TRACING NAME CHANGE
With the upsurge in interest in genealogy and creating family trees, an ancestor’s name change might well stall the search process. If you are searching for proof or evidence of a change of name, or for someone that you believe has changed their name, you will find detailed advice on how to locate records held at the National Archives, as well as information on where else you can search.
However, it is important to remember that it has always been possible to change a name without having to register the change with any official body, so the person you are seeking may not have gone through any legal process to make their change of name official. Remember 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.
There are multiple ways to search because name changes can be recorded via different methods, for example:
- Announcements made in the press – see the online archive or search the British Library Newspaper Archive.
- Declarations made before a Justice of the Peace or Commissioner of Oaths
- Changed by Deed Poll
In the past, a change of name could be achieved in several different ways – many of which were only used between certain time periods.
Deed Polls 1851 – Present Deed Poll records from 1851-2003 can be found at the National Archives. Deed Polls from 2004 onward can be found at the Royal Courts of Justice. The London Gazette is also a good place for researching name changes that occurred after 1914.
Change of Name Declarations 1939 – 1945 These were destroyed when National Registration was abolished. The London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes may provide the published details you are looking for from that period.
Change of Name by Foreigners 1916 – 1971 Non British subjects were not allowed to change their names between 1919 and 1971. During the period between 1916 and 1919 this only applied to enemy alien residents of the UK.
Exceptions to this rule included:
- A new name assumed by Royal Licence
- Special permission given by the Home Secretary
- A woman taking her husband’s name on marriage.
Royal Licences were commonplace in the 18th and 19th centuries and were issued as a result of:
- Inheritance based on someone taking the deceased’s name
- Marriage that required the husband to adopt the wife’s name
- Changes of name that required a change to a coat of arms.
Information on these name changes can be found in:
- The National Archives
- The London Gazette
- The Royal College of Arms
Private Acts of Parliament show records of name changes made between the 18th and 19th century. These are available in a number of libraries and in the National Archives library where you can:
- Search the Chronological Table of Private and Personal Acts (1539-2006)
- Confirm if an Act was passed and, if so, in which year
- Consult the appropriate volume of the printed series of Acts
The Phillimore and Fry Index tracked name changes between 1760 and 1901 and is compiled from a number of sources.