Double-barrelling surnames is becoming normalised – but how do you do it?

If you think double-barrelled surnames are still only heard when the butler is announcing arrivals at Lady Octavia's annual Christmas ball, you'd be wrong. It's becoming increasingly common to double-up surnames and for good reason. Find out more about who can choose to combine their names, and how you do it.

In this article

Are double-barrel surnames posh?

In the not too distant past, we’d only expect to hear double-barrelled surnames in the UK on a segment about pheasant hunting on Countryfile, or a period drama when there’s an obligatory visit to the local manor house. Those days are rapidly fading, however, as double-barrelling surnames is becoming a much more popular option for couples and families.

In 2017, 11% of newlyweds were choosing to combine their surnames after marriage. In the years following, it seems to be steadily increasing. With surname combination becoming much more normalised, and the frequency of couples deciding to adopt each other’s name going up, the perception of double-barrel surnames is changing.

The idea that having a double-barrel surname is posh is fading. Well, the concept is, but I suppose it also partly depends on the names themselves. It’s hard not to imagine tweed and plus fours when you hear a name like Chessington-Smythe (apologies to any Chessington-Smythes out there), but in general, it’s no longer considered the reserve of the landed gentry. Good show!

Can I double-barrel my surname?

Yes, anyone can. Whether you’re married and want to take each others surname, you’ve decided you want to have both of your parent’s surnames, or you just fancy changing it! There’s no rules on who can or can’t choose to double-barrel, or what you can change it to.

There’s a whole host of reasons why married couples are changing things up when it comes to wedding traditions, including a push for gender equality, a wish to retain links to their heritage or simply wanting to stay close to their nearest and dearest through their name. Surnames can mean a lot when it comes to family bonds.

affectionate african america woman her female friend outdoor cafe

Can I double-barrel my child’s surname?

Of course. You can choose to do this when they’re born and register them with a double-barrelled name, even if you and the child’s other parent aren’t married. You may even decide to give them a combination of your own parents’ surnames, it’s completely up to you!

If your child isn’t a new-born, don’t worry. You can still change their surname! This is common in blended families where parents want their children to all share a common surname. If this is the case for you, you’ll need to complete a Child Deed Poll on their behalf, if they’re under 16.

You will need to have permission from all adults who hold parental responsibility for the child in order to change their name after birth. To figure out who has parental responsibility (PR), read more on our Deed Poll FAQs.

Does a double-barrelled surname have to be hyphenated?

No. It’s completely up to you if you choose to hyphenate it or not, there’s no hard and fast rule. The positive of having it hyphenated, however, is that it will indicate more clearly to people that both of the names are your surname (and one isn’t omitted).

For example, you might choose to have your name as “Hollie Madison Jones”. If you don’t hyphen your surnames, there’s a chance it might be misinterpreted and Madison taken as your middle name. This could result in Madison being abbreviated to an initial, so you may see “Hollie M Jones”. Which would be annoying!

Some people prefer their double surname without the hyphen though, and that’s perfectly fine. The choice is yours.

Are there double-barrel surname rules in the UK?

Not really, no. Your name can be practically anything you want it to be in the UK (though obviously if you choose something offensive or politically spicy, you’re not going to have a good time having it accepted for ID applications). You can choose your original surname and your partner’s, or two completely new ones. Anything goes as long as you have the document to support it!

Do both partners have to double-barrel their name?

Nope. It’s all down to personal choice. You might want to sit down and have a conversation about it, though. You’ll need to make sure you’re both comfortable with whatever you choose to do – you don’t want one of you feeling a bit miffed if they double-barrel your surnames and then the other doesn’t fancy it.

happy african couple having tender moment outdoors summer sunset focus woman face

Which surname comes first?

Tough one, this. There’re no rules, really. It’s just whatever you prefer. Try the names both ways, see which rolls off the tongue better. If you can’t agree between yourselves, our professional recommendation is to flip a coin. It’s a time-honoured method for resolving any conflict, from name changes to whose turn it is to wash up.

