It's about me becoming me: Why I'm changing my first AND last name after marriage

November 4 | Guest post by Quinn

quinn necklace

After I got engaged, the name issue quickly became the most frustrating detail for me to figure out.

At first, the problem seemed to be around my last name. Should I keep it? I had already earned two degrees and published a few academic papers under my current name which was a significant amount of identity investment, as I saw it.

However, I have never been overly-fond of my last name, aesthetically speaking. And my husband-to-be has an awesome last name that I actually love. For a while, we decided to hyphenate both our last names. But something still didn't feel right about it. His name was certainly not improved by tacking my name to the front of it, but I felt kind of wrong just changing my last name — misplaced feminist pride, perhaps.

I genuinely believe that any partner should change their name if they so desire, but I couldn't seem to justify it to myself for some reason.

Then I had an epiphany. I wanted to take his last name — but I also wanted to legally change my first name.

My name dysphoria started a long time ago. I have a long, feminine, difficult, foreign-sounding name. My father is Hawaiian, and I was given the name to honor that heritage, though I was not raised in Hawaii. Everyone I introduce myself to immediately compliments me on what a beautiful name I have. After they mispronounce it twice.

For the past three years, I have gone by another name entirely. It worked well. Then I started my first full-time job, and was overwhelmed with my legal name on everything, including my provided work e-mail address. I reluctantly ordered business cards thinking "Well, maybe I can go by this name again." But, in fact, I couldn't — I hated it. It was like an ill-fitting sweater that itched. So I started asking my coworkers to call me by my preferred name.

When I chose my new first name, I partly chose it because it is gender-neutral leaning toward masculine, which suits my genderqueer self far better than my given name ever did.

While my reasons for disliking my first name are many and varied, it's never been about my family — who I love dearly. After I told my wonderful mother that I wanted to change my first name, she said that, although she was sad, she realized "it isn't about you rejecting me; it's about you becoming you." Just writing those words from her makes me weep with gratitude. She was completely correct.

Re-examining my values also helped a great deal here. Recently, when making big life decisions (quitting a miserable grad school program, quixotically looking for jobs near that fellow I am about to marry), I come back to a sentiment that is beautifully summed up by this A Softer World comic which says:

Blah blah blah you say you feel trapped in your life. I just hear you saying happiness isn't worth the inconvenience.

Please know that I am in no way trying to invalidate anyone else's experiences of feeling trapped. Sometimes we truly are constrained by circumstance far beyond our control. In this instance though, I have the ability to make a decision.

Did I want to keep having the same tiresome, negative conversation with every new person that I meet? Not really. Is changing my entire name going to be incredibly inconvenient? Most certainly, in terms of process, costs, and social confusion. Is my happiness worth the inconvenience? When I asked myself that question, the answer was a resounding YES.

Additionally, I now have no problem taking my partner's (delightful) last name when I will also be taking my own first name, on my own terms. Though, I decided to keep my middle name for sentimental reasons — bracketing it between my chosen names.

I look forward to the person I am becoming, and the new name I will carry with pride. In the future, when someone compliments me on my name, I will be able to say: "Thank you, I chose it myself!"

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  1. Yes!! I'm doing this, too and no one ever talks about it. My reasons come from the gender neutrality of my name. I hated it when the same name was called for me and the quarterback of the football team. And then I meet the man I'm marrying and his father's name is my name. So when we're married, it would be even the same first and last names. No thanks.
    So I've been Lydia informally for three years. This spring, I'm doing the legal tapdance for the change. But, just like you, I'm keeping the middle name. And now no one will think I'm a boy on paper. Such a relief, as I've always been a cis lady.

    5 agree
    • Good for you! That would definitely be a frustrating situation. I wish you the best of luck in the legal intricacies- I will also be doing all of that in the spring (after we get back from the honeymoon, because there is zero time to change my passport and credit cards and such). Thank you for sharing your story!

      2 agree
    • Yes, that would be a little odd. I thought seeing a Chris(topher) and Chris(tine/a) last name or a Pat(rick) and Pat(trica) last name was funny/confusing. I can't imagine having the same name as my father-in-law (Lets say Dana Lastname or Jamie Lastname).

