Ask Rusty — When you’re known by your middle name
Dear Rusty: For those of us who use our middle name as the name we are known by (and there are many famous persons who are), why does the Social Security Administration mandate the use of the first name when applying for benefits? Is there any way to change this now that I am receiving benefits? Can younger persons make the change before they become eligible? Signed: Middle is Main
Dear Middle: You are correct that Social Security only allows for use of your “legal name” for identifying beneficiaries and it does not consider your middle name, or a familiar nickname, to be the same as your legal name.
Even though your middle name may appear on your Social Security card, your “legal name” for Social Security purposes is considered to be your first name and last name (surname) as shown on your U.S. birth certificate, probably reported to and established with the Social Security Administration when you were a young child.
That you have chosen to be familiarly known instead by your middle name is not something Social Security is, or needs to be, aware of. That being said, it is possible for you to change your legal name for Social Security purposes to a different name which you now are known by, and which was legally changed by court-order and can be substantiated by legal documentation (including a marriage).
This is mainly an issue of establishing and maintaining proper identification for accurate recording of a person’s lifetime earnings, which in turn translates to the amount of Social Security benefit each person is entitled to. In short, it’s to make sure that all of your lifetime earnings are accurately credited to you and that your Social Security benefits are accurately calculated and paid to the right person, all of which is done via your Social Security Number and the legal name associated with it. The only way to change this — change the name associated with your Social Security Number — is to use the legal process to formally and legally change your name, in your case to your middle name by which you are familiarly called.
After you do that, you can change the name associated with your Social Security Number to the new court ordered legal name which would then appear on a new Social Security card which you can order from the Social Security Administration.
This can be done whether you are already collecting benefits or have yet to start but, after all is said and done, your benefits will still be electronically deposited in the same bank account you have already designated to receive your monthly benefit payments.
Russell Gloor is a certified Social Security advisor with the Association of Mature American Citizens.