What’s in a Name?


Recipe for frustration:

  1. Have child apply to college
  2. Complete FAFSA application
  3. Find out your 18 year old’s name is wrong

Wait, what?  I named my child, filled out the paperwork at the hospital for “Certificate of Live Birth” and received that birth certificate back in the mail.  The birth certificate that I placed in the folder with the other vital records for future use (school, driver’s license, passport).

Attached to the birth certificate is a carbon receipt with his name listed correctly, amount of payment and the stamp of approval from the County that they’d received the information.  The Certificate of Live Birth listed two lines for names:  “Given Names” and “Surname”.  They were spelled correctly, in the correct order and with no spaces or hyphens where they should or shouldn’t be.  Silly me thought this meant that everything was fine.

Hubby and I decided after several weeks of wrangling to name our last child with One first name, Two middle names (no hyphens, two words) and one last name.  And, that’s how we’ve completed every form of paperwork since that time. Fast forward (because really, 18 years is nothing in the scheme of things) to college applications, FAFSA and scholarship forms and it became clear that the name that we gave our son wasn’t the name he actually had; even though he has a driver’s license, medical records and school records that show him with one first, two middle and one last name.

The FAFSA process is a tortuously confusing system that could possibly be used to interrogate terrorists or validate claims of insanity in a court of law.  In any case, it’s neither simple nor fast and requires several hours of patience plus tax records and maybe an adult beverage or several.  And the good news is it needs to be completed every year that you are intending on sending a student to college.  In addition, both the student and the parents need to complete the process separately.

We completed the first FAFSA process in fall of 2016 with 2015 tax records for both my son and our household.  It didn’t immediately ‘verify’ my son’s information with the SSA (Social Security Administration), but verified our household’s and passed us on to the next level which was identifying the colleges we wanted the results to be sent to.  He received an acceptance letter from the first college he applied to; they had received the appropriate FAFSA information and would be sending him a financial aid package in the spring for the 2017-2018 year.

Again, the beauty of the FAFSA is that you need to complete one every year, so after our taxes were filed in March I went back on the site and completed our FAFSA information with 2016’s tax information.  We also completed the FAFSA with my son’s information and waited for verification.  And waited…and waited…and waited.

In between the waiting were more college applications, ACT testing and all the other administrative joys of senior year.  He was accepted by 3 other colleges, turned down by the college he most wanted to attend (after more administrative snafu’s by the High School and college), and made his decision in June to attend a college in Washington State.  He made the decision so late in the game because the rejection from the school at the top of his list wasn’t received until late May — almost a month after many schools have made all their acceptances and sent out financial aid packages.

So, now he’s decided on a school and we dig into getting all the boxes marked off the list of thing to do before he can attend.  Step 1, turn in the FAFSA information.  This means returning to one of the levels of Hell that is the FAFSA form.  Still no verification from SSA so no information can be sent to any of his schools.  After several attempts at re-sending the information, I sat down one day in June and made a phone call to SSA to figure out what the challenge was.  The representative was patient and helped me wade through many of the questions but notified me there was only so much information she could provide to me because my son was 18 and an adult.

Yes, he can vote, sign up for the military, work 40 hours a week, purchase tobacco products, apply for a loan, legally have consensual sex with other 18 year olds or older, get credit cards and get married; however his parents no longer have any input or ability to gather information because with the addition of one more candle on the cake this man-child suddenly has all the aptitudes that have taken his parents decades to acquire.

He walks in the door from school (because he’s still a high school senior mind you, NOT a graduate) and talks to the representative on the phone who informs him that his FAFSA can’t be verified because his name is entered incorrectly.  He repeats his name and we check it on the FAFSA page; however he doesn’t have ONE first name and TWO middle names — he has TWO FIRST AND ONE MIDDLE NAME.
Mic drop.

She suggests that for the time being we complete the FAFSA with his name as it is listed in the SSA files and figure out how to correct it at a later date.

After we’ve both climbed out of the haze of confusion (because really, EIGHTEEN AND A HALF YEARS???), we change his name in the FAFSA application to match the SSA files and wait for verification.  This will take an additional 3 to 4 business days before the verification is complete and then we can send the FAFSA information to the chosen college.

Now, thinking that I certainly know my own child’s name (I have told him often enough about the stretch marks with his name on them), I pull out the Certificate of Live Birth and the carbon ‘receipt’.  My eyes do not deceive me and he, indeed has One First and TWO Middle names.

I’ve done a bit of genealogical research and usually these files are kept at the county or state level, so I call the County offices and ask for Vital Records.  Vital Records for the County verifies what is in their computer database and it is TWO FIRST AND ONE MIDDLE name.  But, they don’t keep the original paperwork — I’ll need to contact the state for that.

I contact the State Vital Records department and the woman on the phone tells me that the carbon receipt is only a receipt of payment, not a verification of the name being correct.  I explain that the certificate lists 3 “Given Names” with no designation as to first or middle.  Different years had different formats and that how they have it listed in the system is the correct name regardless of any receipt I may have.  If I want to prove that the name is listed in the system incorrectly, I’ll need to contact the hospital and ask for a copy of all birthing records.

I contact the hospital; oddly enough they don’t have birthing records that are 18 years old.  Go figure!  But I can fill out a request for archived files and see if they have it in the archives.  However it’s more likely the County will have the original paperwork and should be able to provide me with the “correct” documentation.  I fill out the medical records request form (6-8 week turnaround) and call the County again.  Then the State.

The 2nd phone call to the State provides me with a method to “correct” the names; by completing an “Affidavit of Correction” and attaching two forms of proof, we can correct his name for $20.  This will take about 4-6 months.  Among the two forms of ID that are acceptable to correct the name are:  1) Driver’s License 2) School Records 3) Passport 4) Military Identification.

I will point out that the first 3 require a BIRTH CERTIFICATE to verify the person’s name.  Except in this case the Birth Certificate is wrong.  And so, therefore are all those forms of ID (with the exception of the school records because we always completed them with One first and Two middle names.  As the Birth Certificate lists 3 given names the school never questioned our naming pattern).

By now, I am confused and frustrated; as is my incorrectly-named son.  So, I call our attorney to see if there is an easier way to resolve this issue.  The conversation with the lawyer took 45 minutes for me to explain the situation before he could even begin to give me a suggestion.  He was as confused as I, and in the end suggested that we complete the FAFSA with the name as the SSA has it listed, then tackle the name change after the fact.  He agreed that the correction process was nonsensical, but pointed out that it was time-consuming and unless my son had credit or a security clearance under either the incorrect or correct name(s), it was a good time to decide what name he would use for the rest of recorded history.

Son is excited that he can decide to change his name if he wants (He’s still a bit miffed that we didn’t name him our 2nd choice — he likes that name better).

What is the end of this story?  Son changes name (mentally only) from FIRST MIDDLE MIDDLE LAST  to FIRST FIRST MIDDLE LAST.  Completes FAFSA, verifies with SSA, receives financial aid package to college he’s attending, and makes a note to sign all future documentation from this date forth with TWO FIRST NAMES and ONE MIDDLE name.

Thankfully we didn’t decide to hyphenate or combine names; who knows what kind of trouble we’d be in now!


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