9/11 Didn’t Strip Non-Citizens of Their State Law Rights to Change Their Names

From In re Zhan (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Feb. 14, 2012):

Appellant and his minor daughter are lawful permanent resident aliens. Appellant filed a verified complaint seeking to change his daughter’s first name from “Honghong” to “Michelle.” See R. 4:72–2 (authorizing parents to commence name change actions for their minor children without appointment of a guardian ad litem). The trial court dismissed the complaint because the minor was “not a U.S. citizen.” Distinguishing Application of Pirlamarla, 208 N.J.Super. 112 (Law Div.1985), which held that the name change statute applied to permanent residents as well as citizens, the judge reasoned that Pirlamarla was a “pre–9/11 case.” Without citing any specific statutory provision or case law, the judge opined that the federal “Immigration and Naturalization Control Act” pre-empted state law on the issue of name changes, and stated his view that for security reasons, “[t]he Country needs to identify who [is] here under the names that they have.” …

Considering the language of the New Jersey name change statute, as well as precedent from our own state and other jurisdictions, we conclude that relief under the name change statute is not limited to citizens…. We also find no basis to conclude that federal law has preempted state law in this area or that allowing permanent resident aliens to change their names would present a risk to national security. To the contrary, using the statutory process, as opposed to the informal common law process, ensures that there will be a public record of the name change. And, as discussed below, federal law requires a permanent resident alien to report a name change to the Department of Homeland Security….

Seems quite right to me, even independently of the fact that non-citizens often have more reason than citizens to change their names in order to Americanize them. I’m glad I’m Eugene Volokh now rather than Evgeni Volokh, which is what my entry visa said, though if I recall correctly the name change was done at citizenship rather than before; I suspect Honghong Zhan will likely be glad to be Michelle Zhan instead (though she can always change it back later if she’d like).

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