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Name change generally refers to the legal act by a person of adopting a new name different from their name at birth, marriage or adoption.

The procedures and ease of a name change vary between jurisdictions. In general, common law jurisdictions have loose procedures for a name change while civil law jurisdictions are more restrictive.

A pseudonym is a name that differs from the original or true name and does not require legal sanction. It is generally adopted to conceal a person's identity, but can also be done for personal, social or ideological reasons.

Reasons for changing one's name

  • Marriage or civil partnership.
  • To avoid a stalker or harassment
  • To choose a surname associated with a hobby, interest, or accomplishment (e.g., old name Henry Schifberg, new name Henry Lizardlover)
  • To receive an inheritance conditional on adopting the name of the deceased (this reason was once quite common in landowning families in the UK)
  • To replace a frivolous name given by their parents (e.g., old name Mikey Maus, new name Marcus Maus)
  • To replace a name which might be considered undesirable with a more desirable one (e.g., old surname Lipschitz, new surname London)
  • To dissociate oneself from a former religion (e.g., Ahmed Abdullah to Adel Karim)
  • To dissociate themselves from a famous or infamous person (e.g., old name Michael Jackson new name Martin Jackson)
  • To identify with a famous or infamous person (e.g., old name Simon Johnson, new name Simon Pendragon)
  • To dissociate themselves from a family black sheep (e.g., relatives of Adolf Hitler).
  • To dissociate themselves from an ethnic origin (e.g., changing Battenberg to Mountbatten or Jan Ludvik Hoch to Robert Maxwell).
  • To revert to a former name (e.g., Cynthia Lennon, first wife of John Lennon, after her divorce from later husband John Twist).
  • Commercial sponsorship (e.g., Jimmy White temporarily became Jimmy Brown for HP brown sauce,[1] and Ashley Revell became Ashley blue square Revell for The Rank Group's Blue Square service)
  • Protest or activism (e.g., old name Jennifer Taylor, new name Jennifer Save the Forests)
  • To change to a fictional character's name, (e.g., old name Tracy Darling, new name Tracy Beaker)
  • To make their name more attractive or "catchy" so as to increase their chance of success (see Stage name)
  • To change legal name to one used in everyday life (e.g., where middle name has been used throughout life)
  • To anglicise a name or choose a different name if one’s name is too difficult to pronounce or spell for most people
  • To better fit one's gender identity as a transgender person (e.g., old name Bruce Jenner, new name Caitlyn Jenner)

United States

In the United States, state laws regulate name changes. Several federal court rulings have set precedents regarding both court decreed name changes and common law name changes (changing the name at will), including Lindon v. First National Bank.

Usually a person can adopt any name desired for any reason. As of 2009, 46 states allow a person legally to change names by usage alone, with no paperwork, but a court order may be required for many institutions (such as banks or government institutions) to officially accept the change.[2] Although the states (except Louisiana) follow common law, there are differences in acceptable requirements; usually a court order is the most efficient way to change names (which would be applied for in a state court), except at marriage, which has become a universally accepted reason for a name change. It is necessary to plead that the name change is not for a fraudulent or other illegal purpose, such as evading a lien or debt or for defaming someone else.

Applicants may be required to give a reasonable explanation for wanting to change their names. A fee is generally payable, and the applicant may be required to post legal notices in newspapers to announce the name change. Generally the judge has limited judicial discretion to grant or deny a change of name, usually only if the name change is for fraudulent, frivolous or immoral purposes.[3] In 2004, a Missouri man succeeded in changing his name to They.[4] The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that a name change to 1069 could be denied, but that Ten Sixty-Nine was acceptable (Application of Dengler, 1979); the North Dakota Supreme Court had denied the same request several years before (Petition of Dengler, 1976).[5]

In nearly all states, a person cannot choose a name that is intended to mislead (such as adopting a celebrity's name), that is intentionally confusing, or that incites violence; nor can one adopt, as a name, a racial slur, a threat, or an obscenity.

