First vs Middle names or how the US immigration renamed me

For anybody planning to move to the US I have one important recommendation; sort out your name situation before you apply for visas etc. The US is obsessed with your name since it and your birth date more or less identifies you.

So this is my story; I have what we in Sweden say four first names and one last name. In US vocabulary I have one first name, three middle names and one last name. The term "middle name" is actually extra confusing for Swedes since the literal translation of "middle name" in Swedish refers to an additional last name often used when somebody gets married and want to keep both their old last name together with their new last name.

Back to my story... As I said I have four first names where the one I go by is the fourth one. So when I enter the social security office after less than 24 hours in the states and fill in the form to get a social security number I list the first name I use (remember number four) as my first name and the other three as my middle name. The social security employee decides three middle names is too much and pick one. Hence compared to my passport my social security name is now "fourth name, first name, last name".

When getting a bank account the procedure repeats but my bank just skips the middle name so they now only know me as "fourth name, last name". This is also what they put on my credit cards.

Now getting a drivers license in Washington state they try to put "first name, second name, third initial, fourth initial, last name" on the license. I manage to talk them into replacing the second name with a second initial and fourth initial with my fourth name since that is the name I sign with and that is on all my credit cards. So far so good.

Fast forward almost two years and it is time to get the green-card. Obviously immigration is more picky about names so they refuse to put anything other than my first and second name together with my last name on the permanent residency card since nothing more will fit. I'm starting to feel that all my names are getting to be a larger and larger problem...

Fast forward several years and I move to California and need a California drivers license. Since I'm not a citizen they refuse to put anything other than what appears on my green-card of the drivers license regardless of the fact that I have a passport and social security card showing a different set of names.

So now I freak out since over night I no longer have any other form of ID other than my passport showing the same name as on my credit cards. After confusing the bank a few times ("no I have not changed my name - you just have the wrong name") I get them to change my name and send me new credit cards so I don't have to carry around my passport...

I know my situation is not unique and several other nationalities suffer from US' fixation on everybody having a single first, middle and last name. Even not having a middle name (like my wife) can cause problems sometimes since certain online forms requires a middle initial to be entered.

So what can you do to avoid all this?
First of all you need to understand how important your name is in the US. If you have the opportunity to change your name before moving to the US; do so! And if you have no middle name; the online forms complaining typically accept a dot as valid input...

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