Many people want to change their name at some point in their life, for many different reasons.
It may be, for example, that a divorced woman wants to revert to her maiden name, that someone wants to take the name of their partner, or simply because someone doesn’t like the name they were given at birth.
Whatever the reason, they will usually need documentary evidence confirming the change of name.
What does the law say about changing your name?
Not very much, actually.
A person’s name has no special status under the law of England and Wales. Just because they were given a particular name at birth does not mean that that they are stuck with it.
In fact, anyone can change their name (whether forename(s) or surname) at any time, simply by requesting others to call them by the new name.
The only limitation is that they must be aged 16 or over – special rules apply to changing a child’s name.
And unlike some other countries, there are no restrictions upon what names may be used, so long as the name change is not made for fraudulent or other unlawful purposes.
A name change may be just to a forename, or to a surname, or both. It may involve adding or removing names. It may just be a change of spelling, and it may involve the use of hyphens.
Note that a change of name will not necessarily be reflected on any UK birth or marriage certificates issued before the change. A birth/marriage certificate records the details at the time of the event. Any subsequent changes are not recorded on the certificate, and no updated birth/marriage certificate will be issued.
So what is involved in getting my name changed?
There are no legal formalities required for changing your name in England and Wales.
However, often proof of the name change will be required when informing an organisation of the change, such as your bank, or to change official documents, such as a passport or driving licence.
That is when a change of name deed is usually needed.
Change of name deeds are usually prepared by solicitors. They will state both your old name and your new name, and your intention to give up the old name and henceforth assume the new name.
You will need to sign the deed, and have your signature witnessed.
Once the deed has been signed it can be used as proof of the change of name.
As this may involve sending the deed to various organisations, the solicitor will normally provide you with certified copies, so that you can send the copies to the organisations, and retain the original in safekeeping.
Note that it is not usually necessary for a woman who assumes her husband’s surname on marriage to obtain a change of name deed – the marriage certificate is proof enough. This is despite the fact that the law does not require a woman to take her husband’s name – she can retain her maiden name, or the couple can create their own hyphenated surname, by using both of their original surnames.
Similarly, if a divorced woman wishes to revert to her maiden name, the divorce papers will usually suffice as proof of the change.
Enrolling a deed poll
Although it is not necessary, a person aged 18 or over may if they wish make their change of name ‘official’ by applying for an enrolled ‘deed poll’.
Under this procedure, the person wishing to change their name executes a deed in a particular form, renouncing their former name and adopting the new name. The deed is then enrolled at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Other special documentation is required, and a fee is payable to the court.
Enrolling a deed poll provides a public record of a person’s name, as the details of the name change are published in the London Gazette online.
Copies of the enrolled deed sealed by the court are regarded as the best possible evidence of a change of name although, as stated, it is not essential to use the deed poll process.
Deed polls that have been enrolled at the Royal Courts of Justice in London remain with the court for five years, after which they can be found at the National Archives.