This article applies to anybody residing in England, Wales and Scotland, including citizens of Commonwealth and British Overseas Territories. It is essential for those holding citizenship (including dual citizenship) of any non-UK country to check any additional requirements that may apply.
What’s in a name? Our name forms an integral part of our identity. It appears on identity documents such as passports and driving licences and is used to identify us legally, officially and socially. People choose to change their legal name for a variety of reasons, including upon marriage, where one partner might choose to take the name of the other or both partners might choose to adopt a new combined surname. People might also wish to change their name following divorce or separation, to reflect their gender identity if it is different from the gender they were assigned at birth, to officially adopt a stage name or professional name, or simply to change a name that they find embarrassing or which they do not like. In the UK, a person is free to change their first name, middle name(s) and/or surname at any point, although evidence of the change in name will usually be required by official agencies and offices, such as banks and government offices, before records and documents can be updated.
Changing your name after marriage or divorce is a relatively simple process. Following a marriage or civil partnership, a person can take the name of their spouse or civil partner simply by providing a copy of the marriage or civil partnership certificate to the relevant offices (such as the passport office, DVLA, benefits agencies and your bank or building society). Similarly, many official agencies and offices will accept a marriage or civil partnership certificate, along with a copy of the decree absolute or final order following divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership if you wish to revert to your original name after a separation. Some offices will still require an official document (such as a deed poll) to prove your change of name, so it is important to check whether this will be required.
The most commonly used and effective process for legally changing a name in the UK is by deed poll. A deed poll is a legal document that proves the change of name, and it can be used as evidence of your new title for the purposes of amending your passport, driving licence and other official documents.
The deed poll should confirm that you have given up your old name and will instead use the new name for all purposes, and it must be signed and witnessed. The deed poll may then be used to change your name on a passport or driving licence. To use this process, you must be aged 16 or over. A deed poll is a private document and there is no need to provide a record to the courts. However, there is an option to ‘enrol’ a deed poll with the courts. This means that the deed poll is registered with the Royal Courts of Justice. If you are aged 18 or over, this is done by sending your documents, including a copy of the deed poll, evidence of British citizenship (in the form of a passport or certificate of naturalisation) and marriage or divorce documents (if applicable) to the Royal Courts of Justice. An official notice must also be placed in the London Gazette. The fee for enrolling a deed poll is £36. The process of changing your name by deed poll can usually be completed within a few weeks.
There is no government agency in the UK which has responsibility for registering identification. Names can be freely changed, and a deed poll is a document that can be used to provide proof that a person has chosen to be identified by a different name. The courts have clearly stated that enrolling a deed poll is not a legal requirement (Re PC (Change of Surname)  2 FLR 730).
However, by enrolling a deed poll, you are essentially making your name change a matter of public record. If you intend to enrol your deed poll, you will need to use specific wording in the document so that it meets the requirements of the court. A solicitor can help you with this.
When you enrol a deed poll, notice of the change of name will be published in the London Gazette. This is the official newspaper of the UK and is used as an official journal of record. Deed polls that are enrolled will be kept on the court record for a period of 5-10 years. After this period, they are held at the National Archives.
While there is no legal requirement to enrol a deed poll, the main advantage of doing so is the fact that a copy will be retained officially, and it makes it easier for you to provide evidence of your new name. If you lose your deed poll, you will be able to obtain a certified copy from the National Archives (a fee will apply).
Children aged 16-17 may make their own deed poll using the process described above. Enrolment is not a legal requirement but can be done by the adults with parental responsibility for the child. If the parents or guardians are not in agreement about the change of name, one of them may apply for a court order for permission to do so.
Changing the names of children aged 15 and under will require the parents (or whoever has parental responsibility) to make the deed poll on the child’s behalf. Children aged 15 and under may not make their own deed poll. While enrolment is again not a requirement, it can be done if all those with parental responsibility consent. In the case of disagreement from one parent, the other parent may apply for a court order for permission to change the child’s name.
A court order can be obtained on the application of one parent or legal guardian to the family courts. The court will hear the reasons why the applicant wishes to change the child’s name and why the other party objects, and will make a decision based on the best interests of the child. A court fee of £215 will apply if you need to request a court order.
In addition to using a deed poll, you can also use a statutory declaration to change your name in the UK. A statutory declaration is simply a statement of fact that is witnessed by a ‘qualified person’. Those qualified to witness statutory declarations include solicitors, notaries, commissioners of oaths and (only in Scotland) councillors. This type of document can be used to prove a change of name to some official agencies, including the UK passport authorities, but it cannot be used in lieu of marriage and civil partnership certificates.
An affidavit can also be used to evidence a change of name. An affidavit is a written statement, signed by the person changing their name and witnessed by a notary public or other judicial officer. Making a false statement in an affidavit is a criminal offence.
The main drawback of these methods is the fact that, unlike with a deed poll which can be enrolled, there is no official record of the change of name. This means that they may not be as widely accepted as proof by institutions such as banks and building societies.
If you are resident in the UK but do not hold UK citizenship, you can still change your name by deed poll using the same procedures set out above. However, you might also need to follow additional procedures with your country of nationality. Each country has a different set of rules and regulations, so it is essential to contact your Embassy to find out what additional steps you will need to take. You should contact your Embassy before starting the process of changing your name in the UK. It is important to note that one of the requirements of changing your name in the UK is that you must undertake to use your new name exclusively and not to use your previous name in any way. It is therefore essential to follow the relevant procedures in your country of birth or nationality so that it is possible to meet the requirement to stop using your old name.
Similarly, if you hold dual nationality in the UK and another country, you should contact the Embassy of the other country of your dual nationality to find out the relevant procedure for changing your name. If you hold two passports, you will need to change your name on your other passport before you can update your details with the UK passport authorities.
Changing your name in Scotland involves a similar process. People are free to change their name at any point, and while there is no legal requirement to make an official record, it is advisable to do so in order to be able to provide proof of the change. As with England and Wales, changes following a marriage or civil partnership can be evidenced with the marriage or civil partnership certificate. It is possible to revert to your original name following a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership without taking any official steps.
If you were born in Scotland, you can register your change of name with the Registrar General. To do this, you will need to file a document detailing the change and pay a fee. When changing the name of a child (anyone under the age of 16), it is necessary to have permission of all persons with parental responsibility. In the absence of this permission, a court order will be required.
For persons residing in Scotland who were not born (or adopted) in Scotland, it is possible to change a name by deed poll or statutory declaration. The process for using a deed poll is exactly the same as in England and Wales, and enrolment with the courts in London is possible. When using a statutory declaration for a change of name in Scotland, the document must be lodged with the Registrar General.
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