“What do I do if the signer’s name on the document doesn’t match the name on the ID?”
This is one of the most common questions Notaries ask our NNA Hotline Team — but it’s also one of the toughest to get a clear answer for, because most states don’t address it in their statutes.
At best, a law will say the signer’s ID must be on a list of acceptable IDs or must contain certain core elements such as a photograph, signature, serial number, and physical description. While you always must follow these rules, they don’t address some of the real practical issues that arise when a name on a document and the name on the ID don’t match exactly.
However, two states — California and Florida — have language in their statutes that can be helpful. Both state’s laws specifically say that satisfactory evidence of identity means “reasonable reliance on the presentation” of any one acceptable ID listed in the law. And reasonable reliance is a good standard for Notaries everywhere to use when dealing with signer name discrepancies.
The ‘Reasonable Reliance’ Standard
The words “reasonable reliance on the presentation” are key. When identifying any signer, your task is to reasonably determine from the identification presented that the individual is who he or she claims to be. This means no hard-and-fast rule can be applied to every situation. Identifying signers may require you to exercise some judgment.
Imagine a signer hands you an ID identifying him as “Walt,” but he signs the document with the name “Walter.”
The name discrepancy should not automatically cause you to reject the ID. Instead, first ask yourself if you can reasonably rely on the other elements of the ID to identify “Walt.” If, for example, the picture and physical description clearly match your signer, a reasonable person would likely say that “Walt” and “Walter” are the same person.
However, if “Walt” is 75 pounds heavier and sports a shaved head, a beard and glasses, it’s much harder to be sure if he’s the same person in the ID photo or not. While it’s still possible that he’s simply gained weight and changed his appearance since the ID card was issued, it’s still reasonable for the Notary to be concerned that “Walt” might not be the same person shown on the ID. Taken together, the name and description differences could make it hard for you to reasonably rely on the ID to identify Walt.
Last Name Suffix Discrepancy
One of the more common issues arises when Notaries are presented with documents in which the signer’s name appears with the last name suffix “Jr.” or “Sr.”, but the suffix is missing on the signer’s ID. It’s important to be careful in these situations, as there have been cases where dishonest sons with the same name as their father have tried to fool Notaries by signing using their father’s name instead of their own.
If you encounter this situation, here are some steps you can take:
1. Check to confirm that the physical description and photo on the ID matches the signer appearing before you. If you spot an inconsistency or error (such as a driver’s license presented by an obviously elderly signer that lists his age as 22), stop the notarization.
2. While you are not expected to examine a signer’s document except to provide information for your journal entry, be careful if you notice an obvious discrepancy. For example, if the document lists a “John Doe, Sr.,” applying for retirement benefits, but the signer appears to be in their early 20s, that’s a warning sign something may be amiss. If you have reasonable concerns the signer isn’t who they claim to be, don’t proceed.
3. If a signer asks you to proceed with a notarization despite a discrepancy with the name as it appears on the document (“Oh, they put my father’s name on the document by mistake. Can you just notarize it anyway?”), don’t do it. Tell the signer you can’t complete the notarization until the error is corrected.
4. Ask if signer has an alternate, acceptable form of ID with the correct name and suffix.
Misspelled Name On A Document
If the spelling of the signer’s name on the ID does not match the spelling of the name on the document, take the following steps before you notarize:
1. If the discrepancy is a shortened form or nickname of the signer’s full name (such as “Walt” for “Walter” or “Ed” for “Edward”), confirm that other information on the ID allows you to reasonably verify the signer’s claimed identity.
2. However, if the name difference is significant enough to call the signer’s identity into question (such as the name “Jeremy” appearing on the document while the signer’s name is listed as “Jermaine” on the ID), then ask the signer to explain the discrepancy. If the signer says the misspelling is due to an error on the document, postpone the notarization until the signer can have the document corrected. If the signer claims there’s an issue with the name on the ID, ask the signer to produce an alternate, acceptable form of written identification with the name in question. Or, depending upon state law, the signer may be able to present one or more credible identifying witnesses who can vouch for the signer’s identity in the name as it appears on the document.
3. If the signer cannot explain or remedy the name discrepancy to your satisfaction, stop the notarization.
Multiple Forms Of Last Names
In some cases, a signer’s last name may appear differently on different documents for reasons such as marriage, divorce, cultural custom or professional identity. For example, a married woman’s full name might appear as “Maria Cortez-Nelson,” but at her job she regularly signs documents as “Maria Nelson.” Similarly, individuals of certain nationalities may have multiple names.
If a signer has a hyphenated or multi-part last name on their ID, but only part of the name appears on the document (or vice versa), here are some options:
1. Ask the signer for an alternate, acceptable form of written ID that matches the name as it appears on the document. If the signer lacks such ID (for example, a signer who has recently changed her name due to marriage or divorce may not have changed her name on her ID), some states may permit the signer to be identified using one or more credible witnesses.
2. The signer can ask the agency issuing or receiving the document if it’s OK to sign using an “also known as” or “AKA” signature. If so, the signer would sign the document using a format such as:
“(Name appearing on the ID), also known as (name appearing on the document)”
“(Name appearing on the ID), AKA (name appearing on the document)”
You then could complete the notarization by writing the name appearing on the ID in the notarial certificate, since that is the only name for which the Notary has satisfactory evidence. However, remember that a Notary should never instruct a signer to sign using an “AKA” signature — the signer must ask the appropriate agency to confirm if this is acceptable.
David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.