Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Newcomer Chronicles: To Hyphenate or Not…the DMV Says Not


We moved to the Hancock Park area from New York in July.  Being well-organized, we put the DMV at the top of the list, right after getting a place to live and registering our son for Third Street Elementary.  (According to the DMV, if you become a resident, you must get a California driver license within 10 days).  We allotted half a day for the entire process.  How hard could it be?

First schedule bump:  the car needed a smog inspection, a procedure that should be but is not in use on the East Coast.  Newly-certified (con: the process took a couple of hours; pro: our ten-year-old loved watching the car wheels spin maniacally), we set our sights on the DMV office on the optimistically-named Hope Street.   Second schedule bump:  if you have an out-of-state license, you must take a written test.  Luckily, the DMV has a series of helpful sample tests on its site.

DMV 2We headed to the DMV on a Monday morning, armed with an appointment time (a huge time savor) and all of the requisite forms and materials.  All was well…or so we thought.  When our new California driver licenses arrived in the mail two weeks later our last names, which are hyphenated, ran together in an unpronounceable string of letters.  What was going on?  We pondered this question during three subsequent trips to another local DMV office, as we got set after set of similarly misspelled licenses.  Finally, a well-meaning DMV official explained to us that California’s DMV computers don’t do hyphens.  He suggested kindly that I change my last name to Brown.

We’ve since met other hyphen sufferers.  If you’ve got one of those last names, better to settle for a very long string of letters instead.

Editors’ Note: Anya is new to the neighborhood and will be contributing a series of stories as the “Newcomer Chronicles.”

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Anya Grottel-Brown
Anya Grottel-Brown
Anya Grottel-Brown discovered Larchmont by accident while visiting LA on vacation and was instantly hooked. Anya was born in Russia and has lived in Canada, Japan and New York before settling in the Hancock Park area in the summer of 2013. An award-winning PR/communications expert, she specializes in amplifying the voices of non-profits, foundations and education-focused organizations through the media. Anya can be reached at [email protected].

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  1. This is such an interesting, funny story! Weirdly enough, I think I’ve heard it somewhere before.

    Also, your use of hyperlinks are superb. I have 3 new tabs from this article to get my CA driver’s license transferred.

    Keep up the wonderful writing, newbie!

  2. I just realized I need to renew my license this February…I’ll be setting up my appointment to save time. No hyphens for me, but I’m sure I’ll run in to my own set of delays!

  3. It’s crazy this is the case. I got my original driver’s license in a much less populous state in the late 80’s and they could hyphenate my name on the license (my family hyphenated last name goes back several generations). I moved to another state that could also hyphenate my last name. But lo and behold, California can’t hyphenate names on licenses. And I’m writing this in 2021 and I think it’s still the case.


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