Why are more people changing their name?

By Caroline McClatchey
BBC News Magazine

  • Published
Wayne Rooney, Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson
Image caption,
Hero worship: People have changed their names in honour of their favourite sport or musical stars

More and more people are changing their name by deed poll. Even those with non-embarrassing monikers are wanting to start afresh but why?

It used to be only a select group of people who would change their names - those who had been saddled with a silly one or the rich and famous who wanted to sprinkle a little bit of stardust over every aspect of their lives.

British singer/songwriter Elton John was once Reginald Kenneth Dwight, American actor John Wayne was born the not-so-macho sounding Marion Robert Morrison and supermodel Elle Macpherson was formerly known as Eleanor Nancy Gow.

Every now and again ordinary people hit the headlines with their choice of new names.

There's the teenager who recently changed his name to Facebookdotcom Forwardslash-Mountaindew UK to boost his chances of winning a competition, and Asda worker Greg Lewis who changed his name to Dr Pasty-Smasher Omelette for a bet.

Liverpool fan Shaun McCormack presented himself with a new name for Christmas but unfortunately his Spanish hero Fernando Torres was soon to move to Chelsea. It would be no surprise if he reverted back to Shaun.

Changing one's name has certainly become increasingly popular. According to the latest figures from the UK Deed Poll Service, the main commercial company that assists with name changes, 30% more documents were issued in September compared with the same month the previous year.

And it looks like this could be a record year, with an estimated 58,000 people changing their name by the end of 2011 - an increase of 4,000 on the previous year. A decade ago, only 5,000 people changed their names.

Many have been inspired by celebrities or their sporting heroes. In the past few years, the UK Deed Poll Service has welcomed 15 new Wayne Rooneys into the world, five Amy Winehouses and 30 Michael Jacksons.

And nearly 200 people can now say that "Danger" is officially their middle name.

However, 300 people opted for the solid but less glamorous John Smith, which indicates that people change their names for reasons other than just fun.

Most of the deed polls issued were to separated women, or to separated/divorced women who wanted to change their children's surnames.

Other reasons include immigrants wanting to anglicise their names and married couples seeking to combine their surnames. Michael Pugh and Rebecca Griffin merged their names by deed poll to become Mr and Mrs Puffin when they married last year.

In recent years, some people have changed their name to their social networking username.

Some people also change their names to escape a past or unwanted connection - US-born model and niece of Osama Bin Laden, Wafah Dufour, took her mother's maiden name after the events of 11 September 2001.

Author Julia Cresswell, who has written several books about names, is slightly puzzled by people wanting to officially change their names as no-one is legally bound to use their registered name.

Image caption,
John Smith may not be a glamorous name but it remains popular

But she says there's nothing wrong with people changing their name unless they take the name of a celebrity or use it for criminal purposes.

"Changing your name to some famous person is daft as you would get tired of all jokes.

"But there's a stage in most people's lives when they want to be something else, when they leave home or change jobs. It is a way of emancipating yourself from your past, particularly if you have unhappy associations."

Across the UK, people can change their name at any time, provided they do not intend to deceive or defraud. However proof will be needed to amend official documents and bank accounts.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the proof can be a letter from a responsible person, such as a doctor, a public announcement in a local or national paper, a statutory declaration or a deed poll. Deed polls are not part of Scottish law but other forms of proof available include a statutory declaration.

Any person whose birth is registered in Scotland or who was legally adopted in Scotland can apply for a recorded change of name through the General Register Office.

Deed polls can also be drawn up on a DIY basis, as long as they are accepted by banks and official agencies.

Claudia Duncan, from the UK Deed Poll Service, says the increased availability of deed polls has made them a convenient, quick and cheap option. The firm charges £33 for a basic adult deed poll, £35 for a child's. Those who eschew the help of deed poll companies or solicitors can do it themselves for nothing.

"Everyone has access to the internet and it is so straightforward to apply. It can be done online and you don't have to go to a solicitor."

The ease with which people can change their name has raised concerns about fraud but experts say it is difficult to side-step all the checks involved when applying for credit.

James Jones from Experian, which checks credit applications for fraud, says credit reports contain a "wealth of information" and "any attempt to omit a previous address or names is likely to be detected".

The fixation with changing one's name shows no sign of abating and there will probably be more Wayne Rooneys by this time next year. But no doubt they will still be no match for the newest batch of John Smiths.

A selection of reader comments will appear in a follow-up piece.