The Name Game, Part 2: Name change

Would you like to be called Them? If you’re British, you can be, as long as you give yourself a last name too. Care to introduce yourself as Bond — James Bond? Go right ahead. Want to be named after the year of your birth (“Hi, my name is Nineteen Fifty-Two”)? Yes, that’s allowed too. Would you like to travel abroad with a passport bearing your new name, Mickey Mouse? Yup: the Brits are cool with that. As would be most American states. Here in the land of the free, you can go legally by almost any name you wish — as long as it’s not a racial slur, a threat or an obscenity, and as long as it’s not intentionally confusing, it doesn’t incite violence, and it’s not intended to mislead (ie. a celebrity’s name). (However, in the UK you can become known as David Beckham or Pippa Middleton, as long as you’re not deliberately trying to pass yourself off as them — assuming you have the respective abs and butt to even try …) But sadly you won’t get away with calling yourself Princess Diana, Lord Byron, or Captain Von Trapp. Nice try, but it won’t fly.

In recent years, the UK Deed Poll Service has officially bestowed the following new names on British citizens — by sober and deliberate request: Jellyfish McSaveloy, Toasted T Cake, Nineteen Sixty-Eight, Hong Kong Phooey, Daddy Fantastic, One-One-Eight Taxi, Ting A Ling, Huggy Bear, Donald Duck, Jojo Magicspacemonkey and James Bond. According to this service, the country’s largest and most trusted issuer of new names, there are only a few restrictions you have to bear in mind when choosing your new moniker. You are forbidden from choosing a new name that (in the words of the DPS):

  • does not include at least one forename and one surname;
  • is impossible to pronounce;
  • includes numbers or symbols; however, we can print modified Latin characters that include the following accents and marks: acute, grave, circumflex, tilde, diaeresis (umlaut), cedilla, macron, ogonek, caron and a dot;
  • includes punctuation marks – although you can have a hyphen to link forenames or surnames (eg. if you want a double-barrelled name) and an apostrophe in the case of surnames like O’Brien;
  • is vulgar, offensive or blasphemous;
  • promotes criminal activities;
  • promotes racial or religious hatred;
  • promotes the use of controlled drugs or includes the generic or slang name for them;
  • ridicules people, groups, government departments, companies or organisations;
  • may result in others believing you have a conferred or inherited honour, title, rank or academic award, for example, a change of first name to Sir, Lord, Laird, Lady, Prince, Princess, Viscount, Baron, Baroness, General, Captain, Professor or Doctor etc.
  • exceeds the maximum number of characters allowed in a name. There is a limit of 250 characters, including spaces, for forenames (i.e. first name and middle names) and 30 characters, including spaces, for a surname.
  • Please note, if you choose a forename or surname that consists of a single letter or includes modified Latin characters, you may find the computer systems of some record holders will be unable to show your name correctly.  Many computer systems are programmed to only accept standard Latin characters and require at least two characters for the forename and surname.

If you think you might be looking to assume a new identity — at least in name — then don’t go and live in Belgium or Switzerland. In both those countries, your name is pretty much yours for life, unless you can prove that it’s giving you a lot of grief. In Belgium, this involves applying to the Ministry of Justice for a name change — and if it’s your last name you’d like to shed, you’ll need a royal decree. You might succeed if you sport a ridiculous last name that causes you untold embarrassment or emotional distress; people bearing the surnames Salami, Naaktgeboren (“born naked”), and Clooten (“sods of earth” in Middle Dutch, “testicles” in modern Dutch) have managed to secure the much-desired decree from on high. In Switzerland, if you’re having to blush and explain your way through passport control with the name of a notorious criminal stamped all over you, that’s probably enough of a reason for you to ask your Cantonal government to trade it in for a more innocent model.

Marion Morrison, Allen Konigsberg, David Hayward-Jones, Curtis Jackson, Issur Demsky, Robert Zimmerman, Farouk Bulsara, Roberta Anderson, Margaret Hyra, Jonathan Leibowitz, Anna Bullock, and Steveland Judkins were all born mere mortals and went on to find fame and fortune — and spanking new names to go along with (or aid in) their celebrity. Some of them might surprise you.

In 1971 Reginald Kenneth Dwight paid 50p to become Elton Hercules John.

Kate Winslet’s brand-new husband (and Richard Branson’s nephew) used to be Ned Abel Smith. But she didn’t marry a Smith; she married a rock-star, called Ned Rocknroll. Yeah, really.

Olympics fanatic Thomas Manly changed his middle name to the names of 12 Olympic gold medallists.
Sunday Times journalist Matthew Rudd changed his name to Bradley Pitt.
In 2009, Eileen De Bont from St. Asaph, Denbighshire changed her name to Pudsey Bear. Despite getting all her documents and records changed to Pudsey Bear, the passport office refused to issue Pudsey with a passport.
In 2004, a Missouri man changed his name to They.
The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that a name change to 1069 could be denied, but that Ten Sixty-Nine was acceptable.