The Monitor has been getting contacted for months by married women who had trouble getting REAL ID licenses because their marriage certificates don’t reflect that they took their husband’s name.
Since REAL IDs will be required to board an airplane as of October, we know this is a real problem. What we don’t know is how widespread it is.
Although there are anecdotes that some DMV branches wouldn’t issue the REAL ID in these cases, we wanted hard numbers and weren’t sure how to get them. Then we had an idea:
Many women said they were told by a DMV clerk to go to Circuit Court and get a judge to legally acknowledge their name, even though they’ve been using it for years or even decades on driver’s licenses and other documents. Several of the women who contacted us said court officials mentioned that they had seen many other women go through the same process.
Voila! we thought – we’ll get data from the courts. They’ll tell us how many women have had to change their name to get a REAL ID.
Alas, we ran into an issue. Until very recently there was no central databank for the Circuit Court system, so the data wasn’t readily available.
We get did a little break. By coincidence, during the course of this reporting the courts in New Hampshire have turned on electronic filing that gathers data from the 32 circuit courts around the state, including name-change petitions.
So we have numbers, but only numbers since Feb. 12, when the system went live.
This means we can tell you this, thanks to data pulled for the Monitor by Brigette Holmes in the circuit court administration:
Between Feb. 12 and March 2, there were 129 name-change filings in the state. Of those, 9 mentioned REAL ID in the petition, and 3 of those mentioned the issue of being of a married woman turned away by DMV.
If we assume that’s a typical percentage – which is a wild assumption, but it’s all we’ve got – then 2.3% of name changes in New Hampshire involved a married woman seeking a REAL ID.
In 2019, there were 1,726 name changes filed in New Hampshire, and 2.3% of 1,726 is 40.
So our best guess is that last year 40 women had to pony up several hundred dollars each to get paperwork acknowledging the name they’ve been using for years. And judging from the calls we’ve gotten, they weren’t happy about having to do it.
(A side note: The number of name changes has jumped in New Hampshire since 2016, rising by 26% since that time after remaining about the same for many years. This probably wasn’t fueled by REAL ID issues, however; it’s more likely due to the legalization of same-sex marriage, which allowed a large number of couples to formalize their relationship, and the growing acceptance of gender change, which is often accompanied by a new name.)
That number of 40 women changing names should be considered a low estimate. It’s likely that many more were turned away by their DMV but eventually got their REAL ID without having to go to Circuit Court. For example, some have told us they were able to get a new Social Security card reflecting their married name, which sufficed.
It’s also likely that the number of name changes spurred by REAL ID wishes will go down over time. That’s partly because many women have already gotten their identification but also because federal and state agencies are telling clerks that paperwork can provide a “logical connection” even if a name change isn’t shown.
In other words, possession of a birth certificate for Maria Jones, a marriage certificate of Maria Jones to Xavier Smith, and a current photo ID for Maria Jones Smith should create a logical connection that the woman took her husband’s name, even if no paperwork says she did so.
One other note is that New Hampshire marriage certificates since 2015 provide legal notice of name change because they were altered by legislators as part of same-sex marriage becoming legal. The problem affects older marriage certificates or some out-of-state certificates that don’t reflect the new name, as this story noted.