Correcting Your Name When Obtaining U.S. Citizenship

If your name has been misspelled on previous immigration documents, the process of obtaining naturalized U.S. citizenship or a citizenship certificate offers a way to correct it for the future.

It's not uncommon for someone's name to appear incorrectly on past immigration paperwork, such as refugee processing documents, an I-94, or a birth certificate produced by an unreliable source, such as in a refugee camp. In such a situation, the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, whether through naturalization or derivation through parents, offers ways to fix the problem. Another option is to do a legal name change through the U.S. court system. This article describes these various options.

Correcting Your Name on Your Green Card, in Advance of Applying for U.S. Citizenship

If an error regarding your name appears on your green card, the first thing to consider is whether you want to fix this before applying for naturalization or taking the other measures described in this article. It's possible to have a green card reissued with a corrected name by preparing and submitting Form I-90 to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and requesting a correction.

Depending on the cause of the error, however, you might have to pay for the correction. Therefore, if you are eligible for naturalization, it might be easier to correct your name during this application process rather than separately paying fees to USCIS correct your green card first.

Correcting a Name During the Naturalization Process

Assuming you have not yet become a U.S. citizen, you might be able to deal with a previously misspelled or wrong name when applying for naturalization. Instructions on how to fill out Form N-400 and include your name change preference are found in Filling Out USCIS Form N-400 Application for Naturalization.

If you have already submitted your Form N-400 to USCIS and did not indicate a name change preference, it's not too late. At your interview, you can ask to complete a Petition for Name Change.

If you are approved for U.S. citizenship, and if naturalization swearing-in ceremonies are conducted by a court in your area, then you will be able to change your name legally at the ceremony. Your name change will take effect immediately after the ceremony has ended. The new name you've chosen will be shown on your Certificate of Naturalization. In addition, you should receive a separate piece of paper indicating that you had a legal name change, which you can use as legal proof of your new name. (If something goes wrong and USCIS gets your name wrong on the certificate, see What Happens If the Information on My Naturalization Certificate Is Incorrect?.

If, on the other hand, your naturalization ceremony is not conducted in a court or by a judge, you cannot get a legal name change through USCIS, because the agency does not have the jurisdiction to bring this about. USCIS could issue you a Certificate of Naturalization with your chosen name, but you will not have a court order showing proof that you have a legal name change.

Correcting a Misspelled Name When Requesting a Certificate of Citizenship

A request for a Certificate of Citizenship can be filed by a person (most likely a minor) who has already derived U.S. citizenship automatically, through a U.S. citizen parent. You might be able to have errors, such as those found on a birth certificate or refugee processing documents, corrected on the Certificate of Citizenship without having to get your name legally changed in court.

You'll need to ask for the correction at the same time that you submit the USCIS Form N-600 that's used to request the citizenship certificate. Fill the form out with your current name, even if the name is misspelled. Request the correction in a cover letter that you write and include with the application. Also submit an affidavit from a parent, if possible, explaining the error and correction. Provide as much evidence as possible to support your contention that your name was written incorrectly on the birth certificate or other documents.

Expect to have to correspond several times with USCIS before it agrees to make the correction. USCIS has been known to accept certain name corrections but not others, so it is okay to list alternatives in order of your preference. You might receive several letters from USCIS before your name correction is clarified, and the agency might not, ultimately, grant you your first choice.

For example, USCIS might be willing to add a space or remove a space in between two names, yet refuse to change the spelling. To illustrate, let's say the full name on a girl's birth certificate was "Jane Doa," but she considered her true name to be "Janedoe Maxwell." USCIS would probably approve a correction to "Janedoa Maxwell" if the father's last name on the birth certificate was Maxwell. If the father's name was absent, or the father's name was misspelled as "Mixwell" and no proof of this error exists, she might get a letter from USCIS asking if she wants her name corrected to "Janedoa Mixwell." Whether or not you get all the changes you want to make is going to depend on the particular errors made and the forms of proof you can show indicating what the name should have been.

If another family member, such as a parent, has had a legal name change in order to fix errors made on immigration processing documents, and you believe your correct name should have included the correct spelling of the family member's name (such as in the above example where "Mixwell" should have been "Maxwell"), include the proof of that person's legal name change to help demonstrate that an error occurred. If "Janedoa Mixwell" in the above example had been able to send in proof that her father had his name corrected to "Maxwell," USCIS would have been much more likely to agree that her correct name was "Janedoa Maxwell."

Name change not an option with N-600. USCIS does not offer the option of a name change with the Certificate of Citizenship. Therefore, your changes will be limited to correcting actual errors rather than choosing a new name for yourself.

Applying for a Legal Name Change in Court

If the errors on your paperwork can't be fixed through the citizenship or naturalization process, a legal, court-ordered name change could be the only remaining option. In the U.S., adults can change their legal names in a state or local court.

There are a few restrictions about what you can choose for your new name; read about the rules in Name Change FAQ.

Many states have a self-service legal center where you can get instruction on how to represent yourself in asking the court for a name change.

Difficulties in Correcting Name Errors Via a U.S. Passport Application

The U.S. State Department is responsible for issuing passports. It has historically been unwilling to correct prior errors found in documents like birth certificates or refugee processing documents. If your documents contain errors such as those described in this article, and you apply for a U.S. passport without correcting them beforehand, your passport will likely be issued with the same errors, unless you can produce other official documents showing the error or correcting your name. See the Change or Correct a Passport page of the State Department's website for more information.

Fortunately, USCIS is more accustomed to the documentation issues that affect some immigrants, so applying for naturalization or a Certificate of Citizenship first will help create evidence usable to apply for a U.S. passport.

Getting Legal Help

Experienced immigration attorneys are accustomed to dealing with the various paperwork and bureaucratic requirements associated with applying for U.S. citizenship as well as name changes. Consulting one can be well worth the expense.

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