Name Changes for REAL ID in New Jersey

Starting May 7, 2025, federal facilities, airports, and other places across the US will require “REAL IDs” as the only form of identification they will accept. You may have been putting it off or waiting until your current license expires, but soon you’ll be out of time. You can no longer delay getting a REAL ID.

Fortunately, the process is not as complicated as it sounds. Even if you’ve been holding out because you didn’t have time or thought it took too much paperwork, you can still get your REAL ID before the deadline.

What Is a REAL ID?

After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Congress began working on legislation that would create nationally recognized security standards for state identification. These standards would be placed on driver’s licenses and ID cards and required when the holder wanted to access certain federal facilities. The REAL ID Act was passed in 2005, and states were given until 2025 to fully comply with the law.

Once the law is fully enacted, individuals without REAL IDs will be prohibited from accessing certain places (such as correctional facilities or military bases), boarding commercial aircraft, or entering nuclear power plants.

A REAL ID does not place your name or physical characteristics in a national database and does not contain any tracking device or digital information about the holder.

How to Change Your Name on a REAL ID

If your name has changed for any reason since you last obtained a state ID, you will need to change it for your REAL ID. If your current legal name differs from the name on your birth certificate, you will need to show legal proof of the name change. Documents you can use include:

  • Marriage or civil union certificate
  • Divorce decree or court order restoring a maiden name
  • Birth certificate with addendum of name change

New Jersey uses the “6 Points” verification list for the documents that will be accepted to establish a change of name. This is a table of documents allotted a number of “points.” Your documents must total “6” to be granted a name change. You will also need your Social Security Number and proof of New Jersey residency.

What to Do if Your Name Doesn’t Match on Your Documents

If your name does not match on all these documents, which is often the case, you must either have the documents changed or provide a different document. REAL ID requires that one document show your first, middle, and last name with any suffix. Secondary documents must match the primary document.

Secondary documents may have a middle initial but not the middle name; or the first and last name only, if there is no conflict with the primary document.

For instance, if the primary document says, “Mary Jane Smith,” the secondary documents may say “Mary Smith” and/or “Mary J. Smith” but not “Mary Jo Smith” or “Mary T. Smith.”

Individuals with multiple surnames (such as paternal/maternal surnames) must have their names changed on their Social Security documents for REAL ID purposes.

What to Do if Your Gender Doesn’t Match on Your IDs

New Jersey recently allowed a no-gender option for driver’s licenses and IDs. Other states have similar laws. It is not yet clear if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will update its REAL ID requirements to meet this option. DHS requires a gender on REAL IDs but leaves the determination of how it is done to the states’ discretion.

Transgender, gender-fluid, and nonbinary residents of New Jersey should consult an attorney before making any changes to their driver’s licenses or IDs. You may need to apply for a new birth certificate and Social Security Number before your REAL ID can be issued.

Issues with REAL ID and Name Changes 

The most common issues with REAL ID and name changes revolve around mismatching documentation. Once a government or other agency has decided your name is “Mary Jo Smith,” it may be quite challenging to get them to change it.

Married, divorced, and widowed women (particularly women who married at a time when taking a husband’s last name was required) may have difficulties because their Social Security documents may be in their husband’s name. A widow whose name is “Mary Jane Smith” may receive Social Security documents from “John David Smith,” but she would not be able to use them for her primary or secondary documentation.

Individuals from Latin American countries who use paternal and maternal surnames often run into difficulties in the U.S. system and will have more problems with the REAL ID system. Juan Manuel Gonzalez Diaz cannot use both surnames on his REAL ID, but he may have “Juan Manuel Gonzalez” on his driver’s license and “Juan Manuel Diaz” on his passport. These mismatches will need to be resolved before a REAL ID can be issued.

How an Attorney Can Help

Obtaining a REAL ID is not difficult, but it can be overwhelming when a layperson looks at the things that need to be done. However, all you need is someone at your side who understands the paperwork and the places where it needs to be filed. The government is looking for certain types of documents, and an attorney can help you find them and assemble them.

A name change is a matter of getting everything done in the right order. Your attorney and their legal team will know which documents have to be done first and which documents must wait until the first batch comes back from the courts.

There may need to be a court hearing for your name change request. For instance, if your divorce decree failed to restore your maiden name, you will need a court order restoring your former last name so you can use it on your REAL ID. This must be put in the petition for name change. If there are any factors in your background that might cause problems with a name change, your attorney will know how to resolve them.

If you need a name change for your REAL ID or for any other reason in New Jersey, start by contacting our attorneys at Rosenblum Law. We are experienced in managing name changes for our clients, and we’re here to help. Call us at 888-815-3649 for an appointment today.

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