Can I use a last name different from the one on my real estate license for advertising?

QUESTION: I am the broker-in-charge, and one of my provisional brokers has always said her name was “Claire Eliott-Carter.” Claire recently passed her license exam, and when my firm received a copy of her real estate license, it stated that her name was only “Claire Eliott.” When I asked Claire about the discrepancy, she informed me that her legal name is the one on her license, but everyone in the community has known her for years as “Claire Eliott-Carter.”

I need to order business cards and create Claire’s advertising signage. Can I use “Claire Eliott-Carter” since that’s how everyone knows her, or do I have to use her legal name?

ANSWER: Until Claire has taken the proper steps, you must use her legal name for any advertising you create for her. Under 21 NCAC 58A .0103, a broker is required “[u]pon initial licensure . . . [to] notify the Commission of the broker’s current personal name, firm name, trade name, residence address, firm address, telephone number, and email address.” If any of this initial information changes, then the broker must inform the Commission within 10 days. Rule 21 NCAC 58A .0103 also mandates that “[a]n individual broker shall not advertise or operate in any manner that would mislead a consumer as to the broker’s actual identity or as to the identity of the firm with which he or she is affiliated.”

There are some instances where a broker can use a different first name than their legal first name. However, when it comes to last names, the Commission has said that “using a surname that is not your own is not allowed.” If Claire wishes to advertise herself as “Claire Eliott-Carter,” she can do a name change proceeding through the clerk of court, but the Commission has been clear that if she does not “want to go to the trouble of changing [her] name legally, then [she] should use [her] legal name in all aspects of [her] business.” The Commission has also said that using a d/b/a designation will not work, because that procedure is only to be used for business names, not individual names.

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