1. Why use this guide?
If you are searching for proof or evidence of a person's change of name, this guide should be useful to you. You will find information here on the various types of documents which have been used to record an individual's change of name since the 16th century up to the present day and where you should search for these documents. You will find detailed advice on how to locate records held at The National Archives containing changes of name but also some information on where else you can search.
2. Essential information
Contrary to popular belief, it has always been possible to change your name without having to register the change with any 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 only holds records of changes of name which have been enrolled at the Supreme Court of Judicature. This is a very small percentage of all deed polls. If it was not enrolled, contact a solicitor or Citizens Advice Bureau for legal advice.
3. How can I find proof of a change of name?
People looking for proof of a change of name will often find that it simply does not exist. Historically, many people preferred not to draw attention to their change of name - for example, when 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 announcements in the press - search the Times online archive or the British Library Newspaper Library
- made a declaration before a Justice of the Peace or Commissioner for Oaths
- drawn up a legal contract commonly known as a 'deed poll' (see below)
If you have changed your name and need to provide evidence, to obtain a passport for example, you will need to obtain legal advice from a solicitor or the Citizens Advice Bureau.
4. What is a deed poll?
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, for safekeeping, in the Enrolment Books of the Supreme Court of Judicature (formerly the Close Rolls of Chancery). However, this is not free, and most people decide against it. Consequently, many people who come to The National Archives looking for a record of an enrolled change of name are disappointed.
5. How can I find out if a deed poll was enrolled?
5.1 Deeds poll 1851-2003
Visit The National Archives in Kew and consult the indexes to enrolled deeds poll. The indexes cannot be searched online.
For 1851 to 1903 first consult the indexes in C 275 - they show only the former name. This will enable you to access the relevant document in C 54. Indexes and the enrollment books for 1903 to 2003 are in J 18. The indexes show both the former and the new name, either as a note or a cross-reference.
Indexes from 1945 to 2003 can be consulted freely, but you will need to register as a reader if you want to:
- consult indexes from before 1945
- view the original deed poll and/or purchase a certified copy
If you cannot visit in person, our website explains how you can pay for someone to do research for you.
5.2 Deeds poll 2004 to date
Contact the Royal Courts of Justice for details of enrolments since the end of 2003.
5.3 Deeds poll 1914 to date (online)
Search the London Gazette on The Gazette website by name for the person you are researching. From 1914 all enrolled deeds poll had to be advertised in the Gazette.
6. Change of name declarations 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 on The Gazette website for the published details.
7. Changes of name by foreigners 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 new name was assumed by royal licence
- if special permission was given by the Home Secretary
- if a woman took her husband's name on marriage
It may be useful to search the London Gazette, on The Gazette website, as it was often used to advertise changes of name in the first two instances.
8. Royal licences
Royal licences to a change of name were common in the 18th and 19th centuries, but in later years would be issued where:
- 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
Information relating to Royal licences can be found in:
- The National Archives
- The London Gazette
- The Royal College of Arms
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):
There is also some correspondence describing individual examples of changes of name in:
The London Gazette can be searched by name on The Gazette website for any references to changes of name.
The Royal College of Arms has records relating to 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.
9. 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 eighteenth and early nineteenth 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:
- search the following Chronological Table of Private and Personal Acts (1539-2006)
- confirm if an Act was passed and in which year
- consult the appropriate volume of the printed series of Acts
For more information on where to see copies of private Acts click on the link and scroll to point 6.
10. Phillimore and Fry Index to Changes of Name 1760-1901
The Index to Changes of Name for UK and Ireland 1760-1901 by WP Phillimore and Edward Alex Fry is made up of information from the following sources:
- Private Acts of Parliament
- Royal Licences published in the London and Dublin Gazettes
- 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
- some private information
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
A copy is available at The National Archives and some libraries (ISBN: 1861500432) or can be ordered as a CD online.