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By Miriam J. Baer,
Assistant Director, Legal Services

If you use a name in your real estate business which is different from the name on your real estate license certificate (which should be your legal name), you may be in violation of the Real Estate License Law.

For example, suppose your full legal name is Midlemas Phestus Furplesnurkle, IV, but you prefer to go by “Purple” in connection with your real estate business.Your advertisements in the local homes magazine, newspaper and on the web, simply say, “For all your real estate needs, think “Purple!”Likewise, your (purple) business cards and sign riders identify you only as “Purple.”

This method of identification is insufficient under the law even if your ads, cards and stationery include your company name, address and phone number.The name under which you do business should be enough to identify you legally and to assure that you are not misleading the public as to your identity.By using only “Purple,” you are engaging in business under a name not legally your own, and thus effectively concealing your identity.While you may not intend to deceive, you do so by not using your legal name.


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 Furplesnurkle and you use a nickname like “Purple” or “Kid,” 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’ Furplesnurkle, Broker,” and your newspaper ad could say, “For all your real estate needs, call Purple! (M.P. Furplesnurkle, IV, 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, so long as your legal name remains Furplesnurkle.If you want to become “Furp” or “Jones,” you should 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.

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 personal name changes.

Marital Status

But what about your wife–Mrs. Furplesnurkle.Before she married you, her maiden name was Myrtle Jones.What name can she use now?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.”And, she must notify the Commission that she has done so by filing a Request to Reissue Real Estate License Certificate and/or Renewal Pocket Card form to have her license reissued in her new name.(These forms, which are available from the Commission upon request, must be notarized and accompanied by a $5 fee for each document.)If she did not take your name, she should continue to use her maiden name until she legally changes it.

If she subsequently divorces you and wants to revert to her maiden name, she may apply to the clerk of court in the county where she lives.Upon resuming her maiden name, she must notify the Commission on the same form she used when she married you, pay the $5 fee and her license will be reissued in her maiden name.

If you have a question about the name you are using in real estate, call the Real Estate Commission’s Legal Services Division for assistance (919/875-3700, ext. 131).

This article came from the March 2004-Vol34-3 edition of the bulletin.