Some examples of typically allowed reasons for name changes in the U.S. include:

  • Adopting a new surname upon marriage (typically the surname of the spouse, a hyphenated surname, or some combination of parts of both surnames). This is usually done without court proceedings.
  • Returning to the use of a prior surname (e.g., a maiden name) upon divorce.
  • Simplification or improved familiarity of spelling or pronunciation.

Under the federal immigration-and-nationality law, when aliens apply for naturalization, they have the option of asking for their names to be changed upon the grants of citizenship with no additional fees. This allows them the opportunity to adopt more Americanized names.[6] During the naturalization interview, a petition for a name change is prepared to be forwarded to a federal court. Applicants certify that they are not seeking a change of name for any unlawful purpose such as the avoidance of debt or evasion of law enforcement. Such a name change would become final if within their jurisdiction, once a federal court naturalizes an applicant.

To maintain a person's identity, it is desirable to obtain a formal order so there is continuity of personal records.

The "open and notorious" use of a name is often sufficient to allow one to use an assumed name. In some jurisdictions, a trade name distinct from one's legal name can be registered with a county clerk, secretary of state, or other similar government authority. Persons who wish to publish materials and not to be associated with them may publish under pseudonyms; such a right is protected under case law pursuant to United States Constitution.

A common law name (i.e. one assumed for a non-fraudulent purpose) is a legal name.[7] In most states a statutory method, while quick and definitive, only supplements the common law method,[8] unless the statute makes itself exclusive. Although a person may sue under a common law name.[9]

In California the "usage method" (changing the name at will under common law) is sufficient to change the name. Not all jurisdictions require that the new name be used exclusively.[10] Any fraudulent use or intent, such as changing the name to the same name as another person's name, may invalidate this type of name change.

Specifically in California, Code of Civil Procedure § 1279.5 and Family Code § 2082 regulate common law and court decreed name changes. Code of Civil Procedure § 1279.5 (a) reads, "Except as provided in subdivision (b), (c), (d), or (e), nothing in this title shall be construed to abrogate the common law right of any person to change his or her name." Subdivisions b through e preclude one from changing their name by common law if they are in state prison, on probation, on parole, or have been convicted of a serious sex offense. If a person is not in any of these categories, then a common law name change is allowed. (Family Code § 2082 also contains some of the same wording.)

Many universities, hospitals, and other institutions allow one to use a "preferred name" instead of one's legal name. This name can show up on class rosters, online learning platforms, and student ID cards. It provides a "transitional" name change for those who have yet to, or cannot, receive a court-ordered name change.[11][12]

A legal name change is merely the first step in the name-change process. A person must officially register the new name with the appropriate authorities whether the change was made as a result of a court order, marriage, divorce, adoption, or any of the other methods described above. The process includes notifying various government agencies, each of which may require legal proof of the name change and that may or may not charge a fee. Important government agencies to be notified include the Social Security Administration,[13] Bureau of Consular Affairs[14] (for passports), the Federal Communications Commission,[15] the Selective Service System[16] and the Department of Motor Vehicles (for a new driver's license, learner permit, state identification card, or vehicular registration). Additionally the new name must be registered with other institutions such as employers, banks, doctors, mortgage, insurance and credit card companies. Online services are available to assist in this process either through direct legal assistance or automated form processing.

Most states require name changes to be registered with their departments of motor vehicles (DMVs) within a certain amount of time, and some state motor vehicle departments require updated social security cards to make changes, by first registering a new name with the Social Security office:

The fees for registering a new name vary from state to state. The forms, along with the state-specific requirements, can generally be obtained for free.

Many states will require reasons for wanting a name change. For example, in Florida, a court will not grant a petition for a change of name if it finds that (i) the petitioner has ulterior or illegal motives in seeking the name change, (ii) the petitioner's civil rights are suspended, or (iii) granting the name change will invade the property rights (e.g., intellectual property rights) of others.[29]

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, citizens and residents have the freedom to change their names with relative ease.

