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03 January 2020

How do I change my or my child’s name?

The New Year is often seen as a time for new beginnings. During this time, some may consider changing their name, for various reasons explored below. This is not the complex process that many believe it to be and can be truly life changing.

Why might someone change their name?

Our names are very important as they form an integral part of who we are and how we identify ourselves, legally, personally and professionally.

A change of name can take place at any time but the most common reasons for people wanting to change their name include:

  • adopting a double-barrelled name for a child whose parents are not married, civil partnered or who have separated;
  • adopting a combined surname for couples getting married or civil partnered;
  • reverting to a name used previously following divorce/dissolution of a civil partnership;
  • changing a name which you dislike for personal or professional reasons; and
  • changing to an alternative spelling.

Following divorce/dissolution of a civil partnership, it is generally sufficient for you to provide a copy of your marriage certificate and ‘Decree Absolute’ to the necessary organisations in order to revert back to your previous name. If, however, you want to change your name to something new then further steps will need to be taken.

Changing your name

Provided you are over the age of 18 you can change your own name in one of two ways:

  1. Signing an ‘unenrolled’ Deed Poll; or
  2. Signing an ‘enrolled’ Deed Poll.

Both of these documents will need to set out your current name and the name you wish to be called in full. There is no legal requirement to provide a reason for changing your name within the documentation. Either type will need to be signed and dated by you in the presence of witnesses, who will also need to sign the document.

The difference between the two types is whether or not the document is registered with the Court, thereby placing your change of name on the public record. There is no legal requirement to register your change of name as it is the completion of the document rather than the act of registering it that makes it legally binding. Some people simply prefer to register their change of name so there is a clear record of this. To register your change of name you must apply to the Royal Courts of Justice in London, which again is a relatively straightforward but somewhat pedantic process. Currently a Court fee of £36 is payable for the registration process.

Changing the name of your children

Those aged 16 and 17 can choose to change their own name and sign an ’unenrolled’ Deed Poll. However, it is not possible for these to be registered until they turn 18.

Those under the age of 16 can also change their names but in order for this to happen all those with Parental Responsibility must agree, not only that their name should be changed but also what it will be changed to. A mother will automatically have Parental Responsibility. A father will have Parental Responsibility if he is named on the child’s birth certificate, if he was married to the mother of the child at the time of birth or has been provided with it by a Court order.

There is no set legal procedure that has to be followed in order to change a child’s name. Provided all the people who need to give their consent have done so, everyone can simply start using the new name. It is, however, advisable to document the change of name so that there is evidence of the agreement reached. The document will need to be signed by those with Parental Responsibility and those signatures will need to be witnessed. The same constraints apply to changes of name as to registering a child’s name at birth, so their new name cannot include offensive language.

If it is not possible for all of those with Parental Responsibility for the child to reach a consensus about a change of name, a specific application must be made to the Court for permission to change the child’s name. Likewise, if your child’s name has been changed without your consent, you can ask the Court to change it back. The Court will consider whether it is in the best interests of the child to allow or undo a name change, so it is important that you consider any proposed change of name seriously. It is not easy to persuade a Court to change a child’s surname away from that of the father after separation, so you must think carefully about the initial registration of a child’s name. You should seek legal advice on a proposed change of name before commencing legal proceedings.

Why might you wish to reconsider a change of name?

The ability to change your own name is easier than seeking to change the name of your child.  You may need to consider whether you are content to have a different name to your child.  Particularly as if you still proceed with a change of name for yourself, this can have implications should you wish to travel abroad. The immigration rules of each country are different but travelling with children who do not share your surname will always face more scrutiny than those who share a common surname. For some countries, this will include you needing to prepare additional documentation for any trips confirming that your children have permission to travel with you. The specific requirements for each country can be obtained from that country’s embassy.

If you would like to change your or your child’s name and would like further advice on how to achieve this, or advice on the possible repercussions of doing so, then please do contact a member of our team, who will be able to assist you.

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