Why did people first start double-barrelling their names?

Time for a bit of a history lesson.

Way back when, in the time of lords, ladies and peasantry, surnames held a lot of weight. They were a sign of power and wealth and were taken as an indication of good breeding, as classist and weird as that sounds. Influential families passed on influential surnames, and the powerful stayed powerful.

But what if one of these families found themselves with only female descendants? Tradition meant that women had to take their husband’s surnames (which would also pass down to any children they had). The family name was suddenly at risk of extinction, taking the legacy and power with it.

And that’s why double-barrelling surnames became a thing. It let the powerful families keep their surnames alive. It’s also why you probably associate double-barrelled names with the upper-classes – they were the ones with something to lose if a surname became extinct.

How to double-barrel a surname in the UK

There’s technically two ways you can go about the paperwork but it all depends on your circumstances. If you’re newly married and want to change one, or both of your surnames, you can sometimes just use your marriage certificate to request the update. Although you’re able to do this in some instances – for example HM Passport office are starting to make it easier to double-barrel a surname with a marriage certificate – it’s not always the case.

For example, if you go to the local branch of your bank or your GP surgery, and asked them to update their records in this way, it’s likely that you’ll get “computer says no”. Even though it is becoming more popular to double-barrel surnames, the processes have yet to catch up. The teller at the bank or the receptionist at your doctor’s surgery will want to see a document which shows your name exactly as you want it on your account or record.

A photograph of a happy family walking in a field for double-barrelled surnames in the uk blog

So what can you do to make sure things run as simply and smoothly as possible? Or if you’re not married and want to change your surname anyway, or change your child’s? Easy, you just get yourself a Deed Poll. You can apply online in as little as 10 minutes and we guarantee any Deed Polls we issue will be accepted by all UK companies and organisations.

This will save you figuring out who will accept your marriage certificate, who won’t, explaining how you want your name to appear on your accounts or even being turned away by people who don’t understand processes. Trust us, this happens all the time.

If you have your Deed Poll, it’s all there in black and white, officially bound and legal. You can update your passport, driving licence, GP records, bank accounts, whatever you need!

I’ve double-barrelled my surname, but I don’t like it. Can I change it back?

Yep – but you’ll need a new Deed Poll.

Keep in mind that a name change is supposed to be permanent – you’re not meant to change it on a whim. Once it’s changed, it’s changed – you can’t just decide to stop using it and go back to your old name. If you do want to change back, you’ll have to get a new Deed Poll and go through all the proper channels.

I hope you learnt something from this blog, and hopefully you’ve come out of it with more knowledge about double barrel surnames – do you fancy double barrelling yours?

Still got any questions? Just get in touch with our friendly team who are more than happy to advise you. You can call us on 0330 088 1142, email us at certificates@vitalcertificates.co.uk, chat to us through our live chat system, or text us on WhatsApp.

Declan Ramsden
Declan Ramsden

Declan is a Content Creator at Vital Consular. He studied English Literature for 4 years before joining the company. Outside of work, he enjoys listening to retro music and reading classic novels – particularly Charles Dickens!

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2 Comments

  1. I would like to take my spouses surname Nolley as a double barrel surname for myself.
    My name is Steven Taylor
    So would like to change to
    Steven Nolley Taylor.
    Would UK passport officials accept this?
    What is the cost please

    • Hey Steven,

      Yep, that shouldn’t be a problem! You’ve got two choices – you can send your marriage certificate to the Passport Office when you request your new passport, or you could get and send a Deed Poll.

      A Deed Poll (from us) costs £25 + VAT and delivery. Many people use Deed Polls because it means they don’t have to worry about their marriage certificate being lost or damaged in the post. They’re guaranteed to be accepted anywhere, so once you’ve received it back from the Passport Office you can send it to all the other institutions you want to change your name with. If you’re interested in a Deed Poll, you can get one by clicking here.

      Hope this helps – if you have any more questions feel free to ask!

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