Name Discrepancies

Notaries frequently encounter situations in which the name of the signer on a document does not match the name on the identification the signer furnishes. It is a common myth that notaries should accept an identification using a "less, not more" rule - i.e., if the document says John Quincy Smith but the identification says only John Q. Smith, the notary shouldn't perform the notarization. However, there is no law in any state stipulating such a rule.

Unless a document preparer has specific instructions requiring the name on the document to exactly match the name on identification, generally speaking, some name discrepancies can be overlooked. This is especially true in the example above. If the first and last name match, and the photo and signature match that of the signer, the notary should proceed with the notarization. Another common situation is when an ID contains a woman's maiden name instead of her married name. These types of discrepancies can be ignored if the notary reasonably believes the signer to be the person he or she claims to be.

Satisfactory evidence is often defined by state law to be the absence of any information contrary to the individual's declaration of his or her identity. This means that, unless there is some form of evidence that gives the notary a belief that the person appearing before him or her is not the person he or she claims to be, the notary should not refuse to notarize.

In the vast majority of cases, if the photo on the identification matches the face in front of you, the request appears to be legitimate, and the person is not behaving in a peculiar manner, there is no reason you can't continue to notarize with the identification provided. There is no law in the United States that standardizes what a person considers to be his or her “full legal name.” However, you may be interested to know that the Social Security Administration considers a legal name to be only the first and last name.

If you have any doubt about the signer’s identity, ask for another form of identification. If you are still not satisfied, you have the right to decline.

Names on identification and documents should be reasonably similar, but they need not be an exact match, and a middle initial on a driver’s license does not disqualify a constituent from signing his or her full middle name on a document or vice versa.

Always complete the notarial certificate using the signer’s name as written on the identification presented to you and not as printed on the document. When recording the notarial act in your notary journal, explain the name discrepancy in case you are ever questioned.

As always, consult your state's notary laws to ensure your compliance with all identification-related laws.

By Robert Koehler, a Contributing Writer with the American Association of Notaries, Inc.

Legal Disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries seeks to provide timely articles for notaries to assist them with information for managing their notary businesses, enhancing their notary education, and securing their notary stamp and notary supplies. Every effort is made to provide accurate and complete information in the American Association of Notaries newsletters. However, we make no warrant, expressed or implied, and we do not represent, undertake, or guarantee that the information in the newsletter is correct, accurate, complete, or non-misleading. Information in this article is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys. We do not pretend to be attorneys. Though we will sometimes provide information regarding notaries' best practices, federal laws and statutes, and the laws and statutes of each state, we have gathered this information from a variety of sources and do not warrant its accuracy. In no event shall the American Association of Notaries, its employees, or contractors be liable to you for any claims, penalties, loss, damage, or expenses, howsoever arising, including, and without limitation, direct or indirect loss or consequential loss out of or in connection with the use of the information contained in the American Association of Notaries newsletters. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate notary laws governing your state. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of their states' notary authorities or attorneys in their state if they have legal questions. If a section of this disclaimer is determined by any court or other competent authority to be unlawful and/or unenforceable, the other sections of this disclaimer continue in effect.

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