Under UK law, a person is entitled to change all or any part of their name without the permission of any authority and without any formality (with a few exceptions). For example, you can change your forenames, surname (or both), add or remove names, change the spelling any of them or rearrange the order of them.
However, problems will arise when you need to prove to some person or authority that you have a new name. This problem is overcome by writing a declaration as a legal document. This is called a deed poll. A certified copy of that document can then be used as proof of the change. It is acceptable to most, but not all, organisations.
What is a deed poll document?
A deed poll is a legal document that contains three declarations. By executing it (signing, dating and having your signing witnessed) you are committing yourself to:
abandoning the use of your former name
using only your new name at all times
requiring all people to address you by your new name only
Note that you cannot change formal legal records like certificates for your children’s birth, or your marriage, civil partnership, decree absolute or education. These are historical records, which were issued in the correct name at the time.
Why change your name?
The most common circumstances are:
upon matrimonial separation, when a woman wishes to be known by her maiden name instead of her (former) husband’s surname
some other reason connected with marriage, divorce, death or separation
change of child’s name by an unmarried mother whose child was registered with the father's surname
a person actually changed his name some years ago and now wishes to formalise the change
a transsexual wishes to change their name after a gender change operation
an entertainer who wishes to adopt their stage name
someone simply does not like their name
So long as the reason is not for fraudulent purposes, it doesn't matter what it is.
Who can make a deed poll?
In the UK, a deed poll can be made by any UK citizen over the age of 16.
To change the name of someone below the age of 16 the document must be executed by a person with parental responsibility for the minor, and all those with parental responsibility for the minor must consent to the change of name.
Restrictions on names
To summarise what you can and can't call yourself, you should not use names that:
are impossible to pronounce (for example, by using many consonants following each other)
include a number or a symbol
include punctuation marks (although you can have a hyphen to link forenames or surnames and an apostrophe in the case of surnames like O'Brien)
are considered vulgar, offensive or blasphemous
may result in others believing you have a conferred or inherited honour, title or rank, for example, a change of first name to Sir, Lord, Laird, Lady, Prince, Princess, Baron, Baroness, Count, Countess, General, Colonel
do not include at least one forename and one surname
You can also include on your document a change of title, for example Mrs to Miss. If you require a title other than Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms, you may need to send documentary evidence of your entitlement to use your desired title to the places you wish you new name to be notified.
Registering a deed poll
To complete the process absolutely, an 'optional extra' is to enrol (register) your deed poll in the Central Office of the Supreme Court.
To complete this process, details must also be published in the London Gazette - the official daily record of important legal events.
However, it is not necessary to enrol a deed poll. Because enrolling adds to the cost, few people go to the extent of enrollment.
Who to advise after changing your name
After the change, you must notify everyone that has your personal records.
Government departments and agencies such as the Passport Office and the DVLA will require sight of your original deed poll document (or legal copy) as will your bank, building society and credit card companies.
Most other companies and organisations will accept a photocopy. If you have changed the name of your child, you will also be required to provide a letter of consent.
In the Net Lawman deed poll template, we provide a list of institutions to which you should consider sending a copy of your deed.