    • Same! Originally, my dad wanted my first name to be Antonia, but my mom didn't like it. She went behind his back and filled out Toni, which they would call me for short, on the birth certificate. I've hated my first name for which seems forever. I was teased for having a boy's name. People constantly spell it with a Y instead of an I. It drives me insane. My father is Anthony. I have my mom's middle name. Rightfully, I should be named after my father. And it's much more feminine.

  2. I actually choose to change my full name after my mom remarried. My given name she had admitted to me was nothing she would have ever choosen, but rather decided while she was unconscious after delivery. Needless to say, I never was addressed by that name save for the random distant relative and strict teachers. It was something that always bugged me. So when my mother remarried when I was 20, I changed my name with her. It has been the best thing ever. It's funny how a word can change the way you carry yourself. My fiance actually laughed when she heard my birth name because to him it doesn't explain me and he asked to take my name because he felt the same way about his last name.

    2 agree
    • That's really great! I'm excited to hear from people who have already done this- thank you for sharing! Also, I think it's great that your fiance wants to take your name for that reason, it's cool that you can both connect on that level.

  3. YESSS!!!! I did this too and it was the second best decision I've ever made (first being picking and marrying my husband, natch)

  4. THANK YOU for this! My given first name (Kellyn) is slaughtered on a daily basis and by people I've tried to help with pronunciation (to no avail). My French mother says she made it up and that it's properly pronounced Kelleen, but try telling the average American this after they've read it on my business card. 9 times out of 10 it's not pronounced correctly. I've heard so many variations, it's nuts – from Kayleen to Kelly-Lynn and while I don't think it's really that difficult, when I hear someone butchering my name (be it unintentional), it's literally like nails on a chalkboard! My mom, however, decided that my name was too good for a middle name so it's not as if she gave me any other options. About 7 years ago, some friends started referring to me as Pepper (an Iron Man reference) and I really loved it. Easy to pronounce and sassy – like me! I'm getting married in April and am thinking about making Pepper my official middle name. I'm so glad you wrote this… Makes me somehow feel ok about not wanting to spend the rest of my natural life trying to get people to pronounce my name correctly. 🙂

    2 agree
    • Hi Pepper! I'm so glad my story was helpful to you in some way. Interestingly, as I move to change my birth name, I don't mind as much if my family and older friends call me by it. Instead of it being a burden to drag through the process of introducing myself, it becomes something fond and intimate- a sign of long term connection. Turning my birth name into a nickname I suppose! I really love the name Pepper, especially with awesome Iron Man origins! It is wonderfully sassy, and also she is such a smart, competent and gorgeous namesake! My inner geek is so pleased. It's definitely a big decision, but if it would make you happier it is worth considering- and you can always bump your first name to a middle name if you would like to keep it around in that capacity.

      2 agree
  5. I really liked reading this- it put the "hassle" of changing names into perspective. Sometimes it totally is worth it.

    My fiance is a bit worried that changing his middle name (that's the current plan, we both add new middle names) will get his security clearance messed up- he works for a federal contractor. Anyone know if he's just worrying needlessly, or if it actually could be an issue? I mean, a *man* changing his name is clearly suspicious :P, he could be a terrorist! But given bureaucracy, who knows? I generally think he's worrying over nothing, since he tends that way, but I don't actually know for sure. Anyone out there from the DC area?

    • It isn't hard but it can be pricey. It was around $300 to change and it took awhile but since you are getting married the process should be smoother.

  6. Oh my glory, I am so glad someone else understands this problem!! My legal first name has NEVER felt right and no one (including my parents) has ever used it with the exception of a brief retail job stint. We're still debating the last name situation, but I KNOW I want to change my first name to my actual name.

    One question for folks who have accomplished this already or are just more informed than I am: I know that the last name can be changed for free with the signing of the marriage certificate, but does the same apply for the first name? If I can do both in one, fell swoop, that would be awesome, but I don't know if that's okay or not. Anyone have any ideas on this?? We're in Chicago if that helps at all…

    • Changing your first name usually requires more effort, unfortunately. Often you'll have to attend a short hearing, and some states require you to post a notice in the paper for a certain number of weeks that you're changing your name. Requirements vary state by state, though.

