Getting a Real ID license stumbles over name change due to marriage – middle name, not the last

  • Holly Williams holds her New Hampshire current license while having lunch with her husband in downtown Concord on Friday, December 13, 2109. Williams blocked her license number and her address. GEOFF FORESTER photo / Monitor staff

  • Even with a Real ID dilemma, Holly and Rick Williams enjoy having lunch together after 42 years of marriage. Holly works on South Main Street and Rick works on North Main so they meet in the middle most days. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 12/14/2019 9:19:43 PM

When Holly Williams went to get a new driver’s license recently, she decided to get a Real ID.

“I heard about how you were going to need it to fly,” said Williams concerning the federally approved program for state licenses, which next October will shift from being recommended to being required for airplane-boarding adults.

Williams, of Gilmanton Iron Works, works in Concord so she went to the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles headquarters. She carefully brought the documents that the state says you need to prove that you are who you say you are: birth certificate, marriage license and driver’s license, plus not one but two Social Security cards, one with her maiden name and one with her married name.

But then she hit an unexpected roadblock, one that will resonate with many married women who have changed their name.

“When I was married, over 40 years ago, I did what a lot of women do, what my mother did. I moved my maiden name up to my middle name and took on my husband’s name as my last name,” she said.

As a result, her birth certificate and marriage license listed Ann as her middle name and Durivage as her last name, while her driver’s license listed Durivage as her middle name and Williams as her last name.

“The clerk seemed stumped that the middle name on my birth certificate was different than the middle name on my driver’s license,” she said. “She and a co-worker studied it and decided that because I didn’t have documentation showing that I legally changed my real name, I was denied a real ID.”

In other words, the marriage certificate was an explanation for why her last name had changed, but not her middle name.

“They told me they have denied a lot of people because of this,” Williams said.

One solution, she was told, was to go to Probate Court and legally change her name again, while another was to get Social Security to change her middle name back to her original middle name, “which I don’t want to do because I want to keep my name the way it is and has been for the past 40 years.”

Instead, Williams wrote a letter to the Monitor outlining her dilemma. After it ran, the newspaper heard from other women who faced the same dilemma, including a veteran who was denied despite showing her military discharge papers, known as DD214. “What more does DMV need to prove identity, fingerprints?” she wrote in a letter.

This obstacle is common enough for married women that an online search found it discussed on several other states’ websites, saying that it shouldn’t be a problem.

Typical is the advice on the Pennsylvania DMV page: “Be sure that your documents reflect a logical connection between names,” it says, before going on to describe the exact situation that Williams faced – maiden name on the birth certificate listed as middle name on the drivers license – and saying this “would be considered a logical connection.”

As it turns out, Williams didn’t write about her concerns just to the Monitor. She also wrote to the New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles, which contacted her.

On Friday, she said, she talked to Jeff Oderbank, a bureau chief with the Department of Safety, who told her that the state DMV had recently met with officials from the other New England states to discuss Real ID.

“(They) learned that the federal government has been allowing some states to make the logical connection that some married women use their maiden name as their middle name and granting them Real IDs without making then jump through extra hoops,” Williams wrote in an email response to a Monitor query. “The New Hampshire DMV will now start doing the same thing, but it may take some time to get training and education to staff.”

“I asked if the NH DMV had (heard from) a lot of angry women and he said they did, including his wife.”

Reached by the Monitor, Oberbank referred comment to the Department of Safety spokesman Michael Todd, who emailed a statement about the documents necessary to receive a real ID without addressing the issue of married women who changed their middle names to their maiden names.

As for Williams, she plans to return to the Concord DMV on Monday to get the license. Or, as she put it, to “receive (hopefully) my Real ID.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Monday morning, the day after this story ran, Williams wrote us to say she had been granted a Real ID.

 (David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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