How to change your name

13 November 2018

In an episode of Friends that I was watching recently,  Phoebe Buffay was contemplating changing her name after getting married to Mike Hannigan. You may recall what happened – she announced that she had changed her name to “Princess Consuela Banana Hammock” to which Mike responded by subsequently changing his name to “Crap Bag”.

My fiancé turned to me and asked me, “when we get married, are you going to change your name?”

I had not given much thought to it previously, but I began to consider (1) whether I wanted to change my name (2) what I wanted to change it to and (3) the legality of any name change. 

Why change your name?

Individuals change their names for various reasons.  The most common reason is on marriage or on the birth of children - couples often want to share the same surname (or a new combined surname) as their spouse/civil partner and/or children.

Some people are embarrassed by their names; not just those given weird and wonderful names by their celebrity parents; Zowie Bowie, who later changed his name to Duncan Jones, for example.  It may simply be that you don’t like your name. Others may have experienced domestic violence or a marriage break up and want a fresh start with a new forename or surname.

You see the odd news story of a person changing their name on losing a bet; examples are Buzz Lightyear and Batman.

Whatever the reasons, you can change your forename or surname to pretty much anything (with a few exceptions).

What can I change my name to?

A new name is unacceptable to the Passport Office if it causes public offence, infringes on IP rights, or does not meet the technical criteria. In theory, you could take a single name (eg Beyoncé) since there is no law preventing a person from being known by a single name or mononym, but there is a risk that official bodies may be more sceptical of its application.

'Public Offence' includes the use of profanity or swear words, sexually explicit references and inappropriate religious connotations. Name changes will fail if they contain numbers, symbols and punctuation marks.

A change of name to promote or advertise goods or services will be ineffective. Names are not copyrighted or trademark protected, but a new name effecting deception or passing-off is unlawful. If you changed your name to, say, Stella McCartney and started to sell clothing under that name, this would be a clear infringement of intellectual property rights. You won’t be issued a new passport if your new name is associated with a trademark.

So, whilst “Princess Consuela Banana Hammock” and “Crap Bag” may be odd choices for names, there is, in theory, no obvious reason for why they would not be accepted (although “Crap Bag” may be borderline profanity).

How to legally change your name by Deed Poll and Statutory Declaration

Changing a forename or surname should be straightforward, but the trouble is that various institutions have different requirements (these can be sometimes arbitrary and not always based on legal requirements) for recognising a new name.

Provided you are over 16, there are two main ways to change your name (sometimes, it is useful to do both).

  1. Deed Poll – A legal document to change your name. You can change any part of your name, add or remove names and hyphens, or change spelling. A Deed Poll is usually drafted by a solicitor who would witness you signing the document. Once signed, you can use it to change your passport. If you are over 18, a Deed Poll can be “enrolled” at the Royal Courts of Justice, which puts your new name on public record. Enrolment is not always necessary and will depend on the requirements of different institutions.
  1. Statutory Declaration – A short document, which confirms that you take a new name and is sworn in the presence of a solicitor.

To change your surname to that of your husband/wife or civil partner, you need a copy of your marriage or civil partnership certificate which can be used to update your name at relevant organisations. Although government departments and many organisations will change their records to show a double-barrelled or combined surname upon presentation of the marriage certificate, many will not, particularly financial institutions. A Deed Poll or Statutory Declaration should guarantee that your new surname would be universally accepted 

So, back to the question I pondered.

(1) I haven’t entirely decided if I want to change my name (2) or what I would change it to, but I know there are various options available to me and (3) I know how to do it legally.

What I do know is that I definitely will not be changing my name to Princess Consuela Banana Hammock or Beyoncé – I’m not that much of a Diva (oh wait, I am!).

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