  7. I really love this. I have a very unusual first name that people generally have to ask me about. It's only one syllable though and I've never thought of changing it, but I think too often people hate their names and feel bound to stick with them for a variety of reasons. My father, for example, hates his first name but would never change it because it would hurt his parents, who named him after his father. I don't think they would understand that it's not a slight against their choice, it's about him being comfortable with his name. No one chooses to be born and no one gets to choose their original name. I think it's great to see someone taking charge of that choice and not just accepting being stuck with a name that doesn't fit right.

    1 agrees
    • Thank you! Having finally made the decision, it seems almost strange to me that more people don't do it, given the number of people I know who don't go by their own birth names. That being said, the amount of social conditioning around your name- responding to it, life-long recognition of you by most people you've ever met, and family-related sentiment/guilt/inertia is really profound. In respect to some of that, I'm timing my name change with a big work change- our grant-based cycle is about to end, and another will begin in the summer. All that means is that I will get a lot of new people to work with who can know me right away as my new name, and not my previous one. I'm very excited for the business cards!

  8. I have seriously considered submitting a guest post with this very topic being addressed but you nailed it better than I ever could!

    I've been having a hard time getting family to understand that it's not about them in any way, it's about being the me that's inside. I'm a powerful personality and my names never fit that, but who would ever guess that while I was a baby? I'm changing all my names but honouring important people in my life with my middle name, making my first a name for me, and my last well that's kinda obvious.

    I'm hoping with time that my family will come to understand. Until then I suppose they'll have to deal.

    • Thank you kindly! Though I'm sure you could have done an excellent job of covering the topic. Dealing with familial expectations can be rough! As I mentioned above, my Mom was really awesome about it. My sister said "Isn't that disrespectful to our parents?" Honestly, I always thought that changing my last name was more problematic in terms of family respect, since I am the last one with the name. But, as you said- how do we pick names for children that will fit them as they become themselves? It seems to work often enough, but wouldn't it be an interesting "coming of age tradition" to pick our own names after a certain point? The word everyone uses to address you has some serious social significance, and I feel that it should be a personal choice for everyone whether or not they want to keep their given name.

      4 agree
  9. I plan on doing the same! I kind of want to change my entire name though, including my middle name. I'm not sure if I want to do that yet for sure, but I really like the idea of changing my name to something I actually like and is more gender neutral (I identify as agender/genderless). I find it weird that people don't chose their own names anyways, don't you think? I mean I guess it's more strange if you really don't identify with your given name or have a less than good relationship with your name givers…
    The bigger problem though seems with his family; we want to both change our last names to a new last name that's a combination of both of our current last names. He thinks his family may be offended by this when really it's him wanting to participate in the name changing process with me and also him not feeling really comfortable with me simply taking his last name for feminist issues.
    But yeah, I'm glad to see I'm not the only person wanting to change their whole name when they get married. Nice read!

    • That's awesome- good for you! I agree that it's strange for people not to be able to choose their own names, though socially it makes some level of sense- having a name before you are old enough to speak is pretty helpful for the family in terms of reference, and by the time you can speak that's just what you learn to respond to. Then it gets stuck in the inertia of convenience and (presently) bureaucratic paper trails…

      It's fantastic that your fiance wants to participate in the name changing process with you. I really appreciated that about my fellow- we talked about hyphenating or taking a combination name that we do use casually, though our particular combination ended up being too… playful? for me to be really comfortable taking. Also, his original last name is *still* cooler. Serious aesthetic considerations were involved. I think it's wonderful that it works for you two. If this feels like the most authentic choice for you, and for you both, it may be worth sticking out. I wish you all the luck with the process, and the family dynamics!

  10. I changed every single one of my names given to me at birth. I still paid some homage to my family in one of my middle names, but the whole damn name felt like it belonged to an image of what my mother wanted me to be and not who I was.

    I always hated my full name, I always hated that no one called me nicknames. I always hated that I couldn't get people to call me by something I didn't hate.

    And then someone dubbed me Kat when I was 15. And it stuck. It REALLY stuck. When I was 18, I gave myself a full name (I'd experimented with a couple, and was almost Katia). I'd gone by my chosen name for 5 years before one manic sleep deprived morning I marched down to Births Deaths and Marriages and changed it for realsies.

    Best decision ever.

    Recently I actually had a date ask me if I would change it when I got married. My immediate and unapologetic 'no' seemed to confront him a little.

    But it was such a battle to establish my identity, my name is who I am.