In theory, anyone who is at least 16 and resident in the United Kingdom can call themselves whatever they wish. However, over the past hundred years or so, formal procedures that are recognized by record holders such as government departments, companies and organizations have evolved, which enable a citizen legally to change the name recorded on their passport, driving licence, tax and National Insurance records, bank and credit cards, etc., provided that "documentary evidence" of a change of name is provided. Documents such as birth, marriage and educational certificates cannot be changed because these documents are "matters of fact", which means that they were correct at the time they were issued.

Documentary evidence of a change of name can be in a number of forms, such as a marriage certificate, decree absolute, civil partnership certificate, statutory declaration or deed of change of name. Such documents are mere evidence that a change of name has occurred, however, and they do not themselves operate to change a person's name. Deeds of change of name are by far the most commonly used method of providing evidence of a change of name other than changing a woman's surname after marriage. A deed poll is a legal document that binds a single person to a particular course of action (in this case, changing one's name for all purposes). The term 'deed' is common to signed, written agreements that have been shown to all concerned parties. Strictly speaking, it is not a contract because it binds only one party and expresses an intention instead of a promise. 'Poll' is an old legal term referring to official documents that had cut edges (were polled) so that they were straight.[30][31]

People whose births are registered in England and Wales may have their deed poll enrolled at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.[32][30] See also College of Arms#Change of names.

From the mediæval age to the 19th century, the era of family dynasties, name changes were frequently demanded of heirs in the last wills and testaments, legacies and bequests, of members of the gentry and nobility who were the last males of their bloodline. Such persons frequently selected a younger nephew or cousin as the heir to their estates on condition that he should adopt the surname and armorials of the legator in lieu of his patronymic. Thus the ancient family otherwise destined to extinction would appear to continue as a great dynasty in the making. Such changes were also more rarely demanded by marriage settlements, for example where the father of a sole daughter and heiress demanded that as a condition of his daughter's dowry her husband should adopt his father-in-law's surname and arms. Thus the progeny of the marriage would continue the otherwise extinct family's name. Such name changes were generally only demanded of younger sons, where an elder brother was available to inherit the paternal estates under primogeniture and carry on the name and arms abandoned by the younger brother. Such name changes were effected by obtaining a private Act of Parliament or by obtaining a Royal Licence.[33] A less radical procedure adopted from the 18th century onwards was for the legator or settlor to demand only that the legatee or beneficiary should adopt his surname in addition to his patronymic, not in place of it, which gave rise to the "double-barrelled", even the "triple-barrelled" name, frequently parodied in literature as epitomising the wealthy "squirearchy" with an embarrassment of inherited estates.

Well known examples are:

People whose births are registered in Scotland (or who were adopted in Scotland) can change their name in the same way as people from the rest of the United Kingdom. However they can optionally apply to the Registrar General for Scotland to have their birth certificate amended to show the new name and have the respective register updated.

Other common law countries

Individuals may legally change their name through the state and territory governments of Australia according to state or territory laws and regulations via agencies generally titled "Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages".[35] Exceptions exist for some states such as restricted persons (e.g. jail inmate)[36] and in some states, changes may only be made once a year.[37]

Institutions such as banks,[38] the Passports Office[39] and transport authorities[40] require proof of identity, so people who change their names need to have proof of the change.

