Family Names: Legal Stuff

Nothing much changed here. Laws in the UK and the US don’t seem to have changed much the last few years. If know anything about the laws in other countries, please share in the comments! Revised Jan 29, 2017.

Disclaimer part 1: I am not a lawyer, or more than a moderately competent researcher, please do not consider any info here as legal advice.

Disclaimer part 2: I am surprised and gratified by the international following this blog has picked up. There are readers from several different countries in Europe, England, Australia, Canada and possibly more. That said, I’m an (insert preferred pejorative) American.  I will occasionally (as with the UK below) stretch my research skills to dig up legal info for other countries. In general, legal stuff will be strictly US law.

So, that said, let’s get to the good stuff.

As discussed in the first post on family names,  some polyam family groups want to share a family name. For some families, having a name that they use day-to-day will be enough. Others will want to go the legal route and make their polyam family name official.

UK Name Change Laws

When it comes to name changes, folks across the pond have it sweet  – though not as sweet as it was ten years ago. In order to change your name in the UK, legally and officially, you fill out a ‘Deed  Poll’, sign it before an ‘independent witness’ (which from examples given means someone not related to you) and . . . that seems to be pretty much it. You can have the deed poll written up by a solicitor or by a company that specializes in them. Be careful– some companies’ deed poll documents aren’t universally accepted. Have to admit I’m not clear on that bit.

Anyway, once you have your deed poll, you provide a copy to your bank, the UK equivalent of the DMV, and any other official document organization you need to in order to get all your documents showing your new name. According to UK Deed Poll Service,  you should only need to pay for an updated passport. You’d need to pay UK Deed Poll Service 33 pounds for the first deed poll, and a reduced fee for others ordered at the same time.

There are places on the  internet that claim that a deed poll isn’t necessary and you can just start using a new name. From what I’ve been able to find, that was true up until 9/11, but new laws since then have made the deed poll mandatory.

American Name Changes

Ok, so welcome to confusion and insanity.

  • Federal law and legal precedent give two very contradictory pieces of information regarding changing your name:
  • Any person can change their name at any time, just by starting to use the new name. There’s some caveat’s and quibbles, but that’s the gist.

State’s have the right to determine who is allowed to change their name, and what the process will be.

Welcome to the joys of federation.

As near as I can parse this contradiction, you can simply start using a new name for anything that doesn’t require proof of ID. No one can stop you using whatever name you want. However, the standard proof of ID is issued by the states. So if you want to update your state issued ID (and thus open a bank account, get a job or do anything else that requires ID) under your new name, you need to jump through the state-ordained hoops.

While  these hoops do vary, the general tendency includes filing a petition for name change (and paying a filing fee), going before a judge to  explain why you want the name change (and paying court fees), going  through whatever additional steps are necessary (PA requires you to  publish the change in at least 2 newspapers), finally get the official  court documents saying your name is changed, then going ahead and updating all those legal documents (and paying the necessary fees for  those). If UKDPS is to be believed, our friends across the pond can get everything taken care of in around 3 weeks. Given the fact that court hearings are often scheduled months ahead of time, I think I can stand by my early statement – folks across the pond have it sweet. (And that doesn’t even count the monetary cost).

So how bad is it really?

I  feel like I’m being a bit of a downer here, probably at least partly because in my experience things involving the courts are a royal pain in the ass. That said, from everything I can find, name changes in the US,  while involved and expensive, are usually pretty straight forward. People who have been through it say it’s not much more hassle than getting your driver’s license or registering a child for school.

Name Change Law is a website that has both a list of the steps required in all 50  states (and D.C.) for changing your name and will (for a fee) supply an appropriate name change document that you can fill out for yourself.  For an additional fee, they’ll fill it out for you. All hail capitalism.

Or,  of course, you can start using a new name tomorrow, as long as you don’t mind you’re old name being on all your legal documents.

 

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