Spelling is vital? Absolutely

April 09, 2010|By LISA PREJEAN

Have you ever applied for a passport?

I had the pleasure of this experience recently, and I'm glad this official document is good for 10 years. It will be another decade before I must face the government questioning my ability to spell my own last name.

I only wish I were kidding.

It all started with a trip to see the friendly ladies at the Williamsport Post Office.

Many local post offices are now offering passport application services. This is convenient for travelers and is good for the postmaster's bottom line. With all the talk of ending Saturday delivery, every money-making service that can be offered will be a help.

We taxpayers might as well take advantage of the services that Uncle Sam offers.

So I called and made an appointment. Then I downloaded a passport application form from

With my completed application form, original birth certificate, checkbook and smile, I was ready.


Locally, everything went fine. I paid my fee for the passport application ($75) and the photo ($40) and was told that my passport should arrive in four to six weeks.

Then I waited for the mail to come.

When my passport arrived a few weeks later, I was elated ... until I checked the contents.

My last name was printed as "Presean."

What irony. I remembered debating whether to use all caps or upper and lowercase letters as I was completing the application. Capital letters won out because I was concerned that the descender on the lowercase "j" might be confused with an "i" if the curve was not plainly seen under the blank.

My name was on the application five times. There wasn't an "s" to be found, but I guess in someone's mind the capital "J" looked like a capital "S."

I went back to the post office to complete more paperwork. This time it was a change-of-name form. Not that I was changing my name, but the government saw it that way.

A few weeks later, I received a letter from the Department of State:

"We need your help in order to continue processing your request. You will need to submit the following:

"o An original or certified copy of your marriage certificate. Photocopies and notarized copies are not acceptable for passport purposes."

OK. So my husband and I will celebrate 20 years of marriage this summer, but the government wants proof just in case I'm not sure how to spell his name, which has also been my name for almost two decades.

I had a two-fold concern about sending my original marriage license to a government office in Charleston, S.C. I didn't want anything to happen to the document.

I also didn't want Uncle Sam to reject the license because of something that happened in a government office 20 years ago.

I was in the marriage license office, had the necessary paperwork and was handed the completed document. As I gazed over it, my heart sank. The clerk had spelled Louisiana incorrectly, leaving out the second "i" of my husband's birth state.

"This is not correct," I politely said.

"What's wrong with it?" she asked.

"Louisiana is spelled incorrectly," I said. "I would like to have a new license."

"That's impossible," she said. "This license number has been issued to you and this is your license."

I stayed at the counter.

"Please correct this mistake," I said, still trying to be polite.

"Give it to me. I'll erase it and type over it," she said, muttering something about people who "marry out-of-state."

That memory hasn't faded. Recently I've been anticipating a letter from the government stating that my marriage license was null and void because someone had tampered with it. Thankfully, that letter never came.

My passport has arrived. Interestingly enough, it was issued on April Fools' Day.

But I'm still waiting for my marriage license.

Perhaps that was sent to the "Preseans" in "Louis-ana."

Is spelling important? Just ask the government.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. E-mail her at

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