If a person's birth or adoption was registered in Australia, the change will also be noted (in most cases) on the person's birth or adoption registration, and in some states or territories, the name change can be evidenced either through a re-issued birth certificate if born in Australia and/or "Change of Name Certificate". These certificates are recognised secure identity documents and can be verified electronically through the Attorney-general of Australia's Document Verification Service.[41]

In Canada a person can informally call themselves whatever they want. In all provinces except Quebec,[42] when someone gets married they can change their last name without legally changing their name by using their Marriage Certificate as verification of the name change.[43] It is almost impossible for married women in Québec to take their husbands' names.[44] Like the United States, the requirements for a formal name change varies from province to province. Except for Ontario, British Columbia and New Brunswick, Canadians must be 18 to change their names and have lived in the province they are changing it in for at least 3 months to a year, depending on province. (In British Columbia, Canadians must be 19 to change their names, in Ontario and New Brunswick 16.) People younger than the province's age of majority can change their names if they have their guardians' consent, are legally married, or have a common law marriage.[45] To change a name, a Name Change application must be submitted to either the Ministry of Government Services, Court of justice or Registrar of civil status. A document such as a birth certificate must be submitted. A statement as to why the name is being changed is needed in most areas and the reason has to be serious. In Canada, a name cannot cause confusion, be used for misrepresentation or fraud and in most cases the name change is announced in newspapers. There is a fee involved and it ranges from $10 to $185 depending on the territory or province.[45] British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba need fingerprints to be submitted before one changes their name.[46][47] [48]

It is a common practice for ethnic Chinese residents of Hong Kong to adopt a western-style English name in addition to their transliterated Chinese name. As they often adopt western-style English names after being registered on the birth register, the fact that they want to include a western-style English name as part of their legal English name is regarded as a name change which usually requires a deed poll.

However, the Immigration Department which is responsible for processing applications for name change allows applicants to submit such applications without deeds poll; anyone who has a phonetic English name only and wishes to include a western-style English name as part of his or her legal English name can apply to the Immigration Department without a deed poll. Only one application of this kind is allowed for each applicant; any application for subsequent change(s) must be made with a deed poll.

In the Republic of Ireland, a person earns their name by "use and repute".[49] For most purposes it is enough to simply use the desired name and ask others to call you by that name.[49] This was the traditional practice for a bride adopting her husband's surname.[49] A change of name deed poll is not required, but provides documentary evidence of a name change.[49] Resident non-EU nationals must apply to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service for a deed poll.[49] The deed poll requires a witness affidavit, and may optionally be enrolled in the High Court upon payment of stamp duty.[49] An enrolled deed poll is required for some administrative name changes, such as on a driving licence[49] or when changing legal gender.[50]

From September 1995, New Zealanders can change their name by making a statutory declaration and, if approved, the new name is registered with the Births, Deaths and Marriages section of the Department of Internal Affairs (Identity Services). Prior to September 1995, they changed their name by deed poll.[51]

Civil law

In general, unlike in common law countries, names cannot be changed at will in civil law jurisdictions. Usually, a name change requires government approval and is only rarely granted, though legal name changes have become more common in some jurisdictions over the last years. The reason given for this system is usually the public interest in the unique identifiability of a person, e.g., in governmental registers, although with the advent of personal identification numbers, that rationale may be in need of reconsideration.

Changes in law Aug 2018 changes first name and fee will fall under the authority of local town hall [52] In Belgian law, a name is in principle considered fixed for life, but under exceptional circumstances, a person may apply to the Ministry of Justice for a name change. This requires a Royal Decree (French: Arrêté royal, Dutch: Koninklijk besluit) for last names, but only a Ministerial Decree for first names. The new name must not cause confusion or cause damage to the bearer or others. Examples of requests that are usually considered favorably:

  • A person of non-European origin who wants to adopt a less exotic name to further his/her integration in Belgian society
  • A person stuck with a ridiculous last name that is causing him/her great embarrassment or emotional distress. Actual examples: Salami, Naaktgeboren ("born naked"), and Clooten ("sods of earth" in Middle Dutch, but "testicles" in modern Dutch)
  • (for minor children) following legal adoption or recognition of paternity[53]

According to the Brazilian Civil Code and the Public Registries Act, the name registered after birth is definitive and immutable. However, there are some circumstances under which a name change is allowed:

  • If an obvious writing error is made while registering the name of the child.
  • In the first year after a person reaches the age of majority (18 years), they can request a change in their first names, but modification of surnames is not allowed.
  • If a person's name exposes them to ridicule and harms their everyday well-being.
  • If a person is recognized publicly by another name, they can request a name change or addition, by providing as support three testimonials of the change in name.
  • If a person has undergone a sex change, recent jurisprudence has allowed name modifications in most such cases.

