A Rose By Any Other Name – Names, Name Changes and Assumed Names

Did you know that Bruno Mars’ real name is Peter Gene Hernandez? If Bruno had a real estate license in North Carolina, he would still need to advertise as Peter Hernandez. A broker may not use a name in their real estate business that is different from the name on their real estate license certificate (which should be their legal name). If Peter Hernandez advertised his brokerage services in the name of Bruno Mars, he would be in violation of the Real Estate License Law.

The following will help guide you in the proper use of your name in advertising.

First Names

Nicknames have always been common, and you can certainly use one in place of your legal first name. The key is to remain readily identifiable to the public and to the Real Estate Commission. Some nicknames are short versions of a longer name and are commonly known. For example, William may go by “Will” or “Bill,” Robert by “Rob” or “Bob,” and Elizabeth by “Liz,” “Beth,” or even “Betsy.” In these kinds of situations, you may use a nickname because your actual name can be easily determined. Similarly, a nickname involving the use of initials in place of your given name is acceptable, as when Thomas Joseph Jefferson goes by “T. Joseph Jefferson” or even “T.J. Jefferson.”

Other nicknames are not logically associated with the user’s first name. For example, if your name is Midlemas Phestus Jones and you use a nickname like “Purple,” a member of the public would have no way of knowing that you are actually “Midlemas.” In order to assure that you can be easily identified, your business cards and correspondence should include your full name together with your nickname. This can be done in various ways. For example, your business card might read, “Midlemas ‘Purple’ Jones, Broker,” and your social media ad could say, “For all your real estate needs, call Purple! (M.P. Jones, Broker).”

Last Names

On the other hand, using a surname that is not your own is not allowed. If you have an awkward or lengthy surname, you may wish that you could shorten or simplify it only in connection with your real estate business. While the goal is understandable, the result is misleading if you haven’t legally changed your name. For instance, if your surname is Furplesnurkle, you can’t simply call yourself “Mr. Furp” or “Mr. Jones” in your brokerage activities, if your legal name remains Furplesnurkle. If a consumer wishes to confirm that you are licensed or wants to file a complaint, it is imperative that you are identifiable.  If you want to become “Furp” or “Jones,” you must legally change your name. The most straightforward way to do this is to go through a judicial name change proceeding before the clerk of court in the county where you reside.

Marital Status

But what about your wife who is also a broker–Mrs. Furplesnurkle? Before she married you, her maiden name was Myrtle Evans. What name can she use now in her brokerage activities? The answer depends on whether she legally changed her name upon her marriage. If she did, then she must use her new, legal name, “Myrtle Furplesnurkle” or “Myrtle Evans Furplesnurkle.” In addition, she must notify the Commission that she has legally changed her name by filing a Request Broker Name Change and to Reissue Real Estate License/Pocket Card form (https://www.ncrec.gov/namechange ) to have her license reissued in her new name. She will need to upload a copy of the marriage certificate and a copy of her driver’s license or other state issued ID with the new name. Myrtle cannot be Myrtle Furplesnurkle to family and friends but be Myrtle Evans on advertising.

If Myrtle did not legally take your name, she must continue to use her maiden name until she legally changes it.

If you later divorce and she wants to revert to her maiden name, she may apply to the clerk of court in the county where she lives. Upon legally resuming her maiden name, she must again notify the Commission on the same form she used when she married you and her license will be reissued in her maiden name.

 Assumed Names

If you don’t want to go to the trouble of changing your name legally, then you should use your legal name in all aspects of your business. You cannot avoid the problem by filing an assumed name registration in the office of the register of deeds. That procedure is only for business names – not for individuals who wish to have a “stage name” like Bruno.

What is an “Assumed Business Name”? For example, when an individual broker/sole proprietor named Alex Robinson advertises as Robinson Realty, Alex is not using an assumed name because Robinson Realty includes the broker’s surname.

If Alex Robinson instead advertises brokerage services (with business cards, ads, etc.) as broker-in-charge of a sole proprietorship under the name, “Luxury Homes 4U Realty,” Alex is now using an assumed business name and must comply with the statute and Commission rule.

The Commission recognizes Assumed Business Names (aka DBAs) for licensed firms and for sole proprietorships, not for individual brokers. Accordingly, the designated broker-in-charge of a sole proprietorship may submit the Request Firm/Sole Proprietorship Name Change and to Reissue Real Estate License/Pocket Card form once they have filed an assumed name certificate for their company. Again, an assumed business name is not meant for Alex Robinson to use the stage name Alex Star when he is really Alex Robinson.

However, if you see an advertisement for Elton John’s brokerage services, it’s okay. He legally changed his name from Reginald Kenneth Dwight back in 1972.