Misconceptions Programmers Have about Names in the UK

Misconceptions Programmers Have about Names in the UK
Photo by Nikita Pishchugin / Unsplash

Contrary to popular belief, in the United Kingdom, there isn't a definition of "legal name". Lord Justice Ormrod, in the case of D v B (orse D) [1979] Fam 38, in the Court of Appeal, ascertained that:

It is common ground that a surname in common law is simply the name by which a person is generally known[.]

Therefore it is reasonable to assume that a full name is generally the name someone is generally known by. For most of the country this is the name on your ID or Government Documents.

However, this isn't a one-size-fits-all definitive legal name. The Government does not have a Ministry of Names™️ which holds a record of names and deems them "legal".

Changing your name

Let's say you want to change your name. There's a few ways this is possible in the UK.

You can:

The process for this is simple. Grab some toilet paper or whatever paper you have on hand and find 2 witnesses. Fill out this template:

“I [old name] of [your address] have given up my name [old name] and have adopted for all purposes the name [new name].
Signed as a deed on [date] as [old name] and [new name] in the presence of [witness 1 name] of [witness 1 address], and [witness 2 name] of [witness 2 address].
[your new signature], [your old signature]
[witness 1 signature], [witness 2 signature]"

You can now go by your new legal name. No need to submit it to anyone. If someone wants proof your name has changed they can use this document as proof.

Some organisations want a little more proof by making you publish your name change in an official public record by enrolling it with the Royal Courts of Justice.

All you've got to do is write to the courts and buy an advert in the Gazette.

Note: This process is not anymore legal than the previous processes. Doing this does not make your name "legal". Both unenrolled and enrolled deedpolls are of the same level. It is purely up to the company you're changing your name with as to what they prefer.
  • Just go by a new name.

Since the definition of a name is "what people know you by" you can just change your name without any documents!

Fun fact: It is mostly down to the company you're registering with or changing your name at as to what a name is. Some companies will let you go by a new name, some will require a deedpoll. Some will require ID of your old name + the deedpoll. And some (mostly DVSA / HMRC) require an elected deedpoll.

Multiple Names

Fun fact! If you're called Beatrice and go by Bea, you technically have 2 names.

And if you have a deedpoll you go by another name.

If there is confusion over what your name is (perhaps applying to a job and they ask), any name used for a formal document over a long period of time will hold more weight than other names.

What can a name be?

It was held by the House of Lords in Cowley (Earl) v Cowley (Countess) [1901] A.C. 450 that —

“Speaking generally, the law of this country allows any person to assume and use any name, provided its use is not calculated to deceive and to inflict pecuniary loss.”

However, some parts of the law such as the Public Order Act restrict names containing racist language.

What is a name made of?

A name in the UK can be made up of:

However there is no law requiring a person to have a surname in the UK, neither is there one for first names.

All births must be registered, however the law does not require a first name to be given. In practice a person will always have a name owing to our culture.

Even if someone was not born with a name, any name they are commonly known by will henceforth become their name.

Middle Names

A middle name is not a separate part of your name, instead it is a part of your first name.

Per Evans v King (1745); Jones v Macquillin (1793); Williams v Bryant (1839) your first name is in fact a combination of all of your forenames combined by spaces.


Some suffixes such as:

  • jr
  • sr
  • the third, the fourth, etc

Are not a separate part of your name either. They are a part of your surname.

Length of names

You can either have:

  • No name (although possible, is not practical in our culture)
  • or you name can start at 1 letter and go up to an infinite amount.

Other characters

Characters like hyphens, punctuation, or numbers are entirely allowed in names although in practice they may be ignored or written out 4 -> four.

Emoji Names

It is possible to call yourself an emoji, although in practice you will be called what the emoji represents. So for example if your name was 🌝 people might call you "smiling moon".