The term misnomer refers to an error made when naming a person, place, or thing. As used in the U.S. legal system, the term misnomer signifies that an incorrect name has been given in a legal pleading, indictment, accusation, or other legal process. A misnomer may also be found in legal contracts or bequests.
In most cases, a misnomer involves a misspelling, or the use of a trade name in place of a legal name in an inappropriate situation. A misnomer is different from mistaken identity, as the actual identity of the individual is not in question, only the name stated in a legal document. To explore this concept, consider the following misnomer definition.
Definition of Misnomer
- A wrong or inaccurate name, or inappropriate designation
- The misnaming of a person or thing in a legal instrument
15th century Late Middle English mesnoumer,
What is a Misnomer
A misnomer refers to the use of a wrong or inaccurate name in a legal context. This may occur in the creation of a contract, the filing of a lawsuit, creation of a will, or in other legal dealings. In most cases, if the party can be identified or found out, regardless of the misnomer, the mistake will not void the contract, or cause a dismissal of the legal proceedings. This is especially true if the misnomer is not material to the case at hand.
Mary Smith and apartment owner Bob Marlin enter into a lease agreement. Mary breaks her lease and Marlin files a civil lawsuit against her. Mary claims the lease was not valid, as her name was listed as “Gary” Smith throughout the contract. The court disagrees with Mary however, as she is easily identified as the individual who entered into the contract with the landlord, therefore the misspelling of her name is immaterial to the case.
In many cases, a contract that was executed without correction of a misnomer can be corrected with an amendment. The change can also be accomplished through an affidavit stating the correct name.
Common Misnomers Other than Peoples’ Names
Throughout history, mankind has labeled places and things to facilitate communication. Names have changed, however, over the centuries. Many modern items or devices retain outdated names, even though they bear little resemblance to the original items. Here are a few examples:
- Tin foil and tin cans are now made of aluminum
- Koala bears, fireflies, and ladybugs are not actually what their names suggest
- A parkway is actually a road, not a parking lot
- Phone numbers are commonly dialed even though actual dial phones are now extinct
- Dry cleaning does not involve the use of water, but it does make use of liquid solvents
Lawsuit Filed Under Wrong Corporate Name
In the case of J.A. Peregoy Roofing & Construction Co. vs. Deaton, the plaintiff (Peregoy Roofing) sued the defendant (Deaton) for payment on work done in 2001. Peregoy filed the lawsuit using the company’s fictitious name which was currently being used, though it hadn’t been used at the time the work was done.
The laws of the state of Virginia, where the lawsuit was filed, required the lawsuit to be filed under the company’s real name – the name it used at the time the work was done. The case moved forward until the plaintiff attempted to correct the name under which it was suing the defendant before the trial in 2009. This became an important issue, as if the court had required the plaintiff to dismiss the lawsuit and re-file using the correct name, the company wouldn’t have been able to sue at all, as the statue of limitations had expired.
Fortunately for Peregoy Roofing, the judge ruled the fictitious name a misnomer under Virginia law, and allowed the plaintiff to amend the pleadings. The judge pointed out that a misnomer applies when the right party is cited under the wrong name, but does not apply if the wrong party was named. In this case, it was clear that the right party had simply been listed under the wrong name.
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Affidavit – A written statement made under oath, for use as evidence in court.
- Amendment – The modification, correction, addition to, or deletion from, a legal document.
- Civil Lawsuit – A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
- Contract – An agreement between two or more parties in which a promise is made to do or provide something in return for a valuable benefit.
- Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.