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.

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