Problem with my legal name for Real ID and passport

My parents put one name on my birth certificate, but then never used it. They preferred my "nickname," which in my father's ancestral country is a common nickname for my "official" name.

So all my school records, tax records, bank accounts, drivers license, and (expired) passport all reflect my "nickname" as my first name. 

My birth certificate and SS card have my "official" name.

Now I need a real id (driver's license expires soon) and I need to renew my passport.

I really don't want to pay $450 to change my first name. 

Does anyone have any great advice? Are you unlucky enough to have gone through something similar?

I realize most people would say pay the $450, but it's a lot of money for such an irritating situation. At some point my father told me if you go by another name for a non-nefarious reason for a long time (in my case--my entire life,) it can become your given name? I have a feeling he had no idea what he was talking about. 

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Hi, I’d love to know what you find out because I’m going through the exact same issue 

I have the exact same problem, but didn't know you could pay $450 to solve it. How exactly do you do this? Tips very welcome.

You absolutely do not want to screw this one up. Choose a name, pay the money, do it 100% legally, make sure every doc reflects this, and move forward. A million problems are potentially coming your way - and your family’s way - if this is not resolved correctly. 

2 not so cheap options -

1) Get married or divorced
2) if you are not a USA citizen (which I assume you are), you can do it when you become a USA citizen.

Your father was not incorrect as far as changing name by use was concerned BUT that was pre-REAL ID requirements.  I think question #1 is what name YOU want going forward.  If it is the nickname you have used all your life, I'd recommend you pay the name-change fee.  If you are willing to have one official name and a nickname for your other records, I would look into changing whatever record[s] you might need to get the REAL ID and just let the other stuff slide.  You could be XXX ZZZ for the passport and driver's license and continue to be YYY ZZZ everywhere else.  PG&E is not going to care.  The only thing that would concern me is a discrepancy between your "tax records" and your Social Security account name.  If the IRS has never raised an issue, that part may be okay, but I really think that you make sure that there will be no problems when you apply for Social Security & Medicare.  Seriously.  Please get that clarified now.  It is potentially more important in the long run than your driver's license and passport. 

I have always gone by my middle name and eventually decided to legally change it to that once married. Unfortunately a first name change requires going to court and then the lengthy process of changing all your documents. 

I had the same exact issue- my family's not from the US, and as a general cultural practice my family used my middle name and given first name interchangeably, so some records (school records, W2s, bank account) had my middle name on it and some had my legal first name (birth certificate, passport, and even PGE for some reason). To be honest it wasn't that much of a problem before 9/11- I could explain to people the issue or show a document with my full name so people could see I was the same person. But increasingly it became a problem (I couldn't get a driver's license initially because I couldn't find the right combination of documents with a consistent name). I ended up legally changing my name a few years ago when I was living in SF, switching my middle and first names, because my middle name felt more like me than my given first name. It was a fairly easy process- filling out the form, going to the courthouse, paying the fee, posting a notice in a random newspaper. If you don't want to do that (and I understand why you wouldn't- you might consider trying to get some consistency. This might look like (1) figuring out which records might be easier to change and changing those so you have one name across the records OR (2) getting as much as you can changed into your given/official name since that's on your birth certificate and passport. Wish I could be of more help, but I also just wanted to commiserate.

You can change your name through the 'usage' method. I did that with my last name many years ago, before I got married (when I wanted to take my mother's maiden name as opposed to my father's last name), to save money. I've read that the old 'usage' method (as you have been doing) is no longer really feasible. If I were to do it again, I would go through the courts and pay the $450 name change fee. It is a lot 'cleaner' and ensures no issues at any point. (I'm currently trying to get dual citizenship, and we'll see if they take my old, notarized 'usage' letter or force me to go to the courts to prove I'm the same person as on my birth certificate.) I don't know what you might encounter in your life, but I'd recommend the official, more expensive way. Good luck!

My husband has this problem. To complicate things, his legal name is "dad's given + his given" with a space in between, essentially 2 first names and no middle name. His dad majorly messed up with official documents in his home country.

He has simply kept the legal name and uses it for all legal documents, and uses the nickname everywhere else. He is an immigrant, so it would be nightmarish and risky to try to change his first name.

No advice, I suppose, except that it's a hassle and entirely possible to continue on. If you can afford $450 to simplify your life, then it seems worth it. But you'll have to change all of your documents everywhere which is a  hassle that you'll have to endure for a while until everything is changed. After that though, no more confusion for, presumably, many remaining years of your life.

Your father is correct as far as California law accepting name changes by usage - and that's how you were able to get your California drivers license in the name you actually use.  But the Feds have different standards for ID documents, which means getting the Real ID is more complicated.  Many, many people whose CA ID shows a name changed "informally" after marriage, divorce, immigration, etc., etc., have run into problems similar to yours when it came time to get a Real ID, especially if they never got a passport in the new name.

But you say you have an expired passport in the correct name.  You can get a new passport in the same name as the expired one!  (You can renew by mail as long as the expired passport was issued within the last 15 years, and you were age 16 or older at the time issued; otherwise you must apply in person, but your expired passport will be accepted as evidence of your name and citizenship.)  Start there.  

Once you have a current passport, you can then get a Real ID without needing to show your birth certificate to the DMV.  (Or, worst case, get a non-real ID driver's license, and use the passport for all air travel.)

I don't know about getting a new SS card.  I've never bothered because it has to be done in person, which has never been worth the hassle for me.  If all of your tax records are showing the name you use, and that's never been an issue for you, it doesn't seem important to get the SS card changed.  The social security benefits payments you will hopefully one day receive will be under the name on your card, but as long as your bank accepts them - which, with the surname matching, shouldn't be a problem - who cares? :)