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Social Security Mailbox

How Does a Name Change Affect Social Security Benefits?

Keeping records up-to-date will help ensure smooth processing of payments

Q: I'm trying to write a family history and I am looking for the names of my ancestors. Does Social Security have some kind of list of names going way back?

A: Yes. You're referring to what's known as the Death Master File (DMF). It's a list of deaths that Social Security finds out about through its benefits system. It includes basic information about the deceased and at present has more than 87 million names on it. It's used for coordinating the end of benefit payments and combating identity theft. But it also can be very useful in researching family history.

You can buy a copy of the DMF from the National Technical Information Service, which is part of the Commerce Department. The information is offered in several formats (including online searches) at varying costs. For more information, go to this Web page, call the NTIS at 800-363-2068 or send an email to subscriptions@ntis.gov. Specific data from the list also is available through various commercial services.

Q: I've heard that Social Security keeps track of the names of the babies born in the United States each year. How do they get those names and what are the most popular baby names?

A: When babies are born in this country, their parents often apply right away for Social Security numbers for their new offspring, thus allowing the agency to collect the names. In 2013, the most popular boy's name was Noah, replacing Jacob, which had held the top spot since 1999. Noah has enjoyed a steady rise — he was in 24th place in 1999. Maybe his triumph last year had something to do with advance publicity for the movie Noah, starring Russell Crowe. The No. 2 name on the 2013 boys' list was Liam, perhaps reflecting the popularity of actor Liam Neeson, who starred in such films as The Chronicles of Narnia and Clash of the Titans.

Databank USA infographic on percentage of people 65+ who rely on SS for 9-0% of their income.

Click infographic map to view larger image.

Liam was followed in order by Jacob, Mason, William, Ethan, Michael, Alexander, Jayden and Daniel.

The changes in the girls' list were less dramatic. Sophia remained No. 1 for the third year. She was followed in order by Emma, Olivia, Isabella, Ava, Mia, Emily, Abigail, Madison and Elizabeth. Although Sophia tops the list, she may have a rival coming up to challenge her: Another Sofia — this one spelled with an "f" — has reached No. 13 on the list and is moving up.

Social Security administrators noticed a rise in 2013 in the popularity of two pop-culture names: Jayceon and Daleyza. Jayceon Taylor, a rapper, is the star of the VH1 cable show Marrying the Game. And preschooler Daleyza Hernandez appears on the Spanish-language reality TV series Larrymania.

Social Security has a Web page about names that lets you go much deeper into the subject and search the popularity of specific names in past years and specific states. The database goes all the way back to 1880.

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question? Check out the Social Security Mailbox archive. If you don't find your answer there, send an email to the Social Security Mailbox.


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