Are you trying to put together your family tree? One big problem that people run into when trying to compile a list of their ancestors is relatives who changed their name.
Tracing a name change successfully can be an almost impossible task. But, while there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find well-documented evidence of a relative's change of name, there are a couple places that can help you in your search.
First, let’s understand the history of changing a name in the UK.
In the UK, it has always been allowed for a person to change their name at any time without having to register the change in any way. This is known as a “name change by usage”.
As long as the individual who is changing their name is not doing so for illegal reasons, anyone may adopt a new name and start using that name immediately in legal and personal settings.
At certain times in history, extra regulations were placed on name changes. For example, between 1916 and 1971, enemy aliens were prohibited from changing their name simply through usage. In 1919, this rule was applied to all foreigners residing in the UK.
In addition, during World War II, all people who wanted to change their name were required to make an announcement of the change 21 days before in the London, Edinburgh, or Belfast Gazette. This way, the National Registration records could be changed accordingly and new ID cards and ration books could be made using the new name.
Over the years, deed polls have become the most common way for people to switch their names, as official institutions (such as the passport office) want a form as proof before they acknowledge a name change.
Generally, there is no official record of name changes via deed poll. However, some people chose to enroll their deed poll which means that a public record will be kept by the Supreme Court of Judicature.
So how can you trace a relatives name change with all the different options that people had to change their name throughout history?
In the past, whether it was due to the desire to cover up a separation from a spouse, or just because they wanted to avoid the costs of going through formal registration of a new name, most people chose to avoid public, recorded announcements of a name change.
However, there are still a few places where it’s possible to trace a name change. Here are the three main places to look for a name change in the UK:
At the National Archives at Kew in Richmond, Surrey, it’s possible to find records of name changes by deed poll dating back to 1851. If you are searching for a name change that happened between 1851 and 1903, you will need to check in the close rolls which cover the dates between 1204-1903.
However, if you are searching for a change that would have happened between 1903 and 1999, you will need to look in the Enrolment Books of the Supreme Court of Judicature.
If you are successful in your search through for a deed poll record of a name change, you will be able to access a certified copy of the deed poll you are looking for.
If a deed poll was recorded after the year 2000, the National Archives will not yet have the change stored in their records. You will need to contact the Royal Courts of Justice at the following address and phone number in order to gain access to more recent records:
Royal Courts of Justice
London, WC2 A 2LL
+44 207-947-6221 OR +44 207-947-6000
Keep in mind that when it comes to more recent records, especially those of living individuals, it may be more difficult to obtain the records related to name changes. People change their names for many reasons, so be aware that in some cases you may need to provide a reason as to why you’re looking for a particular person.
Newspapers are a rich source of information when it comes to locating a registered or unregistered name change. If the person you are researching registered a name change via deed poll after 1914, the name change will have been recorded in the London Gazette before the actual change was made.
But, even if you are looking for a name change that may have not been formally registered, newspapers are still a valuable reference for locating a person who has done a name change by usage.
Sometimes, people who changed their names have announced the change in their local newspaper. Thus, it can be valuable to contact the newspapers in the area to see which records they hold and whether or not there are any mentions of a name change or of the new or old name of the person you’re looking for.
And, in addition, you may gain extra, valuable information about this person and their name change by doing a search through newspaper archives, even if you’re unable to directly find evidence of the change itself.
The main way for finding information about a person's name change is through an enrolled deed poll. However, most people who used a deed poll will not have enrolled it as it costs more and was unnecessary for their name change. Therefore it can be very difficult to successfully trace a name change that happened.