Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? mused Shakespeare, and it is a question raised many times and in many circumstances.
In the news and on popular television (such as the One Show) there has been a surge in interest in changing names as it’s been revealed that the UK is leading the world in the number of people choosing to change their name legally.
The reasons for changing identity are tenfold. For some it is for professional reasons ~ It’s commonly known that Marilyn Monroe was once the far less glamourous sounding Norma Jeane Mortenson, and that Elton John was once the far less snappy Reginald Kenneth Dwight, not to mention Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta adopting the far more pronouncable Lady Gaga, but did you know Cockney hero Michael Caine was once Maurice Micklewhite or Thomas Mapother IV decided that Tom Cruise would suit him better?
These professional names roll off the tongue, are more glamourous, and also get round difficulties with Equity, where actors are required to have unique stage names (Michael Keaton, for example, was once Michael Douglas, but that one had already been taken!) but also have been used to get around prejudice. A good example of this is the number of women who had to write under sexually ambiguous names, using initials such as (Lousia May Alcott, author of Little Women, writing as A.M. Barnard) or as men (Charlotte Bronte wrote one of the most celebrated novels of all time, Jane Eyre, as Currer Bell) just to get published.
People not in the media spotlight, however, still change their names. For many it is an expression of personal identity. For many it is because they have become estranged from their family and no longer see their family name as a part of their identity.
By far and away the most common reason I’ve seen is for family reasons. I have written many change of name documents for people wishing to insert a family name into their current name. I have also drafted them for people wishing to add a nickname given to them by family members, or change their name completely to that nickname, because it is the name with which they identify most.
Others change their name at marriage. When a couple marry a woman can legally change her name to her husband’s, or double barrel with her husband, without any formality. If, however, a man wishes to take his wife’s name, or to double barrel his surname with his wife’s, as is becoming far more common, he will have to go through the legal formality of a change of name deed. (Also known as a “Deed Poll”)
If a homosexual couple enter into a civil partnership and decide to both have the same name, or double barrel their surnames, they both have to do so legally.
Changing your name is not a complicated procedure, and is done by means of a Statutory Declaration, which is a very simple document setting out your previous name and your new name. This is then sworn in front of a Solicitor or Commissioner for Oaths and you can use this document to prove your change of name.
The other way is by a “Deed of Change of Name” This document is often referred to as a “Deed Poll”. “Deed Poll” is a catch-all term used to describe a contractual document that only binds one person. whilst the most common use is to change a name it is also used in land law and other forms of contract. So whilst it is correct that you change your name by Deed Poll, the specific type of Deed Poll is called a “Deed of Change of Name”.
To change a child’s name a Deed of Change of Name must be used, but by far and away the easiest way to change your name as an adult is by using a Statutory Declaration as the document is simpler and the way it is executed (signed) is simpler, and if written by a professional lawyer is guaranteed to be legally binding with no repercussions.
Writing a Deed is not a ‘reserved legal activity’ as defined by the Legal Services Act 2007. This means that anyone can set themselves up as a writer of Change of Name Deeds, and don’t have to have any form of legal qualification whatsoever.
As a result of this there are numerous companies out there that will draft a Change of Name Deed and there ae numerous cases of incorrectly drafted documents, mistakes and complaints made. The ASA banned a company called Multimedia Computing Ltd from using the words “Official website of the UK Deed Poll Service” because it was held to be misleading and holding itself out to be an official government institution. There is no such thing as a central Deed Poll office or other body, but some firms make themselves out to be just that. You may also find some websites use terms such as application, deed poll officer, authentic seal, and other phrases that are no more than marketing gimmicks
Documents written by these companies may not even be legally binding.
So it is so important that if you are thinking of changing your name to go to a company that are reputable and regulated.