    3 agree
  11. I got divorced in 2001 and kept my ex-husband's name. My maiden name was very German sounding and hard for people to say and write. It was easier with the married name. Fast forward to engagement in 2013 and people began asking me if I was going to change my name. Like the author I had two degrees in my name, established leadership in a non-profit volunteer organization, and had been using the old name for 23 years. My husband to be then, husband now, actually had no problem with me keeping that name but I did. I had grown tired of it. I really just wanted to put that 10 year marriage away for good, and I wanted to be Mrs to my new husband all the way. So I changed it. It was a hassle changing everything and I still have not changed it all. But I am getting it done. I love the idea of changing first names too. Why not. Be who you want to be.

    • Thank you for sharing, Rose! It's great to hear from someone still in the name changing process. I will repeat this mantra when I enter the hassle stage- "This too shall pass." It also makes me feel better about changing because I'm ready to go by something else, even though I did accomplish a lot with my birth name.

      I'm starting to view the whole marriage process as what my mom would call a "creative opportunity." It is a good point to evaluate where you are, who you are, and who you want to become. We change so much throughout our lives, marking different time periods in various ways, such as name changing, seems appropriate. While marriage raises the issue for female identified people quite quickly, I have also had a prominent male example of "going by a chosen name." My father goes by four different names all linked to a different time in his life- in the military, it was his last name, after the military it was a shortened version of his last name, when he moved to the Rockies (and for most of my life) it was an alternate version of his middle name. The guys who work with him (on an offshore oil rig), call him by "Mr. firstname." He hasn't ever changed it legally, but we can identify when someone knew him by who they ask for on the phone. If he has a problem with me changing my name, I might say that I'm simply following his example. 🙂

  12. I think major life events are the perfect time to change a name that you hate. Having been recently divorced (though my ex-husband changed his last name to share mine when we got married, so I don't have to worry about my last name), I was dreading having to go out and meet new people and introduce myself by a name that I hate. I despise my full first name, and moderately dislike all of the nicknames I have gone by (the only perk of my full name is the variety of nicknames I have burned through in the past quarter century). So sometime early next year I'm going to finally change it.

    I've always liked my middle name, but never felt comfortable using it as my own. I was named in memory of my Dad's cousin, and the name has always been hers; I was just carrying it for her since she can't. I've never had a problem with this, I've always thought that middle names are the place to honor/remember family. When digging for names, I found a long version of my middle name that I love. It lets me have my own name, while continuing to carry hers. My new middle name was harder, but I found it (my new initials will be "NRD" which suits me!).

    I'm a little concerned about how my parents will react when I change. Luckily, it has very little meaning to them, and its not their fault they unknowingly picked a top 20 name. The good news for them is I have no intention of forcing/requesting anyone in my life currently to switch to my new name. If they do, great. If not, oh well. I've never made anyone change what they call me through my various nickname changes, so I used to being called by a variety of names.

  13. Was it difficult to change your first and last name? I know when getting married, it should be free to change your last name. But to change your first name, is there extra charge? I'm about to get married and am considering this option. I am just confused as to how to go about this. Also, it would be so much easier if I could just get it all done with one go.

    • It wasn't difficult, but it was a bit costly. The cost and process depends on where you live. I changed my name in Wyoming which was relatively simple (I didn't have to do a background check or anything).

      I paid a $70 filing fee at the clerk of courts (this fee varies by court) to file a petition to change my name. You can change your first and last name to pretty much anything- they didn't even need to see a marriage certificate to change my last name which is interesting and possibly useful for people in non-traditional relationship structures (e.g. my husband and I are poly and we are part of a triad. If she desired, our third partner could also change her last name to match without contest through this process).

      The most expensive thing which seems consistent in most places is that you have to run the public notice of name change in your local paper once a week for four weeks. This cost me $266 but the price varies by state and newspaper. This seems kind of archaic to me, but generally it's to prevent people from evading debts or committing fraud by changing their names. There is a 30 day waiting period after the last publication for someone to file a protest (which would only be valid if they suspect you of fraud, or if you are changing a child's name against the will of their other parent it seems). Then you get a statement from the newspaper confirming the notice publications and you take it back to the courthouse. There might be a hearing you have to attend or they might just issue the decree of name change. Check out your state laws to see what the local requirements are though since most places also require a background check which may increase your cost somewhat. There should be a website online with the necessary paperwork- most places that would be the actual clerk of court website, but Wyoming just had a third party site which gave you the basics- the clerk of court in my home county didn't have any information aside of changing a child's name, but Wyoming is silly that way.

