later, "You’ll receive your new card in the mail in approximately five to seven business days".
Your government at work indeed.