Name change

From Academic Kids

Name change is a basic legal act that is recognized in practically all legal systems to allow an individual the opportunity to adopt a name other than the name given by birth, marriage, or adoption.


United States

Generally, under the laws of the various United States, a person can adopt any name desired for any reason as long as the name is not slanderous or otherwise not prohibited by the principle of freedom of speech, and as long as the name change is not for the purpose of committing a crime such as for fraudulently evading paying one's bills. There are differences in specific requirements from state to state. If someone wishes to obtain a formal order changing their name (which would be applied for in a state court), it is necessary to plead that the name change is not for a fraudulent or other illegal purpose. The applicant may be required to give a more or less reasonable explanation for wanting to change their name. Generally the court (that is, the judge) has full judicial discretion to grant or deny a change of name, especially if the name change is for frivolous or immoral purposes, such as changing one's name to "God," "Penis," or "Copyright."

Under the federal immigration and nationality law, when immigrants apply for citizenship they are allowed to ask for their name to be changed upon the grant of citizenship. This allows them the opportunity to adopt a more native sounding name. Likewise in some states upon divorce individuals are often allowed to return to the use of any prior surname (i.e. maiden name). Some states, such as New York also allow married couples to adopt any new surname upon marriage, which may be a hyphenated form of the bride and groom, a combination of parts of their family names or any new family name they can agree upon adopting as the married name.

In order to maintain one's identity, it is desirable to obtain a formal order so there is continuity of personal records. The open and notorious use of a name is often sufficient to allow one to use an assumed name. In some jurisdictions, individuals may register the use of a trade name that is distinct from their legal name and is registered with the county clerk, secretary of state or other similar government authority. Individuals who wish to publish materials and not have the publication associated with them may publish under a pseudonym; such right is protected under the US Constitution's guarantee of freedom of speech.

United Kingdom

In Scotland a person may use any name that they wish and change it at any time, provided that they do not do so for fraudulent purposes. No special process is required.

In England and Wales a change of name, beyond a change by usage, is brought about by using a deed poll, a legal contract binding only a single person -- a Deed of Change of Name. The deed consists of three declarations, committing the person to abandoning their former name, using only the new name and requiring everyone else to use only the new name.

The deed is executed by signing, dating and a witness signature. A person's name can be changed as often and whenever they like provided it is not for the purposes of fraud or to deceive. The deed poll is often prepared by the College of Arms, though it may be prepared by another officer.

There is no legal requirement to list the name change with any group or body, although it can be entered in the Enrollment Books at the Central Office of the Supreme Court of Deeds. The name change applies from the moment the deed is legal. Previous time-dependent legal documents, certificates etc. retain the prior name.

The deed poll provides documentary evidence to require all persons, companies and organisation (including government departments) to change their records to show the new name. A deed poll also allows for the reissue of documents like passport, driving licence, credit cards, etc., in the new name.

The restrictions on names prevent the acceptance of those containing numbers or non-alphabetic symbols, a single name, an inherited title (no one can have Sir, Dame, Lord, Lady, Baron, Baroness, Count, Earl, Countess, Marquess, Marchioness, Duke, Duchess, Prince, Princess, King, or Queen as their first name), or that are impossible to pronounce. Vulgarity and names which are unwise are not specifically excluded, but it may be difficult to find a willing solicitor.

Famous instances of people renamed by deed poll include Screaming Lord Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow, the founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party and Elton Hercules John, the singer, composer and musician, who was previously called Reginald Kenneth Dwight.

"Michael Howard of Leeds", according to the Guardian newspaper in November 1999, changed his name by deed poll to "Yorkshire Bank Plc are Fascist Bastards" after being charged 20 for a 10 overdraft. When the bank asked him to close his account, he asked them to repay the 69p balance with a check made out in his new name.

A second manner of name change is by Royal Licence. An individual who inherits the coat of arms or title of another may add the other's surname to his or her own, thus forming a "double-barrelled" name. However, the Licence may only be used to add further surnames; forenames cannot be changed by this method.

Civil Law


Although as in other jurisdictions a citizen of Quebec may informally use whatever name he or she wants, procedures for formal name change are very strict as Quebec operates under a civil law system. The decision must be authorized by the Director of Civil Status, and requires a valid reason for changing the name, including long-term use of the new name, difficulty of use due to spelling or pronunciation, or bearing a name that another person has made infamous.

Only a judge may authorize a name change for a child for reasons of abandonment, deprivation of parental authority, or change in filiation such as adoption.

This has occasionally led to controversy. A lawyer named Micheline Montreuil, a non-operative transsexual, had to undergo a lengthy process to have her name legally changed. Initially, the director of civil status refused to permit the change on the grounds that a male could not bear a female name. According to Quebec law, Ms. Montreuil could not change her record of sex because this requires proof of a completed sex reassignment surgery, which she has not had. On November 1, 1999, the provincial court of appeal ruled that nothing in the law prevented a person who was legally male from legally adopting a woman's name. (Ms. Montreuil was initially prevented from changing her name despite this ruling on the grounds that she had not established general use, as normally required for a name change; the Quebec appeals court finally authorized the change on November 7, 2002.) [1] (

See also


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