Phyllis Britt

Phyllis Britt

Bureaucracy is alive and well in South Carolina, as my daughter Liz re-discovered last week.

Not since I had a set-to with the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles long ago, have I heard such a frustrating tale.

In 2015 my second Greenville granddaughter was born. The plan was to name her Clarke Ava. My daughter Liz filled out the paperwork in the hospital accordingly. The hospital (unofficial) certificate of birth has the correct name. The receipt from SC vital records has the correct name.

But when the official, government-issued birth certificate came, it said “Clarisse Ava.” Where did that come from? No one ever uttered the name Clarisse. It was not on anyone’s radar – ever. It was obviously a clerical error on the part of Vital Records, right?

Now, remember that you fill out all those forms while you’re in the hospital. Then you wait weeks for the birth certificate to come from the state.

Yes, admittedly, Liz noticed the mistake when the birth certificate finally came. Yes, she should have dealt with it right away. But in her defense, she remembers thinking, “Where do I go to take care of this?” And, also in her defense, if you are a young mother with a 2-and-1/2-year-old and a newborn, you’re just trying to get through the day, sometimes. Paperwork can certainly seem like a low priority. I get that.

Time passes. When do you ever need a birth certificate in the first few years of a child’s life? More time passes, and you really don’t think about it any more, until...

Now your child is 4 years old, and you’re looking at public school in the fall. And guess what you need – a birth certificate, a birth certificate that the school district insists is the source of every child’s real name.

Yes, had Liz followed up in the first year of Clarke’s life, it would have been a relatively simple process – apparently the hospital would have handled it then. But nowhere does anything tell you that.

Now, it has occurred to Liz that the way such organizations work, the school district will take one look at her incorrect birth certificate, and Clarke will forever be known as Clarisse. (I’ll admit that long ago I taught with a Spanish teacher whose child was William III, and so she called him Trace – yes, I know, but she was afraid people would be confused if she called him “Tres.” As a result, his first day of school, the teacher kept looking for William, and he had no idea whom she was talking about.)

So anyway, last week Liz decided it was time to deal with what had seemed like a minor inconvenience four years ago. All it should take is for someone at Vital Records to look at all the documentation she has and change the error that they made, right?


My daughter was informed that if the Department of Vital Records screwed up because of “mispronunciation” (their term for it) – the kid’s name is Sean, but they typed “Shawn” – then they would fix it on the spot. However, if the person was simply stupid – sorry, or had a total brain freeze – then Liz has to go through the courts to officially “change” Clarke’s name to what was intended.

Despite having three pieces of legitimate paperwork, all of which say “Clarke Ava,” Liz will have to fill out paperwork for a name change, officially petition the court, be assigned a guardian ad litem for Clarke, appear before a family court judge for approval and wait for everything to go through the process in Columbia – all for a clerical error that originated at the SC Department of Vital Records. And, in theory, the court could ultimately deny the request.

Liz noted she understands there are reasons not to approve name changes for minors willy-nilly, but she said, “I’m not getting a divorce. I’m not separated. We’re not going into witness protection.” (Here the interesting thing for me is that when my first grandchild was born, the person helping at the hospital said there were no requirements on what you can and can’t name your child – “You can call him George Washington or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, if you like,” she said.)

In Liz’s case, they just want the birth certificate to reflect what they requested in the first place.

So last week, after waiting in a long line at Vital Records, Liz talked at length to an employee there. To her credit, this person talked to her supervisor twice, but “rules are rules,” as they say. The Vital Records representative tried to talk Liz through the process she is facing, but in the end she said, “If I were you and could afford it, I’d hire a family court attorney.”

So Liz is now in a search of an attorney who can get her through this process – preferably before registration for kindergarten. “I don’t want Clarke to walk into school the first day to find ‘Clarisse’ on everything. She will freak,” my daughter said.

Now, I’m hoping there’s at least a place on the school registration form that asks for the name the child is called – just in case this process isn’t completed before school starts in August.

Clarke has no idea who “Clarisse” is, and we’d like to keep it that way.

Lest you think I’m totally bashing on our state’s bureaucracy, I must say my most recent encounters with the SC DMV have been a delight. Yes, 25 years ago my purse was stolen, and getting a new one was a nightmare – I needed two forms of ID with my signature on them, a Social Security card or voter registration card, but they were all in my purse. (Realize I originally had brought with me my birth certificate, marriage license, canceled check, electric bill, a Mead Hall annual with my photo and my name under it – not good enough.) Luckily the folks at Voter Registration took my word for my Social Security number and issued me a new voter ID card, which in turn allowed me to get a new Social Security card – and I refrained from putting out a contract on the DMV bureaucrat who had likewise insisted “rules are rules.” (I’m just kidding – really.) But the triage system put in place several years ago has made all the difference. Even when I went in to get a Real ID, the folks at the DMV could not have been nicer or more helpful.

Bureaucracy may be alive and well, but there are glimmers of hope that those on the other side of the counter are trying to reinsert a little human kindness in the mix.

It would be nice if Vital Records would do the same.