One of the people I am researching appears to have changed her name: in the 1915 NYC census she appears as Reva Osernoff, living with the Axel family:

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Similarly in the 1920 federal and 1930 censuses:

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But in her marriage record from 1937, she appears as Riva O Axel.

This suggests that she adopted the name of the family with which she lived most of her life, which is not that surprising. My question is whether this kind of a name change would be documented somewhere. In particular, would her original parents' names be likely to be listed there? (I know her father's name from family lore, but not her mother's name.)


The answer to this question would differ between countries and even between states within countries. As an example, in Queensland Australia, a person's legal name can become that of the name they are known as. If a male marries and the wife's child starts using the male's surname, this becomes their legal name as soon as it is recognised as their surname. Sorry if this does not make sense, I could not word it properly.

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    I think I understand what you're saying; I am hoping for an answer specific to the laws applicable in NYC. – Gene Golovchinsky Dec 3 '12 at 17:01

I can't comment on the legal situation in NYC but I can give one pertinent example of a documented name change.

My Great-great aunt, Augusta Barclay Bruce, emigrated to the USA in 1909. She informally (presumably) and intermittently altered her name in Kansas City by dropping the first name and using Barclay as her given name. She then moved to New York City in the 1920s where she increasingly used Barclay as her first name, eventually dropping the Augusta.

When it came to submitting her Petition for Naturalisation to the Southern District Court of New York in 1938 the petition was made out for "Augusta Barclay Bruce, also known as Barclay Bruce" and in fact it includes a section formally requesting the name change to Barclay Bruce. So this is one possible documentation for the change of name.

Clearly, since this includes the formal request, she has nevertheless been able to use the new name without formalities for at least some purposes (e.g. censuses). Indeed, in 1936, she submitted her SS5 application for the US Social Security system in the name of Barclay Bruce, even though there was no formal change until 2y later.

The other relevance of the SS5 is that it gives her parents' names.

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  • And I've only just seen how old this question was. It seems to have come to the top of my list because of Jan's edit. – AdrianB38 Jul 7 '16 at 18:27
  • I must have edited the tags. I thought about answering but decided to come back and do so later – Jan Murphy Jul 9 '16 at 0:05

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