Deed Poll History: Changing Your Name in the UK

November 28, 2021

Have you ever wondered about the history of name changes in the United Kingdom?

Below, you’ll learn some of the history regarding name changes in the UK, as well as what the rules are today, and how to find records of name change .

UK Laws on Changing One’s Name from 1916-1971

Those who were enemy alien residents living in Britain during 1916 were not allowed to change their name. It’s important to keep in mind that this was during WWI when there was worry about agents from the Central Powers being in Britain and changing their name to blend in.

This ban extended beyond just those who were part of the enemy states in 1919. At that time, the ban on changing names extended to all foreigners who lived in Britain. This ban remained in place for decades. It was not lifted until 1971, but there were some exceptions.

Exceptions to the Rule of Changing One’s Name

Of course, there were a few exceptions to the rule of name changes during this period of bans. The three exceptions to name changes include:

·         Being granted special permission by the Home Secretary

·         When a new name was assumed by Royal License

·         When a woman took her husband’s name at the time of marriage

What is a Royal License? It is often used when a change of name would also require a change to a coat of arms, when a marriage settlement required a husband to take their wife’s name, or when receiving inheritance would depend on taking the name of the deceased party.

They tended to be rare, but they did still occur from time to time. Things changed somewhat during WWII.

Change of Names Declaration from 1939-1945

At the time of the Second World War, if you wanted to change your name, you would first have to make a declaration of that desire. You would have to publish the details of the name change in the London, Belfast, or Edinburgh Gazette 21 days before making the change.

The 21 days were required to ensure that there was enough time for the National Registration records to be changed, and for a ration book and identity card to be issued for the new name. Finding these name changes today can often be difficult because the original declarations no longer exist. They were destroyed in 1952 when the National Registration was abolished.

Despite the original declarations from that period no longer existing, it’s possible to look into the archives of the Gazette—London, Edinburgh, and Belfast—to find the listings for people who had opted to change their names. This was done through deed polls.

Deed Polls

Deed poll records are legal contracts that involve just a single party, and they could have been drawn up without the use of a solicitor. Someone who wants to change their name would often use a deed poll to create a permanent record in the Enrolment Books of the Supreme Court of Judicature. Today, it’s often possible to locate these records through the National Archives, located in Kew. Below are some tips that will help you find these records from different periods.

To locate the deed poll and check the name indexed on-site, you are required to visit in person, as they are not available online. Those who are unable to visit in person can pay for a search for older records. For records from 1945 to 2003, they will provide a free search. Early deed poll records can be difficult to find.

How to Locate Deed Poll Records from 1851-1903

The National Archives allows you to search for name changes with relative ease. Follow the steps below when you begin your search.

The first thing you will want to do is use the word “index” and the year when the name change took place. If you aren’t certain of the year, as may be the case with such old records, you can guess at a range of years.

Then, when you have a C 275 reference, you can order the respective index or indexes for the consultation. Keep in mind that if you don’t know the exact year of the name change, you may have more than one C 275 reference.

Next, you will find the former name in the indexes that were selected. The indexes will only show the former name. This index provides a part number reference to a document in C 54, the close rolls.

Finally, you will search C 54 using the part number you found along with the year. This will provide you with a cull C 54 reference. You can then use that reference to order and view the document.

You will find there are similarities to how you will search for deed poll records during other eras, as well. The biggest exception comes from the more modern records. The main difference through 1944 will be the location of the information.

How to Locate Deed Poll Records from 1904-1944

When you are looking for name changes that took place between these years, you will find that the indexes and enrolment books are in J 18. When you need to find a name change, you will follow the steps below.

First, find a document reference for the indexes by searching the J 18 list in the National Archives. You will use the word “index” along with the year or a range of years when you believe the name change took place. For those who aren’t certain when the name change happened, it will be easier to use a range of years and narrow it down rather than going one by one. When you find what you need, it will give you a J 18 reference.

Second, take that J 18 reference and order the proper indexes for consultation.

Third, you will then use find the name in the index. This could be the new name or their previous name. Sometimes, they are cross-referenced, but not always. In some cases, there will be a note to indicate the other name. The name should provide a part number reference to another document in J 18.

Fourth, look for the J 18 part number. The part numbers are found in ranges, so it should not be too difficult to find what you need. When you find the document you need, you can order and view it. Now, let’s move on to searches for modern records.

How to Locate Deed Poll Records from 1945-2003

Before you can find one of these deed poll records, you first have to determine whether it was enrolled in the Supreme Court of Judicature or not. You will do this by searching through The Gazette where the enrolled changes of name using deed poll were announced. When you find an entry, you can then move on to the second step.

Use the records and search enquiry form to search through the change of name indexes at the National Archive. You will want to use the current name, along with the former name. If you have the exact year of the name change, use that, as well. Otherwise, you will have to use a range of years.

When you provide this information to the National Archives, it will take them some time to get back to you. Typically, it will take about 10 working days before they respond.

If they can find an index reference for the deed poll, they will send you the full J 18 reference. You can then use that reference to use their record copying service and can pay for a copy of the deed poll. For the most recent records, you will not find them in the Archive.

How to Locate Deed Poll Records from 2004-Present

If you have to find deed poll records that are more recent, you will need to go through the Royal Courts of Justice to find these details of enrolment. They have been kept here for the past couple of decades. You can contact them to enquire.

How Do I Change My Name?


Ready to Change Your Name?

The UK Deed Poll Office is not a government agency. Our function is purely as a document provider for the self-declaration of an unenrolled deed poll. We are here to assist in your name change journey, as we have done for over 100,000 UK residents.


Join the thousands who have trusted the UK Deed Poll Office to help change their name. Fill out our fast, simple, and affordable online application to receive your Deed Poll in no time!
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