- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2006

Millions of brides this year will learn that changing names is one area where digital-age technology has yet to yield greater convenience.

A woman changing her name after a marriage or divorce traditionally needed to go through separate processes for her employer, bank, credit-card companies, state motor vehicle department and the Social Security Administration. Now, airline companies, club memberships, pension plans, e-mail addresses, and numerous other entities also demand attention.

Erin Harris nee Wallace was married in May and still hasn’t completed the process.

“For it being a digital age, we’re not very digital,” said Mrs. Harris, 28, a manager at Ernst & Young in Chicago. “For as much as you can do online with banking and paying credit cards, when it comes to changing your name, you can’t do any of that online.”

Many forms can be found on the Web but still must be delivered via traditional mail or in person. That can mean long lines and mountains of paperwork, considering the 2.2 million marriages annually (an average of more than 6,000 daily) in the U.S., according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

“It’s a very different process than it was even 10 years ago. Technology, in some ways, has made the process more difficult … because there are more groups with different requirements,” said Linda Trott, owner of the Wedding Helpers in Anaheim, Calif.

For example, each airline has its own criteria for changing the name on a frequent-flier mileage account, Ms. Trott said.

“Changing your name legally, you write it down on the marriage license and it’s legally changed. It’s notifying everyone else in the world that’s the problem,” said Marilyn Oliveira, editor of the WeddingChannel.com, which receives more than 1 million new members annually.

Women can download the necessary form to obtain a new Social Security card on the federal agency’s Web site (www.ssa.gov), but two original documents that show age, identity and proof of U.S. citizenship must be mailed in or hand-delivered.

The agency has no plans to make replace cards online because identity theft is a concern, spokesman Mark Lassiter said.

Mrs. Harris said she understood the strict government requirements, but she also was required to call, then fax confirmation, including proof of her new license or marriage certificate, for banking and other normally convenient processes.

“With all the passwords and account numbers, as long as your address doesn’t change, why can’t you do it online?” she asked, adding that her passport and insurance accounts remain to be changed. “For an airline mile, should it be that difficult?”

Ernst & Young makes it simple for employees to change their names. When a change is verified, it transfers to their e-mail address, 401(k) accounts and other benefits, Mrs. Harris said.

Numerous vendors sell name-change “kits” priced between $20 and $35 that typically include more than 20 forms as well as checklists.

E-mail addresses and department store accounts may not need to be changed, Ms. Oliveira said.

But Annika Helmrich nee Olsen, 26, marketing manager for the U.S. at Management Dynamics Inc., a Rockville software provider, said e-mail topped her name-change list, which she compiled free of charge through online searches.

“The first thing I did was the e-mail,” said Mrs. Helmrich, who was married in September. “I thought it would get me going in the right direction to do the other name changing. I wanted my friends and contacts to get used to using the new name because I’m still getting used to it.”

Mrs. Helmrich said she took a break about halfway through the process. Her checking account, driver’s license and other car-related documents are next.

Brides said they were surprised that they could not complete more of the process online.

The main reasons are protection against identity theft and fraud.

American Express Co. requires card holders to call and send in documentation for a name change, said Monica Beaupre, a spokeswoman for the New York company.

“It would take a party of people all in it together,” to completely automate the process because of the various entities involved and their unique security and validation processes, Ms. Beaupre said.

Allyson Jaffe, 27, got married in September and avoided the headaches.

“If you don’t have kids, I just don’t see the point of changing your identity,” she said. “There’s so much work involved in it.”

The manager and part owner of the D.C. Improv comedy club said she used the “too much work” excuse when she told her grandparents about her decision.

“I’m guess I’m not old-fashioned … and I’m lazy.”

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