An individual might choose to change their name for many reasons. One of those reasons might be to escape a name that has become notorious for any reason. In this category, it is not hard to imagine that this option might be popular with prisoners.

Prison Service Order (PSO) number 4455 states that although there is no legal limitation on the right of prisoners to change their name, the prison service is under no obligation to acknowledge a new name.

So under what circumstances will the prison service accept a prisoner’s change of name? The PSO states that a prison governor will usually accept and officially acknowledge a name changed in specific circumstances such as:

  • When the request is the result of a change of marital status

  • When the change of name is on genuine religious grounds. If a prisoner wishes to change his or her name on such grounds, operational managers must obtain the views of the Chaplain (or equivalent) of the relevant faith.

  • When not to acknowledge the new name may cause severe psychological harm to the prisoner. In this case, medical advice should be sought.

However, governors of prisons are not obliged to accept a name change and can reject any proposed change of name if they have compelling reasons to refuse. This could be seen as important and essential protection against repeated, disruptive name changes. It may also be a concern where public and victim protection is an issue or where the requested name change might compromise security within the prison. Refusal might also be on the grounds that the proposed name change might be deemed to be likely to have a detrimental effect on order or discipline within the prison.

Even if a prisoner is granted the right to be known by a different name (not formalised by Deed Poll) within the prison he or she will normally still be known as the name they had when they were first taken into custody.

Those prisoners requesting to change their names who are under 18 would normally be asked to speak first to their parents or guardians, or to any local authority agency responsible for them, before a final decision was made.

If a prisoner seeks a change of name by Deed Poll then this will normally be accepted as being a genuine desire and valid circumstances for the prisoner to change his or her name and to undertake the legal steps to make that possible. However, it is still possible for the prison governor to refuse the name change. Refusal however, would only realistically be in cases where the name change was considered offensive or obscene.

If a prison governor does refuse a name change then full documentation of the reasons for the refusal has to be entered on the prisoner’s official records.

Whether a name is accepted or not by the prison authorities the PSO states that prisoners should be allowed to send and receive their correspondence in the new name they have chosen to be known by. They are, however, urged to ensure that all correspondence received has their prison number on it as well, to avoid any confusion.

If a name change is accepted by the prison authorities then all the prisoners’ details will need to be changed on all official documentation and the change of name must then be carried forward if the prisoner leaves to be received in another establishment with his or her old name being noted as an ‘alias’. If the change of name is not accepted then no change to documentation need be made.

For prisoners wishing to access a service such as The UK Deed Poll Office (London) Ltd can make their first enquiry through prison authorities or by contacting the site directly.