People working with computers often lament how confusing it has become these days, trying to remember the many passwords and security codes it takes to set up accounts or use the Web.
But quite the opposite is happening when it comes to your name. Pressure is mounting to identify yourself the same way everywhere you go.
You may have signed up for electricity service as Joseph R. Smith. Never mind that your birth certificate reads Joseph Raymond Jones. That's because your mother who raised you divorced a Jones and married a Smith, and you took your stepfather's name.
Your driver's license reads Joseph Raymond Smith, your business card J. Raymond Smith, and you foolishly put down Joey Ray Smith when you registered to vote. Then you really gummed things up by marrying a wonderful woman named Davis, and you and she go by Smith-Davis on many of your accounts.
So who are you? Joseph R. Smith? Joseph Raymond Jones? Joseph Raymond Smith? J. Raymond Smith? Joey Ray Smith? Joseph Smith-Davis? Or plain-old Joe Smith?
It didn't use to matter much. But now it matters a lot to the Transportation Safety Administration, or TSA. They're the airport security folks who are phasing in a program called Secure Flight. It's aimed at identifying suspicious travelers. And a lot of changes in your name are, by definition, suspicious. Soon the TSA will insist that the names on all important documents AND your reservations AND your boarding passes match exactly.
The security system doesn't care much for hyphenated names, either. So you'd better break it to your wife that you both should probably quit trying to fly as Smith-Davises.
One day, you may find yourself back at the clerk's office in the town where you were born. Yes, you have me down as a Jones, you'll try to explain. But for certificate purposes, you need to be a Smith from the moment you were born.
And it's best not to mention Smith-Davis there, either.
Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.