  14. Hi there! So here I am again – now married… I'm in the midst of completing the paperwork I have to start in order to initiate the process of changing my entire name. I live in South Carolina, and I can tell you it IS a bit of a process, which begins with contacting South Caroling Law Enforcement Division and requesting a "Name Change" packet (which they mail to you). In the packet is a blank fingerprint card, which I must fill out with my relevant information, take to my local police station and have them fingerprint me for $10. Also in the packet is a Records Check Form (and affidavit, which I must have notarized). I have to fill out the Records Check form, which is to do a background check on me to make sure I have no outstanding arrest warrants, previous criminal history and that I'm not on some sex offender registry (yes, really). I send that, together with the fingerprint card, via snailmail, back to them with a $25 cashier's check.

    Next, there is a Department of Social Services 'Consent to Release Information' form that I must also fill out and return to DSS with a cashier's check for $8.00 (this must also be notarized before returning to DSS). Apparently this is to ensure that I am not listed on the Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect.

    Then, I wait for the various results to return to me via snailmail and I take those, together with a completed Name Change Petition, affidavit and hearing request to my local clerk of family court with $150 for processing. After this, a court date is appointed to me (if the court decides it needs to see me in person). If all goes well and the name change goes through, then I take the resulting Change Order with me to the local DMV, Social Security office and US Passport agency office, where additional fees are collected to provide me with new driver's license, Social Security Card and passport with my new name.

    Lastly, I get to change my name officially at work and on all of my bills, bank, doctors, etc.

    WHEW! I guess my point is for those of you who didn't have to jump through all these hoops… LUCKY YOU! For those who haven't begun yet… Hopefully you don't live in a state like SC where you have to bend over backwards just to get your name changed!

    Wish me luck! 🙂

    2 agree
    • Pepper you are a life saver! I am in SC too and getting married in October. I am so excited to change my name. I go by my middle name and I can't wait to be rid of the first name.

      I am so glad you posted what you needed to do!! THANK YOU!

      • Noel –

        So glad I was able to help you! In retrospect, I would have started the process a bit sooner (knowing what I now know). For example, you can request the Name Change packet at your leisure and begin the background check portion ahead of time because it does take some time to get all that back from the different organizations. I started mine right after we got back from our honeymoon in April, but had I known then the amount of time it takes to get all that stuff back, I would have started those during the last week of March and probably had them waiting for me when we got back from the honeymoon.

        If you're saving yourself money by not using an attorney (which is what I did), you can obtain a custom Petition for Name Change and Order & Certificate of Name Change from a website called TotalLegal: http://www.totallegal.com/namechange/namechange.aspx. There is a small fee for the documents (but much cheaper than an attorney and well worth it). When you think you're ready to file for the name change, do the following:
        Carefully review all documents before signing. (Since notaries generally charge a per document fee, it is usually less expensive to have the document notarized first and then make photocopies.)
        Petitioner (that's you) takes the original and two (2) copies of each of the following documents to the Family Court clerk’s office along with the filing fee (in Charleston, it's $150):
        – Petition for Name Change
        – SLED background check report
        – DSS Screening Statement report
        – Printed page showing Sex Offender Registry results from your name search.
        – Order and Certificate of Name Change

        Petitioner should ask the court clerk if a hearing is required, and if so, how to obtain a date for the name change hearing. Typically, if a hearing is required, the clerk will schedule it at the time the Petition is filed, or will mail you a hearing notice.

        Attend the Hearing, if required: Petitioner goes to the assigned courtroom approximately 15-20 minutes before the scheduled hearing time and wait for the case to be called. Petitioner will be sworn in and give testimony as directed by the judge. The judge will sign the Order and Certificate of Name Change once he or she is satisfied that adequate testimony has been given and that there are no matters left to be resolved.

        Finalize Your Name Change, if no hearing required: If no hearing is required, the court will mail the Petitioner a certified copy of the Order and Certificate of Name Change.

        Note: Some counties require you to file a certified copy of your birth certificate dated within the last thirty (30) days with your name change documents. You may also be required to show your Social Security card. The court clerk will be able to tell you if these items are required in your county (I live in Charleston county and was not required to provide a copy of my birth certificate – they accepted my passport instead).

