How Can I Erase My Identity and Start Over?


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. Josh Clark, Chuck Bryant. We're here for you. How you doing, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: I'm doing well, Josh.

Josh Clark: I'm doing pretty good, too, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: Good.

Josh Clark: I just drank a Volt on an empty stomach; I'm about to chew the cover off this microphone. I'm ready to go.

Chuck Bryant: You got another one lined up, I'm impressed.

Josh Clark: I do, I do. This is my second one right now.

Chuck Bryant: I don't even know what that is. Never heard of it!

Josh Clark: I'm about to pass out actually but I'll try to make it through.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, please don't. I can't carry this.

Josh Clark: So, I've got a great news item for you, you ready?

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: Okay. So, it turns out the sovereign nation of New Zealand actually enforces its law that you can't give a child a name of a hundred characters long and you can't give a child a name that could prove socially handicapping. You want to hear an example?

Chuck Bryant: Charles Manson.

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: No, and arguably, I like it. I think it's very lilting and sweet but it's arguably worse than Charles Manson. There's a nine-year-old girl who was in the midst of a custody battle with her parents and the judge found out what the girls name was and how much she hated it and actually made her a temporary ward of the court so she could legally change her name herself.

Chuck Bryant: Let's hear it.

Josh Clark: Talulah Does the Hula from Hawaii.

Chuck Bryant: Wow.

Josh Clark: I am not kidding.

Chuck Bryant: Is that two names; one name; middle name?

Josh Clark: No, that's her - no, that's her first name.

Chuck Bryant: All spelt together?

Josh Clark: No, it's separate words and I think they actually even spelled it correctly like the is not capitalized, that kind of thing.

Chuck Bryant: That's ridiculous.

Josh Clark: But I was reading this BBC article on it and they brought up some other examples of names in New Zealand that some made it through and some didn't. There were a couple bizarre ones that made it through like No.:16, Bus Shelter.

Chuck Bryant: Bus Shelter?

Josh Clark: Yes.

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: And another one that made it through was Midnight Chardonnay which I think Hugh Grant probably has designs on that poor child.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I think it's no secret how that child was conceived either.

Josh Clark: Exactly. Yeah. But there were a few more that didn't make it through, like, Yeah Detroit.

Chuck Bryant: Nice.

Josh Clark: Sex Fruit.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And the twins Fish and Chips. The federal government or maybe even local government moved to block those names.

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: But I'm curious though, is Charles W. Bryant, is that the name your parents gave you, did you change it?

Chuck Bryant: No, Charles Wayne. I was named after John Wayne which is a true story.

Josh Clark: Is that right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: I didn't know what the W stands for.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's it. I'm Wayne.

Josh Clark: Now I do. Well, if you have your original name, do you anything about this kind of thing? Is this in your field of expertise per chance?

Chuck Bryant: You know, my wife actually changed the spelling of her first name although not legally but - well, she spells it - when she fills out her driver's license records and on her bank account, it's all spelled the Emily with an IE and not Emily with a Y but she never legally got it changed but it just kind of goes to show how you can change these official documents without really having the court say you can.

Josh Clark: Yeah, just by setting precedent, right.

Chuck Bryant: Exactly.

Josh Clark: But there are legal routes to do this kind of thing, right?

Chuck Bryant: Right. And I think I know what you're getting to.

Josh Clark: Yes, Chuck, how could one erase their identity and start over?

Chuck Bryant: That's a great question.

Josh Clark: Thanks.

Chuck Bryant: Unfortunately, I hate to spoil this for the listeners but there's really no way that you can completely erase your identity in this day in age, at least in the United States, without the government doing it for you.

Josh Clark: Yeah, technology has made it a lot more difficult to commit just about any kind of crime, huh?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, in the old days, you could do - there was one thing called a paper trip which is you could assume the identity of, like, a dead infant and get their records and claim their identity as your own.

Josh Clark: It's depressing but effective.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Or it was, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, you can do that anymore though because computer records nowadays and everything, it makes it really difficult to completely erase your identity.

Josh Clark: So, I guess even if you do change your identity, there's still records of your former identity linking the two together, right?

Chuck Bryant: Exactly. So, if you're on the run from somebody - like, you can change your name pretty easily if you're - if you have special circumstances, you can change your Social Security number but you have to prove to the government that someone's either been misusing yours and another reason you can change your Social is if you're a victim of domestic violence and you really need to go underground where your ex-husband or ex-wife, I guess, if you know, you're a victim of spousal abuse if you're a husband.

Josh Clark: Which is actually not paid nearly enough attention to, husband abuse? I'm not kidding. It actually is a real problem. Men don't feel the least bit confident in admitting that they are abused by their wives. And I gotta tell you, it's out there. You know.

Chuck Bryant: Sure. Well, that's a podcast for another day.

Josh Clark: Sure. Well, let's do it. We'll put it on our calendar.