In India, the person concerned submits a name change request to an appropriate authority, with supporting documents. Subsequently, an application must be made to the Government Printing Press, which issues an Official Gazette Notification certifying the change of name.[54]

Although it has always been relatively easy to change one's legal names in Norway, it used to require some kind of government approval. As late as 1830, local vicars were instructed to write both given (Christian) names, as well as last names, in the baptismal record. Earlier, only the given name of the child, birth date, baptismal date, and sex were written down, alongside the parents' names. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century, however, that the authorities required everyone to adopt a family surname. Until about 1980, the government still required that a name change applicant apply to the government regional representative (fylkesmann). The law has been replaced twice since then. Nowadays, the process is as easy as in common-law countries; the subject merely submits the names wanted (providing that the surname chosen is not in use or is not used by fewer than 200 persons) to the local authorities for the purposes of election rosters and census counts; there is no longer an application process.

2001 RA 9048 amends Articles 376 and 412 of the Civil Code of the Philippines, which prohibit the change of name or surname of a person, or any correction or change of entry in a civil register without a judicial order. Administrative Order No. 1 Series of 2001, implemented the law.[55] It authorizes the city or municipal civil registrar or the consul general to correct a clerical or typographical error in an entry or change the first name or nickname in the civil register without need of a judicial order.[56][57]

In case of controversial and substantial changes, Philippines jurisprudence requires full-blown court lawsuit, that must include the local civil registrar in the petition, since RA 9048 and Rule 108 (Cancellation or correction of entries in the Civil Registry) of the Rules of Court do not allow the change of sex in a birth certificate.[58]

The only landmark case in the Philippines on name and legal sex change is the Jeff Cagandahan case. The Supreme Court of the Philippines Justice Leonardo Quisumbing on September 12, 2008, allowed Cagandahan, 27, who has congenital adrenal hyperplasia, to change his birth certificate name from Jennifer to Jeff, and his legal gender from female to male.[59][60][61]

Although as in other jurisdictions residents of Quebec may informally use whatever name they want, procedures for formal name change are very strict as Quebec (unlike the rest of Canada) operates under a civil law system. The decision must be authorized by the Director of Civil Status, and requires a valid reason for changing the name, including long-term use of the new name (in the Montreuil case cited below, the Quebec appeals court has considered five years' use to be a sufficient reason), difficulty of use due to spelling or pronunciation, or bearing a name that another person has made infamous.

Only a judge may authorize a name change for a child for reasons of abandonment, deprivation of parental authority, or change in filiation such as adoption.

This has occasionally led to controversy. A lawyer named Micheline Montreuil, a non-operative transgender woman, had to undergo a lengthy process to have her name legally changed. Initially, the director of civil status refused to permit the change on the grounds that a legal male could not bear a female name. According to Quebec law, Montreuil could not change her record of sex because this requires proof of a completed sex reassignment surgery, which she has not had. On November 1, 1999, the provincial court of appeal ruled that nothing in the law prevented a person who was legally male from legally adopting a woman's name. (Montreuil was initially prevented from changing her name despite this ruling on the grounds that she had not established general use, as normally required for a name change; the Quebec appeals court finally authorized the change on November 7, 2002.)[62]

The Director of Civil Status will amend a Quebec birth certificate if a name change certificate is issued by another province. Some have used that loophole by temporarily moving to one of Canada's other provinces, which follow the more permissive common-law rules, in order to get the legal documents.

