People change their names for many reasons. For people with convictions, it is generally because they want a fresh start. The “google effect” means that for many, their past can be accessed at any time online, particularly if the original conviction was featured in the media.
Firstly, it’s worth noting here that changing your name isn’t a way for you to get away from your criminal record being formally disclosed, for example when a criminal record check is carried out. It’s also not for everyone. Some people feel (understandably) connected to their name as part of their identity, and so don’t want to give this up.
The main reason behind it is to try to avoid what could be described as ‘informal’ disclosure, such as what people read in newspapers or online.
If you’ve secured a new job, moved to a different area or made new friends, there is always a fear that new work colleagues or friends will treat you differently if they find out about your previous convictions before you’re ready to tell them. We often hear from people who managed to get a job where they weren’t asked to disclose their convictions, but then a colleague looked them up online and notified the employer who decided to terminate their employment. We also hear of people who reach the stage where their conviction becomes spent, but the newspaper’s website which featured the original conviction details refuse to remove the details from their site.
Are you allowed?
There is nothing preventing people with criminal convictions from changing their name.
If you have any pending criminal prosecutions against you then you will be required to notify the police about the change. If you are on licence or under probation, then you will be required to inform your probation officer and if you are on the Sex Offenders Register, you are required to notify the police within 14 days of changing your name. Failure to inform the police may result in a criminal conviction.
How to change your name
If you wish to be known by a different name you can change your name at any time, providing you do not intend to deceive or defraud another person. There is no legal procedure to follow in order to change a name. You simply start using the new one. You can change your forename or surname, add names or rearrange your existing name.
There are some restrictions about what you can change your name to and why. You may not change your name:-
- In order to commit an illegal act, i.e. fraud.
- To something that is rude or offensive.
- To imply or include a title such as Lord, Lady, Duke or Duchess (unless that’s true)
- To something that includes symbols or numbers.
Before you change your name, you should check that your name change will be accepted by:-
- Your employer
- Any institute or professional body that you are a member of
- Your country of origin, if you are a foreign national living in the UK
- The relevant authorities of the country you are living in, if you are a UK national living overseas
Once you have decided to change your name, you can use the new name for all purposes.
Evidence of change of name
You don’t need legal proof that you have changed your name, provided that you can be identified by your new chosen name.
However, there are some circumstances e.g. applying for a passport, when additional evidence of the change of name is required. The evidence required varies depending on the purpose for which it is needed and can include:-
- A letter from a responsible person
- A public announcement
- A statutory declaration
- A deed poll
A letter from a responsible person, such as a GP, solicitor, priest or MP will often be enough evidence that you have changed your name. The letter should state that the person has known you in both names and that the change of name is to be used for all purposes. A letter will not be enough if you are applying for a UK passport.
You may want to record your name change by placing an advertisement in a local or national newspaper. This should state that you have stopped using your previous name and have assumed a new one. A copy of the advertisement can then be used as evidence that you have changed your name.
For most purposes, a statutory declaration is accepted as evidence of your change of name. A statutory declaration is a statement recording your intention to abandon your old name and adopt a new one.
You can prepare a statutory declaration yourself, or use a solicitor to help you. You will find a template online here.
You must sign your statutory declaration using your new name. It should be witnessed, either by a solicitor (other than the one that helped you prepare the declaration) or by a Justice of the Peace (a lay magistrate who works in the Magistrates Court).
Some Magistrates Courts are reluctant to witness statutory declarations for a change of name because they believe that a deed poll should be used instead. You should explain to the Court that you require a statutory declaration purely as evidence and that you do not want the more formal deed poll.
Solicitors usually charge for preparing and witnessing a statutory declaration and you will need to pay a fee to the Court if a JP witnesses your declaration.
A deed poll is a formal statement to prove that your name has been changed. For most people it will not be necessary to prepare a deed poll as evidence that they have changed their name. However, there may be cases when a deed poll is required, e.g. when applying for a passport.
You can prepare your own deed poll. Once it is prepared you should ensure that it is signed in the presence of an independent witness, who must also add their name, address and occupation. You will need to have two witnesses if you wish to have your deed poll enrolled (registered). The deed poll should state that it is ‘signed as a deed and delivered’. You will find a deed poll template online here.
There are online services to help you prepare a deed poll and these may be cheaper than using a solicitor. If you want to officially enrol the deed poll, it is advisable to have it prepared by a solicitor, although this can be expensive.
Enrolling a deed poll provides a public record of a person’s name change. Since 1914 the details of the name change are published in either the London Gazette or the Belfast Gazette. Deed polls that have been enrolled at the Royal Courts of Justice in London remain there for five years. After that, they can be found at the National Archives located in Richmond, Surrey.
You can get a deed poll enrolled in the central office of the Supreme Court and the cost for preparing and enrolling the deed poll is currently £102.
The contact details are:
Queen’s Bench Division,
The Royal Courts of Justice,
Telephone: 020 7947 7772 (option 5)
Email: (enquires only) email@example.com