May I use a name other than my legal name in the real estate business?

QUESTION: My son has just gotten his real estate license and I am delighted that he intends to join my real estate firm. The name on his birth certificate is “Lewis Poindexter Smith,” but he’s always gone by “Buddy.” My question is, can he use his nickname in his real estate business?

ANSWER: Probably not, unless he also uses his legal name.

An agent who uses a name in his or her real estate business which is different from his or her legal name may be in violation of the real estate license law. According to an article on the subject appearing in the Real Estate Commission’s Real Estate Bulletin in 2004, [t]he name under which you do business should be enough to identify you legally and to assure that you are not misleading the public as to your identity.” According to the article, nicknames can be used in place of a legal first name so long as the agent’s actual name can be easily determined from the agent’s nickname. Examples would include nicknames that are shorter versions of longer names; for example, “Liz” in place of “Elizabeth” or “Bill” in place of “William.” But if, as in your son’s case, the nickname is not logically associated with the user’s legal name, it would be difficult for a member of the public to readily identify who the user actually is. In order to assure that your son can be easily identified, his business cards should include his first name. “Lewis ‘Buddy’ Smith” or some variation of that should be sufficient.

On the other hand, using a last name that is not your legal last name is not permitted according to the Real Estate Commission. If a broker wants to use a different last name, he or she should seek to have his or her name changed. If in doubt about whether a broker can use a particular name in the real estate business, we suggest that he or she contact the Commission for an opinion.

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