Name Changes: UK Laws and Rules

If you're wanting to change your name, you can change it to anything you want. That doesn't mean you should, though, 'cos it could end up leaving you in a sticky situation. This article explains why.

Want to change your name? Go for it. Why not? Seriously, it’s easy. Before you do, though, I’d better clue you up on all the rules and regulations – you don’t be choosing a name you can’t use. Which is possible to do.

Before I get into all the ins-and-outs of the rules of name changes, I’m going to explain how name changes actually work. I should add here – if you’re changing your name to a regular name, you’ll be absolutely fine. You only really need to read this article if you’re thinking of changing your name to something, at the risk of sounding like an American surfer dude called Kyle, far out. Otherwise, you can get yourself over to our Deed Poll page now and get started.

How do you change your name?

You get a Deed Poll, put a new name on it, sign it in front of two witnesses, and you’re done. It’s now a valid document, and your name’s legal.

Or is it? ‘Cos now, you need to send a copy of your Deed Poll off to different companies and organisations and ask them to change it for you. But here’s the thing: they don’t have to accept the name you’ve chosen. Each company has its own guidelines and restrictions, and if your new name doesn’t adhere to them, they’re well within their rights to reject it and refuse to change your documentation.

So, say you send off your Deed Poll to the DVLA and ask them to update your driving licence. If your name goes against their guidelines, they just straight up won’t change it. It’s a bit of a strange situation, and to be honest, I don’t really know what it means for your name change. The Deed Poll is valid, but have you actually changed your name if none of your official documentation shows it? You’re stuck in a bit of a no-man’s land. Schrodinger’s name change.

Don’t panic, though. As I said earlier, probably 99.9% of names are within the guidelines for name changes. If you’re choosing a standard name, you’ll be absolutely fine. Even ridiculous names can be alright as long as they fit within some technical rules. So, what names can’t you get away with?

An image of a hand, holding a pen, signing a document. A pair of glasses are also on the table. It represents a name change.

What’re the rules?

Annoyingly, different organisations might have different rules about what name changes they’ll accept, which makes things complicated. It’s going to be a nightmare if you get your name changed on some documentation, but not on others. You’re pretty much guaranteed to run into trouble at some point. You need to know that it’s going to be accepted everywhere.

Step forward… the Passport Office. A passport is one of the most important documents you’ll ever own, so I suppose it makes sense that the Passport Office holds you to the highest standard for a name change. They’re basically the final boss of name changes. Get past them and you’ve got past them all.

Luckily for us, they’ve released a document that details exactly what they will, and what they won’t, accept. I’ll link the full thing to you later in the article, but here’s a quick summary of all you need to know.

They’ll reject:

  • Names that may cause outrage or offence – no swear words, sexually explicit names, names with offensive religious connotations, names that are vulgar, offensive or libellous to an individual, names of famous people (living or dead) that might cause concern. I’m not giving you an example ‘cos I’d probably lose my job, but I’m sure you know the sort of thing I mean.
  • Names promoting unlawful activity – no names associated with criminal gangs or extremist organisations, or names that encourage crime or anti-social behaviour. Use common sense, though. You won’t get away with Aggravated Assault, but I reckon you’d be alright to Rob Banks.

Just to add – this also applies to how it sounds, not just how it’s spelt. This is the Passport Office, not Moe off The Simpsons. They’ve seen their fair share of Hugh Jass-es, they won’t fall for it.

  • Names that breach trademark and copyright – you can change your name to a copyrighted name, so Jack Daniels for example, but you can’t use the name for commercial gain. Then it’s a breach.
  • Names that include numbers – self-explanatory.
  • Names that include symbols – the only punctuation, or symbols, the British Passport Office accept are hyphens (-) and apostrophes (‘). They won’t even accept the little accents you get above letters in foreign languages. It’s very disrespectful to Beyoncé, if you ask me.
  • Names that are too long – you get 30 characters (including spaces) for your first and middle name, and then another 30 for the surname – so 61 characters (including the space between) for your full name. If your name’s longer, it’s not too much of an issue – you’ll just have to tell them how you’d like it shortened on your passport, and you can add your full name to the ‘information section’.

And that’s it. They’re not hard to follow, are they? Most of them you have to actually go out of your way to break. Don’t use numbers, don’t use special characters, don’t choose a really long name and don’t go out of your way to be offensive. Easy enough. Here’s the full document on name change rules.

A women, wearing glasses, sat at a desk. On the desk is an open laptop and she's looking through some documents, smiling. The documents represent a Deed Poll name change.

Although that’s everything that’s mentioned in the official criteria, I wouldn’t say it’s a definitive list. There’re still some things you’ll need to keep in mind. While you can get away with an unusual name, if it’s particularly wacky then you might have a problem. They won’t accept names that’ve been chosen for frivolous reasons – so if you’ve lost a bet, or you’re just trying to be funny, basically. You’ll need to try to prove to them that you’re committed to using the name, you’re already using it for all purposes, and you haven’t changed it for a daft reason.

The only way to do this is to change your name at other organisations (like the DVLA or your energy provider) and then supply them with evidence that you’ve been using the name for a while (like an old bill). If you can prove to the Passport Office that you’ve been using your name in all areas of your life, and you’re committed to doing so, there’s a much higher chance they’ll accept it – even if it is ridiculous.

Here’s a couple more rules to help you avoid any difficulties.

Don’t use

  • Names that suggest you’ve got a title – you can’t change your name to, like, Sir James Smith if you aren’t a Sir. I know it’s not mentioned in the guidelines, but that’d be probably be rejected.
  • Names that’re unpronounceable – don’t choose a name that’s impossible to say. It’s just going to confuse everyone, and the Passport Office will definitely flag it as frivolous.

It’s just not worth the risk. I know you’re free to change your name to whatever you want, but you probably shouldn’t take that as a challenge. If you’re trying to push the boundaries, fair enough – you do you, you little rebel – but just know that there’s a chance you’re going to run into difficulties.

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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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