        Lastly, if you are required to attend a 'hearing' in person, don't be intimidated – it's super easy and generally quick once you get in the courtroom. Also, it's kind of nice because when you go pick up your signed paperwork, you can request as many (free) certified copies at that time as you wish (I asked for 5 and they were fine with it).

        Remember that you'll need those documents for some of your credit cards and other financial type institutions as well as for the social security office.

        My husband and I made a day of it so we planned ahead. I brought with me my (now old) social security card, passport and driver's license and as soon as we were done with court, we knocked out the social security office and then the DMV on the same day. Once you have your new social security card and driver's license, it helps with changing your name on all the other stuff. I strongly suggest you take pictures of your old driver's license and passport (if you have one) because some credit card companies REQUIRE you to furnish (in addition to a copy of the court order) pictures of your old and new licenses, passports and social security cards.

        Ok, sorry for the uber long post, but I thought you should know what lies ahead if you go this route! GOOD LUCK!

        • Just wondering, how much did it all cost total?

          I am in Columbia, so it is a little cheaper than Charleston (I lived there for 4 years btw), but not much cheaper.

          Did you change your first and last at the same time? I am wondering how the marriage certificate will affect the name change (if at all) and if I get it with the old first name and new last name, will I need a new marriage certificate??

          Honestly the process is way more confusing than it needs to be.

          • So this response might be a bit too late for you, but here's the basic breakdown of the costs (what I spent, anyway):
            $9 Digital fingerprinting (at the local DMV)
            $0 "Name Change Packet" (w/background check paperwork)
            $12 postage (mail background check ppwk – including prepaid return envelopes)
            $30 Name change docs (prepared online) – for filing w/court
            $150 court filing
            $0 Notary (because I know one)
            $0 New Social Security Card
            $0 New voter's registration
            $10 New Driver's License change
            $15 Update Vehicle Title
            $75 New Passport
            $25 Update name on College Degree

            All told, I spent close to $330 to change my name officially on all those.

            I hope that helps!

            – Pepper (finally!!) 🙂

  15. Hi there, does anyone have any wisdom about whether or not I could change my full name in a different country? I have been scheming for years about changing my first name, which doesn't fit me at all, when I get married so I can take my partners last name and not have to go through the whole procedure twice. But I am going to live and get married in Europe. I just don't know what to do about this. I would hate signing my given name on a marriage certificate:/ ugh that would just feel wrong.

    • Generally from what I've read, you're required to be a resident where you intend on changing your name… and yes, it IS weird signing your "old" name to the marriage certificate, but unless you're going to go through the name change rigmarole twice (change everything but the last name first and then change the last name after the wedding), unfortunately, that's what you'll probably need to do. After having gone through the entire process just recently, I'm SO GLAD that I decided to do it all at one time – there's so much more to it than most people realize when you're changing your whole name… Either way, good luck!

  16. The only reason I'm not changing my horrific, terrible, no good, very bad last name is because his last name is worse. On the other hand, I think my conservative family members are only tolerating this because it's all daughters with this last name–so me keeping it keeps the hope alive for this centuries-old Prussian monstrosity.

  17. I have always hated my first name and I'm going with something gender neutral, commonly a last name, because I hate having an over popular feminine name. I love reading about other people doing this because it reminds me that it's worth it after all the hassle, so brava.

    I'm in California and in the process of changing my first name. My paperwork is filed and my notice is running its course in the paper. So far the cost is over $600. I haven't started using it recently since I've always gone by my initials anyway (they're not changing). I have started updating non legal items (emails, social sites, etc.) but I'm trying to find information about my legal items. I have been married for a few years and I would like my new name to be on my marriage license but can't find information on doing so. I also was not born in California and haven't even begun to look up how to amend my birth certificate.

    I'd be grateful for any advice and happy to share if anyone has questions. I've learned from some of you all already.

    • In NY I was told that I essentially had to have another ceremony to change the name so I chose not to because I didn't want to have a different date on my license. You can find most information online and at your county clerk's office. I made a few phone calls before going down there and while they always kind of seemed annoyed with questions, they answered all of mine and I was able to go through the process without a hitch. I also found all of the information for my BC online as well

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