Chuck Bryant: Agreed. So, like I said, you can change your Social for several reasons, it needs to be approved; you can change your name, it depends what state you live in for the process you go through but it generally costs $50 or under and a judge actually rules - I thought that was interesting, whether or not you can change your name.

Josh Clark: Well, that's only if there's objections, right?

Chuck Bryant: Well, they make a ruling regardless and it's always yes unless there is an objection.

Josh Clark: Okay. So, you basically - to change your name, you have to advertise it in the legal organ, usually the county newspaper, -

Chuck Bryant: Right, and this is for the great state of Georgia that we live in.

Josh Clark: Right. Okay. I gotcha. So, it does that for several weeks and if somebody notices and they have an objection, they can object. And I actually know of an instance where that happened. Do you remember Jeff Gillooly?

Chuck Bryant: Oh, who doesn't?

Josh Clark: Yeah, so, apparently knee-capping America's sweetheart can get you some really bad press in this country.

Chuck Bryant: Right, because he famously hit Nancy Kerrigan - ice-skater Nancy Kerrigan in the knees with a crowbar.

Josh Clark: Yeah, on behalf, he claimed of his wife Tonya Harding.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Who was in competition for Kerrigan for America's sweetheart, that kind of thing? So, after the whole thing dies down, a couple of years after, Gillooly petitions to have his name changed to Jeff Stone. There were plenty of Jeff Stones that lodged formal objections including, oddly enough, I heard the guy who played Jeff Stone, the son on the Donna Reed television show from the 60s. Isn't that weird?

Chuck Bryant: Wow.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Small world.

Josh Clark: So, people do object but I think you have to be a little unsavory for somebody to not want you to share their name.

Chuck Bryant: Right. And I would think Gillooly would've changed his name before that just for the simple fact that his name was Gillooly.

Josh Clark: Right. Exactly. Yeah -

Chuck Bryant: But that's just me.

Josh Clark: Yeah. So, you've given us a couple good reasons. Can you give us any famous cases of people changing their identities? I can.

Chuck Bryant: Well, let's hear it.

Josh Clark: Well, there was a really recent one. Radovan Karadzic, the Serbian leader from Bosnia-Herzegovina, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Back in the Balkan Wars there was a lot of ethnic cleansing going on and Radovan was one of the ones who was committing genocide against the Muslims in that area. So, the war's end! The U.S. indicts him for crimes against humanity. He drops out. Apparently, he was still something of a hero to the Serbian population around there so he was hiding in plain sight to an extent. He actually grew a beard and became an alternate guru and was living quite publically in Belgrade. Finally, we get a very pro America, pro west leader in that area and the next month Radovan is under arrest and on trial so war crimes is a pretty good reason to change your identity as well.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, when I was researching this article, I found that a lot of people that inquire about this on the internet, you know, you can get certain websites will say they'll change your name but it's really just a big scam. They'll give you a fake ID and - or reuse a bunch of the same records over and over and it's - for those of you out there that look into these, it's just a big money rip off.

Josh Clark: That's one of those things where if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself I would imagine. Especially if you're having trouble with your identity through identity-theft or whatever but I guess if your identity gets so ragged out it doesn't matter who you trust it to change it for you, you know.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: But I wonder if the percentage of people changing their identity is on the rise what with identity theft just exploding all over the place.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I think that's - I mean, that's one of the problems with the internet is identity theft and it's also one of the problems of people not being able to change their identity because of the paper trial via computer so it's sort of a double-edge sword.

Josh Clark: So, Chuck, do you want to give our listeners the number they can call if they're interested in changing their Social Security number?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, if you're a victim of spousal abuse or if your Social Security number has been tampered with, you can call 1-800-7772-1213 to inquire to the SSA about what you can do.

Josh Clark: And for all the great details, you can read Chuck's article, "How can I erase my identity and start over," on howstuffworks.com. And stick around to find out what article makes Chuck think of Frankenstein. What article is it, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: Well, it's sort of misleading. It's not Frankenstein, the doctor who created the monster, but it's the awesome 70s instrumental groovy song Frankenstein. That's it.

Josh Clark: Do we have to pay anybody for that?

Chuck Bryant: I don't think. If we paid anyone, it would be Johnny Winner because that's his song.

Josh Clark: Okay. All right.

Chuck Bryant: And are you going to ask me why?

Josh Clark: Yeah, this is kind of you - not only did you start, you mislead me to mislead the readers and now I'm just as confused as ever. Why would that possibly remind you of Frankenstein? What article are you talking about?

Chuck Bryant: Well, because Johnny Winner famously has albinism along with his brother or fellow musician, Edgar Winner of the Edgar Winner Group. They're both albinos.

Josh Clark: Apparently it runs in the family.

Chuck Bryant: So, the article, "How Albinism works," is - that's the one.

Josh Clark: So, do you just sit there and Frankenstein plays over and over in your head every time you read it?

Chuck Bryant: Over and over and over. I get the ear worm.

Josh Clark: Well, that's fantastic, Chuck. So, you can read all about albinism and all sorts of other interesting articles on howstuffworks.com. Check it out.

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