South Africa, which uses a mixture of common law and civil Roman Dutch law, mostly uses common-law procedures with regard to name change. Name changes in South Africa are regulated by the Births and Deaths Registration Act (Act 51 of 1992, as amended). The personal information of all citizens and permanent residents is recorded on the Population Register, so any name changes must be registered.

A person can change their forenames by submitting a form to the Department of Home Affairs. An individual's surname, or that of a family, may be changed by applying to the Department and providing a "good and sufficient reason" for the change.

A married woman can change her surname to that of her husband or join her maiden name with her husband's surname, and a divorced woman may return to her previous surname, without applying or paying a fee; but she must notify the department so that the details in the Population Register can be changed. (It is possible that, if challenged, these provisions might be held to be unconstitutional because they apply only to women.)

South Africa has officially recognized same sex marriages since 2006 and in doing so now allows one or both partners to change their surnames in the marriage register on the day of the marriage. A new passport and ID book can then be applied for with the new married surname as well.

The surnames of minor children can also be changed under various circumstances involving the marriage, divorce or death of a parent, children born out of wedlock, and guardianship.[63]

In Switzerland, a name change requires the approval of the respective Cantonal government, if there are important reasons (wichtige Gründe / justes motifs) for the change, according to article 30 of the Swiss Civil Code. When aliens apply for naturalization, they have the option of asking for their names to be changed upon the grants of citizenship with no additional fees. According to the case law of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, such requests must be granted only if the petitioner shows that they suffer substantially from their present name, e.g., if it is the same as that of a notorious criminal.

In Taiwan, the government strictly regulates when one's surname, given name or both may or may not be changed, under the Name Act (姓名條例) since 1953 with 10 articles, totally amended into 14 articles in 2001, and the Enforcement Regulations of the Name Act (姓名條例施行細則).

Legally permitted reasons to change one's given name are:[64]

Name change on religious conversion

Adherents of various religions change their name upon conversion or confirmation. The name adopted may not have any legal status but will represent their adopted religious beliefs.[68]

  • Individuals who attend a ceremony to officially become Buddhists are usually given a new "Dharma name", which marks their "taking refuge".

There is no formal concept of conversion in Hinduism but converts to Hinduism are accepted, usually after a small ceremony called Shudhikaran (purification). Individuals who attend a Shudhikaran ceremony to officially become Hindu may be optionally given a new Dharma (religious) name, which is usually based on Sanskrit or Indian name such as names based on Hindu deities.

  • Converts to Islamic faith may choose a new name; although it is not required, it may in some cases be preferable for personal reasons or because the name is of uncertain Islamicity (e.g. the person converting has a theophoric name in another religion, such as Christopher or Ganesh). Boxer Cassius Clay's adoption of the name Muhammad Ali is a well-known example, as is Cat Stevens' change to Yusuf Islam and Malcolm Little's adoption of the name Malcolm X and later El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. On the other hand, converts may choose to keep their names, as did Dave Chappelle.
  • Women do not normally take their husbands' surnames as their own. Their maiden name continues to be their surname even after marriage. Sometimes their husbands first name becomes their surname, similar to the case of surname chains indicating someone's chain of fathers.
  • In Islamic tradition, there are two kinds of surname.

The last name cannot be changed in such a way as to reflect a heritage that is not that of one's biological father.

  • Jewish people in the Diaspora sometimes give their children two names: a secular name for everyday use and a Hebrew name for religious purposes. Converts to Judaism choose a Hebrew name.[70] Full Jewish names include a patronym: converts take the patronym "ben/bat Avraham Avinu" (son/daughter of Our Father Abraham) as converts are held to be spiritual descendants of Abraham, the forebear of Jews.
  • Those in the Sikh faith adopt a new last name upon baptism into the Khalsa. Men adopt the last name Singh, while women adopt the last name Kaur.
  • The Sikhs adopted the name Singh in 1699 during the Birth of the Khalsa.

See also

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