Changing your name: what is a deed poll?

Article reference: UK-IA-CHN13
| 3 min read

What is a deed poll?

A deed poll is a type of legal document.

While most legal contracts bind two parties to following a course of action, a deed poll is an expression of intention of a single party rather than a promise.

Nowadays, the most common use for a deed poll is to officially change your name.

It provides evidence that since the date that you signed the deed poll document, you have been using a new name in place of your old name. Having made one, you can ask other organisations (such as government departments and banks) to update your name in their records. You can also ask for new identity documents such as a passport and your driving licence to be printed and issued.

Why use a deed?

A deed is used when the person making the document receives nothing in return for doing so.

In legal terms, deeds must be used where there is no consideration. Consideration is the legal term for an exchange of value.

If there is consideration, a contract can be made instead.

You can read more about deeds here.

What does poll mean?

The word poll (commonly mis-spelt 'pol' or 'pole') is an archaic legal term that refers to official documents printed or written on paper with edges cut (or 'polled') straight.

The straight edges distinguished the document as a deed binding only one person, rather than one that binds two or more parties called an indenture (so named at a time when to reduce forgery a copy of the deed would be written out on a separate, single sheet of paper for each party, then the copies together would be irregularly torn or cut so that each party had a document with corresponding tears to prove it was an original copy).

In the context of deeds poll (the plural of a deed poll is not 'deed polls'), the word poll has no real significance to the effect.

Technically, the name of the document that you use for a name change is a deed of change of name. However, the term deed poll has been so commonly used for such a long time throughout the United Kingdom to mean the document to use to change names that most people assume that it is the same thing.

Enrolling a deed poll

Enrolling a deed poll means that you place your new name on public record.

There is no legal requirement to do so. Many people who change name like to do so as a public statement of their new identity.

The law only allows you to enrol your own name change if you’re 18 or older. To do so, you apply to the Royal Courts of Justice and follow the 'deed poll process' they set out.

What names can you change?

You can change, add or remove forenames, middle names or surnames.

You can also rearrange current forenames or alter spellings.

There are some rules and restrictions about changing your name.

What records can update your name on?

Once executed, a Deed Poll enables you to formally change your name on official records such as your passport, driving licence, tax and National Insurance records, bank and credit cards, etc. Since one of the declarations is to use your new name at all times, you must notify all organisations and departments that hold your details that your name is changed.

Your birth certificate, marriage certificate, and educational certificates cannot be changed because these documents are “matter of fact”. This means that they were correct at the time that they were issued. However, under certain circumstances it is possible to change the name on a child’s birth certificate.

When to use a deed poll to change your name

A deed poll can be used in most cases when you want to change your name unless you're doing so after a marriage, divorce or dissolution of your civil partnership.

You might not like your current name, want to identify with a different culture or religion or have been or be going through a change of gender.

There are also times after marriage, divorce and dissolution of a civil partnership when making a deed poll would be useful.

For example, you might have lost your marriage certificate or have been married in another country and your certificate might be in another language or script.

You could order a new marriage certificate or have it professionally translated into English. But making a deed poll as evidence of your name would be much faster, easier and cheaper.

You could go through the complicated procedure to replace or translate your marriage certificate. Or, you could get a deed poll, which would be considerably easier and cheaper.

When you don't need to use a deed poll

Since a deed poll is evidence of your name, you don't need to make one if there is another official document that also has this function.

For example, you don't need to make one after marriage or civil partnership because your certificate acts as evidence, stating both your maiden name and your spouse's surname that you'll adopt.

However, if you change your surname to one that is not your partner's (such as double barrelling your maiden name with your partners surname) then you will need a deed poll.

Nor if you're divorcing do you always need to make a deed poll.

If your divorce is finalised (you have a decree absolute) and both your marriage and your divorce took place in the UK, your divorce certificate will be enough.

However, if you want to change your name before your divorce is finalised, or you have decided to separate without divorcing or your certificates are not in English, you might use a deed poll.

How old do you have to be?

You can change your name by making a deed poll if you are 16 years of age or older.

If you’re over the age of 16, but not yet 18, your parents or legal guardians can override your decision under some circumstances. However, they cannot simply because they don't like your new name.

They have to go to court to do so. But once you're 18, you can change your name without their consent.

If you are under 16 years of age, a parent or guardian can change your name, provided all other people with parental responsibility also agree.

The structure of a deed poll document

The function of a deed poll for a change of name is to make a number of formal declarations relating to your intention to use a new name.

When you make a change of name deed, you declare within it:

  • your identity (the names you now choose)
  • that you renounce, relinquish and abandon use of your former name
  • that you take on your new name and will use it in every transaction, dealing or contract
  • that you are a British citizen, or a Commonwealth citizen
  • that you request and require other people to use your new name

Witnesses

The criteria as to who can act as a witness are that the person:

  • must be a UK resident over the age of 18
  • know who you are
  • be independent of you
  • have the adequate mental capacity to make their own decisions
  • be present to witness you signing the deed poll

Who to inform after a name change

The most common organisations to inform of your change of name are:

  • HM Passport Office
  • DVLA to obtain a new driving licence
  • HM Land Registry (if you own your home or other property)
  • your mortgage provider
  • your local council for taxes and benefits
  • the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) if you claim benefits
  • HM Customs and Revenue (HMRC) for tax records
  • your employer
  • banks, building societies and credit card providers
  • pension providers, investment and retirement accounts

Under English law, you must inform all creditors to whom you owe money that you are using a new name.

Common misconceptions about authenticity and legality

Wax seals

There is no requirement to use a wax seal to create a deed anymore. A wax seal makes a document look official, but has no effect on the legitimacy of the deed. Nor does a seal create authenticity.

A deed poll is not a certificate and the authenticity is created by the signatures of the person creating the document and the witnesses.

Sealing and delivering

The words signed, sealed and delivered have been replaced with the simpler words executed as a deed. There is no need to deliver the deed to anyone.

Once created, the deed is binding. Other parties (such as government departments) may need proof that the deed exists in order to carry out some task (such as issuing a new passport), but they do not need to be sent a copy simply because the document has been created.

Paper quality and colour

Nor does the paper quality matter. A thick, yellow paper may look more official than ordinary copier paper, but the importance is in the words of the deed, not the presentation.

Recognition of change of name

Any deed poll for a change of name that has been executed correctly will be recognised by all government departments, embassies, High Commissions and companies, whether in the UK or abroad. As mentioned before, your document does not have to have a wax seal or be printed on special paper to be legal and valid.

Keeping your deed of change of name safe

You'll need to keep your deed poll safe so that you can use it in the future. You could use an archive service, but we recommend keeping it with your birth certificate. Ideally, all personal documents should be kept in a fireproof safe, but in reality, most of us don't have one of these. If you don't, but you want to protect your document in case of fire or theft, you can keep a copy with a family member (make sure you have it certified as a true copy by a witness such as a friend). A certified copy is as legally effective as the original.

Further information and useful documents

You may be interested in our free deed of change of name that allows you to change your name without involving any third party solicitors or companies.

Please note that the information provided on this page:

  • Does not provide a complete or authoritative statement of the law;
  • Does not constitute legal advice by Net Lawman;
  • Does not create a contractual relationship;
  • Does not form part of any other advice, whether paid or free.
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