Changing your name

Proof of change of name: does it exist?

Under English common law, a person may take a new surname, perfectly legally, without drawing up any formal record, provided that such action is not undertaken for the purpose of fraud of avoidance of obligation, etc. The name changes through common usage. Various means of recording a change of name have been developed over time, but most of them were voluntary, and it is impossible to say what percentage of name-changers used them. Many people who changed their name did not wish to draw attention to the fact. For example, in an age of difficult divorce, some people took their new partner's name to allow them the appearance of marriage, and any children the appearance of legitimacy. From the number of enquiries The National Archives gets, it is clear that very often a proof of change of name either never existed or no longer exists. If you are required to provide evidence of a change of name, to obtain a passport for example, and you cannot find proof of your change of name then you need to obtain legal advice from a solicitor or Citizens Advice.

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It is traditional for a woman to take on her husband's surname on marriage but it is not automatic and is not a legal requirement for her to do so.  Effectively if a woman does change her surname to her husband's name it is done through the common usage route.  If a woman decides to retain the surname in use prior to the marriage, she is not required to do anything legally to keep the surname - just continue to use it.

This situation will also apply to same sex couples who will be entering into a civil partnership from 5th December 2005.

A deed poll is the technical term for a deed involving only one party. However, for most people deeds poll now have one meaning - change of name. Changes of name by deed poll were (and are) made before a solicitor who could enrol them, for safekeeping, in the Close Rolls of Chancery or the later Enrolment Books of the Supreme Court of Judicature. In fact, very few changes of name were enrolled, as it was not a legal obligation and extra fees were payable. Most people who come to The National Archives looking for an enrolled change of name are disappointed. The original deed poll will have been given to the person who changed their name. Although the solicitor who prepared the deed poll may have kept a copy on file, it is unlikely to be a certified copy, nor is the file likely to have been kept for more than five years. In fact, there may never have been a deed poll: a perfectly legal alternative such as a statutory declaration before JP or Commissioner for Oaths (which could not be enrolled), or an advertisement in the newspapers, may have been used instead. (It may be possible to check local newspapers at the British Library Newspaper Library, Colindale Avenue, Colindale, London NW7 5HE).  For more information on change of name use the National Archives website.