How to look for records of... Changes of name

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1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide for advice on how to find records, or other forms of proof, of a person changing their name. There is advice on the kinds of records that have been created since the 16th century right up to the present day.

You may find that proof of a change of name simply does not exist. Contrary to popular belief, it has always been possible to change your name without having to register the change with the government or any other official body. It is still perfectly legal for anyone over the age of 16 to start using a new name at any time, as long as they are not doing so for a fraudulent or illegal reason.

The National Archives cannot provide legal advice. If you have changed your name and need legal advice on providing evidence of the change, to obtain a passport for example, you will need to speak to a solicitor or to Citizens Advice.

2. A short history of name changing in the UK

Historically, many people preferred not to draw attention to their change of name. When, for example, divorce was more difficult, some people simply took their new partner’s name to allow them to appear married, and to make any children appear legitimate.

Where people did wish to make their change of name more official, they might have made an announcement in the press or made a declaration before a Justice of the Peace or Commissioner for Oaths.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, and to a lesser extent before then, private Acts of Parliament and, more commonly, royal licenses were used for official changes of name but these methods were superceded in the 20th century by deeds poll.

2.1 Foreign citizens living in the UK, 1916-1971

In 1916, enemy aliens resident in Britain were forbidden to change their names. In 1919 the ban was extended to all foreigners in Britain and was only removed in 1971. Exceptions to this rule were:

  • if a woman took her husband’s name on marriage
  • if a new name was assumed by royal licence
  • if special permission was granted by the Home Secretary

2.2 Change of name declarations during the Second World War, 1939-1945

During the Second World War, people wanting to change their name had to make a declaration to that effect and publish details in the London, Edinburgh or Belfast Gazette, 21 days beforehand. This was to allow the National Registration records to be altered and an identity card and ration book to be issued in the new name.

The original declarations were destroyed when National Registration was abolished in 1952 but you can search the London, Edinburgh or Belfast Gazettes (see section 4).

3. Deed poll records

A deed poll is a legal contract involving only one party. Changes of name by deed poll were (and are) made before a solicitor who issues the document to the person changing their name. The solicitor may keep a copy on file, but it is unlikely to be a certified copy, and the file is unlikely to be kept for more than five years.

The person changing their name can ask their solicitor to ‘enrol’ the deed poll, creating a permanent record, in the Enrolment Books of the Supreme Court of Judicature (formerly the Close Rolls of Chancery). However, there is a cost for this option and most people decide against it (we estimate that less than 1% of changes of name by deed poll are enrolled). Consequently, most deed poll records do not survive (if no records survive and you need proof of a change of name, contact a solicitor or Citizens Advice for legal advice).

The National Archives only holds deeds poll which have been enrolled. To locate an enrolled deed poll you will need to visit us to consult the name indexes that are held onsite at The National Archives in Kew (they are not available online). If you cannot visit in person, you can, instead, pay for a search, though for records from 1945-2003 we will do a search for you for free (see below).

3.1 How to search for an enrolled deed poll record from 1851-1903

The indexes for this period are held in series C 275. To get from the indexes to the deed poll records themselves follow these steps:

Step 1: Use our online catalogue to search in C 275 for a document reference to an index. To search, use the word ‘index’ and the year in which the change of name took place (if you don’t know the year, it is best to guess at a range of years).

Step 2: Once you have a C 275 reference (you will have more than one if you don’t know the exact year of the change of name), order the respective index/es for consultation at Kew.

Step 3: Find the former name in the selected index/es (the indexes show only the former name). It will provide a ‘part number’ reference to a document in C 54.

Step 4: Search in C 54 with the part number (expressed as ‘Part 12’, for example) and the year. This will provide you with a full C 54 reference (C 54/15436, for example) with which you can order and view the document.

3.2 How to search for an enrolled deed poll record from 1904-1944

Indexes and the enrolment books themselves for 1904 to 2003 are both in J 18. To find a change of name for these years follow these steps:

Step 1: Find a document reference for the index/es by searching the J 18 listings in our online catalogue. To search, use the word ‘index’ and the year or range of years in which the change of name took place (if you don’t know the year, it is best to guess at a range of years).

Step 2: Once you have a J 18 index reference, order the respective index/es for consultation at Kew.

