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7 Things To Know Before Legally Changing Your Name

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People legally change their first, middle, or last names for a variety of reasons: Major life changes—getting married, divorced, or undergoing a gender reassignment—might catalyze a name change, or people might just hate the name they were born with. 

“The biggest thing to keep in mind about any name change is that it is a process, rather than a one-stop shop,” says Anna Phipps, VP of Experience at HitchSwitch, a name change service geared towards newlyweds. Obtaining a legal document such as a marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court granted petition will allow you to change your name but won't make your name change official, explains Phipps. “You won't be legally recognized by your new name until you've submitted applications with the Social Security Administration, DMV, etc.”

If you’re considering getting a legal name change, here are seven things you should know. 

1. YOU CAN NAME YOURSELF ANYTHING, WITH A FEW EXCEPTIONS.  

If you don’t like your birth name, you can legally change it to whatever you want … with a few exceptions. You can’t name yourself after a celebrity (because that could be viewed as intentionally misleading), a trademarked name, a numeral (like 4 or 8), a punctuation mark (like ? or !), or something offensive or obscene. You also can’t change your name to commit fraud, evade law enforcement, or avoid paying any debts you owe.

Jo-Anne Stayner of I'm a Mrs. Name Change Service recommends that people who are legally changing their name make sure they’re 100 percent certain of the spelling and format of their new name. “It might seem obvious, but we get several inquiries a year for people needing to make a legal name change because of a misspelling.”

2. THE SIMPLEST TIMES TO CHANGE YOUR LAST NAME ARE DURING MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE.

In most states, men and women can legally change their last name to their new spouse’s surname, hyphenate their two surnames, or create a new amalgamation of their surnames (like when actors Alexa Vega and Carlos Pena got married in 2014, and changed both of their last names to PenaVega).

If you decide to change your last name when you get married, you don’t need a court order. Just write your new last name on your marriage license and show your marriage certificate (not license) to places such as the DMV, your bank, and Social Security Administration as proof of your new last name.

And if you get divorced and want to legally change your name back to your maiden name, you can usually get the judge to take care of that during the divorce proceedings. Your name change should appear on your Decree of Dissolution (a.k.a. Divorce Decree), then you can start using your maiden name again.

3. YOU DON’T NEED TO HIRE A LAWYER…

Although it may be seem daunting to show up at court or fill out legal paperwork, you don’t need to hire a lawyer to change your name.

Filling out a Petition for Name Change can be fairly straightforward. But if you do feel overwhelmed by navigating the name change process yourself, consider outside help. Companies such as LegalZoom offer packages that streamline the name change process, giving you the paperwork you need to fill out for your state.

Services such as I’m a Mrs. and HitchSwitch can also simplify the name change process by putting all the forms and instructions you need in one place. “We save our members time by auto-populating forms, pre-drafting emails, and providing specific contact details and tips on organizations’ preferred method to submit name changes,” explains Stayner.

HitchSwitch founder Jake Wolff adds, “Our goal is to streamline and take the mystery out of this intimidating process."

4. BUT BE READY TO PAY A FEW HUNDRED DOLLARS.

In most states, you have to pay a fee (usually $150 to $200) to file your name change petition in court. It also costs a small amount of money to get forms notarized. And if you’re getting married, you may want to pay for additional certified copies of your marriage certificate to use as proof of your new last name.

5. UPDATE EVERYONE ON YOUR NEW NAME…

You’ll need to make government agencies, businesses, family, and friends aware of your new name. First, apprise the Social Security Administration of your new name, then notify the IRS and the DMV—you may need to get a new driver’s license. Don’t forget to tell banks, credit card companies, utility companies, and mortgage or loan companies about your new name, and make a list of any identification documents—like your passport—that you’ll need to update.

Other things you should do? Get new checks, notify the post office, and update your medical records and insurance. If you have legal documents like a will or trust, you’ll want to look into changing them as well.

6. …BUT DON’T JUMP THE GUN.

Although it’s important to notify people of your new name, doing it too soon could create logistical problems. “Wait until you get your official paperwork (court papers, marriage certificate, divorce decree) in hand before starting to change your name broadly—you’ll save a lot of time this way,” says Stayner.

Waiting can also help you preserve your good credit because you don’t want to lose credit history that you’ve built under your old name. Additionally, it can take several weeks to notify the passport office of your new married name, so if you’re traveling internationally for your honeymoon, use your maiden name (to match the name on your passport) to book flights.

Finally, transgender people who are undergoing sex change operations should proceed with caution when changing their names with their health insurance companies to avoid confusion and ensure coverage. Insurance companies won’t cover a hysterectomy for legal males, for example. 

7. STATE LAWS VARY, SO DO YOUR RESEARCH.

Not all states require that you file your name change in court, but some states do. In California, for example, you can technically choose a new name and start using it consistently under the state’s usage method. But realistically, you might still need a court order to show as proof of your name change to banks, the SSA, or the DMV because these organizations are wary of identity theft. Some states also require that you advertise your new name by publishing it in a newspaper. No matter where you live, do your research (your state government’s website is a good place to start) to make sure you’re following your state’s protocol.

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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