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The use of names to refer to individuals is probably as old as language itself, but many features of naming in the United States are much newer. For the most part, our naming laws and norms derive from England, where the use of surnames, for example, can be traced back to the Norman conquest and did not become a common practice until the 13th or 14th century. The idea of a surname as a family name, permanent and hereditary, is even newer.

The common law method of changing one’s name — simply using a different name, for non-fraudulent purposes — is still valid in most states, including Michigan. However, the practical impact of a common law name change is limited since it may not be sufficient for a name change on identification documents. The Social Security Administration, for example, will not change the name associated with a Social Security number based on evidence of a common law name change.

This column discusses Michigan’s name change laws and the requirements for a name change on one’s driver’s license, Social Security card, and passport. It focuses on two categories of name change and the issues they may present: name changes upon marriage and name changes by transgender or non-binary people.


Reproduced with permission.