What’s in a name?

By 26 June 2013FAQ

A name is a very personal thing. It is your identifying label within the world. It is not uncommon to make judgements about a person based on their name, either positive or (more likely) negative (what did you think when you heard that Kate Winslet’s new husband is called Ned Rocknroll?). We thought we’d have a look this week about the wonderful world of names, and their legal relevance.

By the by, we were interested to read about a recent survey which apparently discovered that only a third of people like their own name. Half of the 2,000 people studied for the survey by a company called Siteopia.com use a shortened version of their name while a quarter are never actually called by the name on their birth certificate. Only one in five were proud of their name. Children’s names tend to go in fashions and phases, and rather sadly a fifth of parents surveyed said they regretted the name they chose for their son or daughter, because they turned out to be too commonly used. Have a look at the survey here, as reported by the press.

In this country it is still common practice for women to adopt their husband’s surname on marriage, but it isn’t a requirement of law. Many people disagree with the practice, arguing it continues the outdated notion of a woman subsuming her identity into that of her husband on marriage, and labels a woman as “someone’s wife” rather than as a person in her own right. (An interesting perspective on the wrongs of adopting your husband’s name written by Jill Filipovic of the Guardian can be found here.)

The survey mentioned above showed that almost a third of married women do not like the surname they adopted on marriage. Many women keep their own surname: some for professional purposes whilst using their married surname away from work; and some never adopt their husband’s name. Others (the study suggests around 14%) compromise by going double-barrelled.

Very rarely, a man will take his wife’s surname on marriage. It is perfectly legal and possible for that to happen, although anecdotal evidence would suggest the instances are rarer than hen’s teeth. When a woman takes her husband’s surname on marriage, a copy of the marriage certificate is all that is required by organisations to accept the new name. If a man decides to adopt his wife’s name he needs to execute a change of name deed (or deed poll), which will allow him to get all documents and records updated into his new name. Equality in action, folks!!

The position for civil partners wishing to change a name on marriage is similar to that of wives. The civil partnership certificate along with a covering letter explaining exactly what name change is required should be all that is needed for banks and other organisations to use the adopted surname.

Some name changes need to be done by deed, for example if you are using a new name or title following gender reassignment, and often if you want to go double-barrelled after marriage. A “deed poll” is simply the common name for a change of name deed. It is simple document, which can be drawn up either by a solicitor, or through the UK Deed Poll Service, and needs to be signed in the presence of independent adult witnesses. There is no need to have the deed enrolled or registered – once executed you can start to use it to get organisations to use your chosen name.

A woman who wishes to revert to her own name (maiden name) following divorce should only need her decree absolute as evidence. It is worth knowing that there is no obligation to use your husband’s name until the decree absolute comes through – you can revert to your maiden name, or indeed adopt an entirely different name at any point, although a change of name deed or deed poll would be needed.

There are very few restrictions on what you can call yourself. Some people chose odd or memorable names, which once evidenced by deed are legal, and binding on everyone else. As we said, your name is your identifying label. John Timothy Rothwell (as was) claims to be the reincarnation of King Arthur, campaigns at Stonehenge, leads a faction of the British Druids, and has legally changed his name to King Arthur Pendragon. Perfectly legal. Each to their own!

What about children? Even women who keep their names after marriage may choose to give their children the husband’s name, or alternatively to hyphenate. There is no legal reason why children cannot have their mother’s surname, or indeed any other name, if all those with parental responsibility agree.

The procedure for changing children’s names is a little different to that for adults. All people who have parental responsibility for the child must consent in writing to a name change, and a change of name deed must be executed. If consent cannot be obtained, a court can order a name change. The consent of children is not needed to change their name, but if they are old enough they can object, via the courts.

As always, this is just the briefest of summaries concerning the implications of names. If you have any queries about name changes, do give one of us a call on 01223 443333.

Leave a Reply