By Rusty Gloor, National Social Security Advisor at the AMAC Foundation, the non-profit arm of the Association of Mature American Citizens
Dear Rusty: My sister and I have the same first and last names but are distinguished by our “middle” names. Our last name consists of two family names, which gives us both four, with only our middle names unique. We received two Social Security cards with the same name (middle name excluded), each with a unique number, but with our last name misspelled. So, my questions are:
- Which card is mine, and which is my sisters?
- Is it okay that our last name is misspelled?
I called Social Security and was told to make an appointment online, which I tried but could not because it wouldn’t accept my last name. I don’t know what to do now and hope you can advise me. Signed: Confused Sister
Dear Confused Sister: You haven’t shared your age, but unless you’re ready to apply for Social Security, you and your sister have time to correct your last name in your Social Security records. In any case, your Social Security Number is what is used to record your earnings for the purpose of future SS benefits, so you aren’t losing anything where your earnings credits are concerned. You should, however, get your correct last name reflected in your Social Security records to be sure that your future benefits will be properly paid.
For Social Security purposes, only first names and last names (surnames) are considered your legal name. You can include a middle name if it will help distinguish you from another, but your legal name for Social Security purposes will be your first and last name only. Thus, you should correct your Social Security profile to reflect your correct first and last name and include your unique middle name for personal purposes to distinguish you from your sister. For additional awareness, SS last names are limited to 13 characters. Also, it’s not uncommon for many people to share the same first and last name (e.g., John Smith) in Social Security’s records – it’s the SS number associated with that name that counts.
Other factors might apply too, such as whether the SS cards and numbers you and your sister now have are new, or if either or both of you have been using those SS numbers for past employment purposes. In any case, those numbers have been assigned to you, so getting your profile to reflect your correct last name is important. It’s also important that each of you separately use only one SS card/number (you use one; your sister the other).
To correct your name with Social Security, you should fill out and submit form SSA-5, which you can download/print at this link: https://www.ssa.gov/forms/ss-5.pdf. Note that the form is used to apply for a new card, get a replacement card, or to change information for an existing SS number. The form includes complete instructions on how to fill it out, and you can submit it via the US Post Office to your local Social Security office, the mailing address for which you can find at www.ssa.gov/locator. Take note of the form’s instructions for including additional documentation for identification purposes. I suggest that you and your sister both do this separately, each of you taking ownership of one of the SS numbers. When Social Security processes your name change, they will schedule an appointment to discuss any remaining questions they may have. They will notify you via U.S. mail of the date/time of the appointment and the next steps to be taken.
Since all Social Security offices are temporarily closed to public access due to the pandemic, you can do this transaction entirely over the phone if you wish, but you will need to first call for an appointment. If you choose the phone method over submitting form SSA-5, you should call 1.800.772.1213 and request an appointment to correct your name on Social Security’s records. They will send you an appointment notice, at which you will be able initiate the name change process (you’ll still need to provide them with identification documents via the US mail).
This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit our website amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.