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Whoops, I Have Two Names!

I have owned my own company for over ten years. I don't like my legal name, so I worked under an alias. I became very successful under that alias, and now I want to go work in the corporate world.

My LinkedIn page is full of recommendations for my alias that would give a boost to my job applications. How do I get out of this mess without looking like I was working fraudulently? My business and service was successful, but I am worried that in an interview they may get confused and not offer me the job due to this problem. Am I over-thinking this? Should I explain it to them? Should I legally change my name?

–Me/Other Me

Oh, what a tangled web we weave! Fortunately, it doesn't sound like you "practiced to deceive," with fraudulent intent. You served your customers honestly; you just wanted to put your best foot forward, namewise.

I can't advise you on the legalities (you should consult an attorney with any legal concerns), but I'll try to address the social aspects of your naming predicament. As is so often the case, it all comes down to the name itself.

If your alias is only a first name and you use your own surname, your path should be simple. Treat the alias as a nickname. If, say, you chose to go by "Blaze" rather than "Elmer," then you'd write "Elmer ('Blaze') Finkwater" at the top of your resume. Include the URL of your LinkedIn profile on the resume, to make it clear that Blaze's reputation is your own. No prospective employer should end up confused.

If you adopted a new full name with clear professional advantages over your birth name, you can take a similar approach. Supposing that you worked as a website designer under the name Webb McCool, the resume header would read "Elmer Finkwater (AKA Webb McCool)." Note in the body of the resume that the McCool name was used for promotional purposes; the eye-catching name helped you stand out in a crowded marketplace. Again, include that LinkedIn URL. 

But if you swapped out your full, ordinary name for a different full, ordinary name, then yes, you're in more of a pickle. A resume that reads "Todd Barkford (AKA Keith Lockwell)" does raise a lot of questions. Even if you have answers, the first impression you're making on employers is dodgy, or at the least a bit odd. That could start an interview off on the wrong note and color their impressions of you.

Since you say you don't like your own name, a legal name change would be an extreme but reasonable solution. Otherwise, I hope your business is in sales. It will take the persuasive and trustworthy manner of a sales professional to convince interviewers to ignore your double identity.


Please do not add links to your comments. Thank you.

June 2, 2014 10:22 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

The letter writer might be able to explain in an interview, but a resume that reads "Todd Barkford (AKA Keith Lockwell)might have problems even getting called back for an interview. I think you'd almost need to include a cover letter or something explaining you worked under the alias for "branding purposes" or some such. Several letters of reference from people addressing you by your legal name, but also making not of the name you work under could also be helpful.

June 2, 2014 3:22 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

The other option in the Todd Barkford/Keith Lockwell situation is to send out a resume with the assumed name. You probably won't need to legally prove who you are until after the offer, so you can at least delay the awkward discussion until after you've made a first impression (and avoid the chance that the employer doesn't even invite you in for an interview because of the double identity). The downside is that it potentially seems even more duplicitous, but you at least have a fighting chance if you can get the interview/offer.

It might be easier to pull of the delayed reveal if your name is something objectively bad/hard to pronounce, and not just something you don't personally like. I'd be more more understanding of the alias story if your name is, e.g., Adolf Binladen.

June 2, 2014 9:54 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

If you've made a successful professional career under your alias, I would simply apply for jobs under your alias.

In most states of the US, you are free to use any name you wish without legally changing your name, unless you are doing so in a fraudulent manner (ie pretending your name is Bill Gates and you own Microsoft).

It doesn't sound as if you were using an alias in any criminal way, and your alias is thus your common law name. You don't have any obligation to explain anything at all (even if you are Webb McCool), because your alias IS a legal name.

Lots of celebrities use a name they weren't born with, and they don't change their birth name eg Gene Simmons, Katy Perry. You could also register your alias as a trademark, rather than legally changing your actual name.

However check your state laws just in case you are in one of the few states that are less relaxed about it.

June 3, 2014 7:07 AM
By Kelly (not verified)

@Anonymous #3 - You're right in that most states it's perfectly legal to use another name as long as you're not doing it for fraudulent reasons (such as the examples of celebrities who use stage names, or authors who write under a pen name) - although in some places you may have to "register" such a name. It's not quite the equivalent of getting a formal legal name change through a court though, since agencies aren't bound to recognize assumed names (e.g. you may have troubles obtaining ID or a Social Security card under a name that isn't on your birth certificate or other legal documentation). However, for professional purposes you probably haven't done anything wrong per se - it just means that regardless of how you proceed it means you'll have to explain why your work history is under different names (that would be true even if you legally changed your name, assuming you also have work history under your birth certificate name). (The most complicated cases are those with work histories under different names because of a gender change - because explaining that you were once the opposite gender can lead to discrimination in many cases.)

June 3, 2014 12:33 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I would just say Legal Name (AKA Professional Name). Use the cover letter to write a few sentences about it: "Under the name Professional Name, I created a company that did X..." You can also have it in your resume:

200-2014: Company Name (as Professional Name)

Think of writers with pen names, women who changed their names after marriage, etc.

June 3, 2014 1:25 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

You should use dba (doing business as). It would be written as Legal Name dba Professional Name on all headings/mailing addesses. Signatures can be professional name only.

June 3, 2014 1:41 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

The problem with using your alias without changing your name is that for purposes of income tax and social security tax withholding, the fact that your name and Social Security Number do not match can be problematic because the income and payment is not associated with you. This can cause problems when you are old enough to qualify for Social Security. In addition, if an employer is using e-verify to verify that you are authorized to work in the United States, having a name and SSN that do not match could be a problem. Many employers do this for all employees, whether they suspect them of being unauthorized or not.

June 4, 2014 10:29 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I would get it changed legally. I changed my first name when I was 18, and then finally had it legally changed when I was 30. What a relief to finally have documents that matched who I was! It was a bit of a process (obtaining professional signatures to verify my identity) but only minimal cost ($130 at the time). I am in Canada, so the process will be different for you. But well worth it, I am sure. It saves a ton of hassle and embarrassing explanations!

June 6, 2014 10:03 PM
By tiktok (not verified)

I use an alias in my personal and professional life, with both first and last name different from my legal name. The alias is the name on my resume and the one on my nameplate at the office. When I was hired at my current job, I disclosed my legal name during the initial human resources paperwork session and explained that I do not use it in any aspect of my life, and that was that. In my state it is legal to identify yourself however you see fit, as long as your intentions are not to commit fraud in some way. I imagine that at any job that doesn't involve security clearances etc. this would not be a major issue.

June 6, 2014 10:09 PM
By tiktok (not verified)

If your tax documentation includes non-matching names, the IRS sends you a form to fill out detailing your aliases. It takes less than ten minutes to fill out.

If you disclose your legal name to HR when you are hired, they can verify your eligibility under your legal name. They're going to see it when you give them a copy of your photo ID anyway.

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September 26, 2014 6:05 PM
By Danny (not verified)

You probably won't need to legally prove who you are until after the offer, so you can at least delay the awkward discussion until after you've made a first impression (and avoid the chance that the employer doesn't even invite you in for an interview because of the double identity). The downside is that it potentially seems even more duplicitous, but you at least have a fighting chance if you can get the interview/offer.

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