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Name change

United States

Generally, under the laws of the various United States, a person can adopt any name desired for any reason as long as the name is not slanderous or otherwise not prohibited by the principle of freedom of speech, and as long as the name change is not for the purpose of committing a crime. There are differences in specific requirements from state to state. If someone wishes to obtain a formal order changing their name, which would be applied for in a state court, it is necessary to plead that the name change is not for a fraudulent purpose. The applicant may be required to give a more or less reasonable explanation for wanting to change their name and generally the court (that is, the judge) has full discretion to grant or deny a change of name.

In order to maintain one's identity, it is desirable to obtain a formal order in order that there is continuity of personal records.

United Kingdom

In Scotland a person may use any name that they wish and change it at any time, provided that they do not do so for fraudulent purposes. No special process is required.

In England a change of name, beyond a change by usage, is brought about by using a deed poll, a legal contract binding only a single person - a Deed of Change of Name. The deed consists of three declarations, committing the person to abandoning their former name, using only the new name and requiring everyone else to use only the new name. The deed is executed by signing, dating and a witness signature. A person's name can be changed as often and whenever they like provided it is not for the purposes of fraud or to deceive.

There is no legal requirement to list the name change with any group or body. Although it can be entered in the Enrolment Books at the Central Office of the Supreme Court of Deeds. The name change applies from the moment the deed is legal, previous time-dependent legal documents, certificates etc. retain the prior name.

The deed poll provides documentary evidence to require all persons, companies and organisation (including government departments) to change their records to show the new name. A deed poll also allows for the reissue of documents like passport, driving licence, credit cards etc., in the new name.

The restrictions on names prevent the acceptance of those containing numbers or non-alphabetic symbols, a single name, an inherited title (no one can have Sir, Lord, Lady, Baron, Baroness, Count, Earl, Countess, Duke or Duchess as their first name), or that are impossible to pronounce. Vulgarity and names which are unwise are not specifically excluded, but it may be difficult to find a willing solicitor.

Famous instances of people renamed by deed poll include Screaming Lord Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow, the founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party and Elton Hercules John, the singer, composer and musician, who was previously called Reginald Kenneth Dwight.

"Michael Howard of Leeds", according to the The Guardian newspaper in November 1999, changed his name by deed poll to "Yorkshire Bank Plc are Fascist Bastards" after being charged 20 for a 10 overdraft. When the bank asked him to close his account, he asked them to repay the 69p balance with a check made out in his new name.


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