Changing your name for free
English law has no concept of a legal name. You can go by whatever name you choose, and as soon as you tell people what your name is, that is your name. It's as simple as that.
When applying for ID documents or dealing with big organisations, people will often want to see proof that you're using a different name from the one they previously knew you by. There are lots of ways to do this but the easiest and cheapest way is by deed poll.
N.B. the information on this site only applies if you're a British citizen by birth or through your parents, and you live in England or Wales. Changing your name in other countries, including Scotland, is a little bit more complicated and not something I know about. If you were born or registered in Scotland you may wish to contact the National Records of Scotland for advice.
What is a deed poll?
A deed is another word for a contract. A deed poll is a contract you make with yourself and no other parties. By signing a deed poll you're making a commitment to stop using your old name and use a new one in its place. It doesn't need to be registered or sent off anywhere - you just sign it and you're done.
Technically you can get an envelope, write on the back "My old name is John Smith and I'm changing it to Penelope Shufflebottom" and you've got a deed poll. The problem is most people don't actually know what a deed poll is, and so they won't believe you. So there are certain ways you can dress it up, and a generally accepted standard wording, which will make it far more likely to be accepted without any problems.
There are lots of websites and online services with official-sounding names like the "legal deed poll service" and "UK deed polls" and the like, which say they'll provide you with a deed poll. They will, but all they'll do is print out something which you can do for yourself here. You pay £30+ for a printing service, basically. Much better to do it yourself.And the plural of 'deed poll' is 'deeds poll,' anyway.
Choosing a name
You can have almost any name you like, with a few conditions. The main ones are that you must have at least two pronouncable names with no punctuation apart from hyphens or apostrophes. Full details are on Dan Q's Free Deed Poll website (opens in new tab).
What you'll need
- at least one printed copy of the deed poll template (Google Drive link). In practice, a few originals can be handy, in case one gets lost or damaged, or so you can update your details more quickly by sending them to multiple organisations at once
- some parchment paper. You can use plain A4 if you like but I find printing them on something a bit fancy makes them feel more important and dignified. You can get parchment paper from stationery shops or Amazon (make sure it's suitable for printers)
- legal seals. As you probably don't have your own wax seal, you can buy red stickers with jagged edges which you can use to 'seal' legal documents. These come in sheets, again from bigger stationers or Amazon. If you don't want to use a seal there's a slight wording change; see below
- two witnesses. It's not clear exactly who qualifies to be a witness, so to be on the safe side you should probably use two British citizens who aren't related to you
- probably a drink each for your witnesses to thank them, especially if you go to the pub to sign (we did)
All you absolutely need is a piece of paper with the words printed on it, but the extra touches make it look nicer and more likely to be accepted.
What to do
Download the deed poll template (Google Drive link). Add your own text to replace each set of square brackets.
According to HMCTS form LOC019, the relevant section of the British Nationality Act varies. If none of the below applies to you, you might want to take legal advice:
- If you were born on or after 1 Jan 1983 and are a British Citizen, it's section 1(1)
- If you were born in 1982 or earlier, and you were a Citizen of the UK and Colonies at that time, it's section 11(1)
- If you were born in a Commonwealth country it's section 37(1)
If you're not changing your first name, you can delete the paragraph beginning, "Notwithstanding the decision..." - this is only relevant for deeds which change your first name. Strictly speaking it relates to enrolled deeds rather than DIY ones, but there's no harm in using it. It's there to reject a piece of case law which said that first names can only be changed by Act of Parliament. Most people disagree (including you, if you're reading this in order to change your first name). You can read about the case in question on Wikipedia.
Adjust margins, spacing, line breaks etc. to make sure it fits on one page.
There's space next to your old and new name at the bottom where you sign in both names. Make sure you practice your new signature beforehand! There's also a big space under the signature lines where you'll stick your seal. If you're not going to use seals, change the words "affixed my seal" to "set my hand", and the words "SIGNED SEALED AND DELIVERED" to "SIGNED AS A DEED" before printing.
Time to change your name!
Get your witnesses somewhere convenient; as I said, we used the pub, but you can do it anywhere you like. Invite a few friends to celebrate if you like. Have a drink etc. Sign your old and new names on the deed and stick the seal on if you're using one. That's it - you've changed your name! Congratulations!
Now you have to tell every person, group, organisation etc. that you have any accounts or dealings with that you've changed your name. This is a legal requirement, and it's especially important if you have creditors, as you are not at all allowed to change your name in order to escape a debt. There are lists elsewhere on the Internet with all the people you need to tell after changing your name.
If organisations refuse to update your name after you've told them it's changed, or continue to use the old one knowing that it's wrong, this can be a breach of the GDPR's data protection principles. Threaten them with it, as the law says that any data they hold about you has to be accurate and up to date.
This is mostly my own words, apart from the deed poll template which I originally got from Flash Bristow on The Gorge and then refined slightly. There's also a website called Free Deed Poll by Dan Q, which will generate the whole thing for you, wizard-style, ready to print. I preferred being able to choose my own typeface (Palatino Linotype, if you're interested) and lay it out myself; also the wording from both of those sites seems to come from the same place and I disagree on a technicality about the citizenship section numbers, but they're both worth a read at the very least. The Guardian also had an article in 2013 about the problems of websites which charge a fee for deeds.
Finally, the usual blah that none of this is legal advice, I'm just a deed poll enthusiast, lifts may go up as well as down, don't put a duck on your head, that sort of thing.
- v2.0 uploaded 17 March 2019: moved hosting to Google Sites/Drive because I'm poor; added explanation of the different sections of the British Nationality Act
- v1.3 uploaded 16 September 2018: republished following extended server downtime, DPA references replaced with GDPR
- v1.2 uploaded 23 January 2015: link to National Records of Scotland, change reference to 'British law' (no such thing!)
- v1.1 uploaded 6 June 2014: more detail on re Parrott, Cox vs Parrott
- v1.0 uploaded 3 June 2014: first published
Text on this page is placed in the public domain by Josie Stripe.