Step 3: Find the either the former or the new name (in some instances they are cross-referenced, in others there is a note) in the selected index. It will provide a part number reference to another document in J 18.

Step 4: Look for your J 18 part number by browsing through J 18 (part numbers appear in ranges). This will provide you with a full J 18 reference (J 18/402, for example) with which you can order and view the document.

3.3 How to search for an enrolled deed poll record from 1945-2003

…online

Step 1: First you need to establish whether the deed poll record was actually enrolled at the Supreme Court of Judicature. To do this, search by name in The Gazette where all enrolled changes of name by deed poll have been announced since 1914. If you find an entry in The Gazette go to Step 2; if you do not find an entry we will not have a record of the change and you may need to speak to a solicitor if you require legal proof of identity.

Step 2: Use our records and research enquiry form to request a free search of our change of name indexes – please include the current name, the former name and a rough idea of the year that the name change took place (even a range of ten to twenty years is helpful).

Step 3: Allow 10 working days for our team to respond to your enquiry.

Step 4: If we find an index reference for the deed poll we will send you a full J 18 reference – with this reference you can use our record copying service to pay for a copy of the deed poll to be sent to you.

…at our building in Kew

Use the J 18 indexes located in our open reading rooms to search either by former name or the new name for a full J 18 reference (J 18/463, for example) with which you can order and view the document.

3.4 How to search for an enrolled deed poll record from 2004 to the present

Contact the Royal Courts of Justice for details of enrollments since the end of 2003.

4. Announcements in government gazettes and other newspapers

Some people choose to make announcements of a change of name in local or national newspapers, traditionally and most commonly in The Times. To search for these announcements try the The Times online archive or the British Library Newspaper Library.

Announcements for the official public record are made in The Gazette, formerly the London Gazette, Edinburgh Gazette or Belfast Gazette. Search The Gazette online by name for change of name announcements of the following kinds:

  • enrolled deeds poll 1914 to present (from 1914 all enrolled deeds poll had to be advertised in one of the Gazettes)
  • changes of name during the Second World War (see section 2.2)
  • changes of name by royal licence (see section 5)
  • changes of name granted by special permission from the Home Secretary

5. Royal licences

Royal licences for a change of name were common in the 18th and 19th centuries, but in later years would more commonly be issued only when:

  • an inheritance depended on someone taking the deceased’s name
  • marriage settlement required a husband to adopt his wife’s name
  • a change of name also required a change to a coat of arms

Changes of name by royal license are announced in government gazettes (see section 4) but The National Archives holds a small number of warrants for royal licences to changes of name in the following series of records (please note they are not searchable online):

  • SP 44 for the period up to 1782
  • HO 38 from 1782 to February 1868
  • HO 142 from February 1868 onwards

There is also some correspondence describing individual examples of changes of name in:

  • HO 45 for the period 1841-1871
  • HO 144 for the period 1868-1959

The Royal College of Arms also has records of royal licences. From 1783, applications for a royal licence were either made through, or required a report from the college. Use their enquiry form to request more information.

6. Private Acts of Parliament

Some changes of name were made by a private Act of Parliament – usually for the same reasons as those made by Royal licence (see above). This was fairly common in the 18th and early 19th centuries, but since 1907 has only been used once.

Acts of Parliament are published in printed volumes arranged by year. The National Archives library has a set as do some other libraries. It may be helpful to:

For more information on where to see copies of private Acts click on the link and scroll to point 6.

The Parliamentary Archives also has records relating to change of name by Act of Parliament. See their website for details of how to visit.

7. An index to changes of name 1760-1901

To find a change of name up to 1901 it may be worth consulting An Index to Changes of Name for UK and Ireland 1760-1901 by WP Phillimore and Edward Alex Fry, a copy of which is held in our reading rooms at Kew. This name index provides references to the sources in which the change of name appears, which include:

  • Private Acts of Parliament
  • Royal Licences published in the London and Dublin Gazettes
  • deed poll records
  • notices of changes of name published in The Times after 1861 with a few notices from other newspapers
  • registers of the Lord Lyon [King of Arms] where Scottish changes of name were commonly recorded
  • records in the office of the Ulster King at Arms

It does not include

  • changes by Royal licence not advertised in the London Gazette
  • changes by deed poll that were enrolled but not advertised in The Times