You may think that your last name (sometimes called your “family name”) is very straightforward. However, like nearly everything else in immigration law, nothing is as simple as it may first seem.
One of the most common questions I get regarding last names come from newlywed women – and now also from some men in same-sex relationships – who want to know whether or not they should take their husband’s last name. They think that it may make their marriage-based case look weak if they opt to keep their maiden name.
The truth is that it takes more than a name change to establish whether or not a relationship is bona fide. My general advice is to do with your last name what you want.
The U.S. immigration system is not so old fashioned as to presume that every woman will automatically take her husband’s last name. If you want to keep your name, keep it. It will not be a problem.
Another issue regarding last names can be which the last name to use.
In some countries, most commonly in Latin America, people use two last names. The best answer I can give to this – or any last name question – is to use the last name as it appears on either your birth certificate or passport. If your birth certificate or passport shows both last names, then your immigration documents should also reflect both last names.
Instead of having too many names, sometimes someone may have too few names.
In some Southeast Asian countries, people may only have one legal name. By the time the person appears in my office, they have often already dealt with the U.S. government in obtaining a visa. So someone has already addressed how to handle their unique name situation.
The legal name will generally be used as a first name, and for the last name, the abbreviation “LNU” will be noted – standing for Last Name Unknown.
However you designate your last name, it is important to be consistent.
Your immigration documents will be used as the foundation for obtaining a Social Security Number, a driver’s license, and other documents.
Should you ever apply for U.S. citizenship and your name on your green card doesn’t match your birth certificate or passport for some reason, your name may be changed at the time of Naturalization to match your passport or birth certificate.
Then, the new name on your Naturalization Certificate may require you to update all of your other identity documents, which can be a big headache.
Your name may not be as simple as it seems. If you have questions about how to list your name on immigration applications, please contact an experienced immigration attorney for assistance.