Changing your name

Mermaids has partnered with Starbucks for their latest campaign #WhatsYourName. 

The campaign features the story of a young person exploring their gender as they prepare to use their chosen name for the first time. We wanted to answer some of the most common questions people have regarding the process of changing your name.

1.       How do I change my first name?

Technically, a name can be legally changed by usage alone, but when dealing with official bodies such as the Passport Office, Inland Revenue, Banks and Building Societies etc they will generally always require proof of your name change by either a statutory declaration or a deed poll. 

Informally, people may refer to a change of name being ‘social’ until it has been formally evidenced, (often referred to the ‘legal’ change).

Before making a change of name formal, trans and non-binary people may try out various names to see which they feel most comfortable with before they make their final decision (like on a coffee cup, for example!) And once they have made a final decision and changed their name, they can make arrangements to have the change of name evidenced. Most people will do this because some official offices require evidence of the acquisition of a new name. 

There are various ways to make a change of name formal. The most common way of evidencing a change of name is by executing a deed poll and having it witnessed, which can be done at home. 

If a child is under 16, provided those with ‘parental responsibility’ agree, a name change can be evidenced using the deed poll (the form differs slightly to that of an adult to allow for parental consent). 

If an individual is 16 years old or older they are generally able to execute a deed poll on their own behalf as 16 year olds are generally regarded as ‘Gillick competent’. If you have further questions, you can contact our helpline on 0808 801 0400 or email [email protected]. You can obtain a template of a deed poll from the Mermaids team.

2. Does a deed poll need to be enrolled with the court? 

The enrollment of a change of name deed poll does not make it any more legally effective. The decision to do so is entirely discretionary. 

Many trans and non-binary people do not wish to enrol their deed poll as it means it is advertised in the London Gazette, which is publicly accessible. 

If you have further questions, you can contact our helpline on 0808 801 0400 or email [email protected]

3.       What obligation does my school or workplace have if I change my name?

Changing a name is almost always a momentous moment for trans and non-binary people and it is becoming more and more common for trans people want to change their first name during childhood and adolescence. The changing of a name is often an indicator that an individual is taking steps to, or proposing to move towards presenting as their true gender identity. 

Any request for a change of name to be recognised on a system or within general interactions should be given due weight, as the consequences of not may have a serious negative social and psychological impact on a transgender or non-binary young person, as well as potential legal implications for a school/workplace should it be refused on an unlawful basis. 

If you want to inform your school/workplace of a change of name, we suggest a sensible first step is to speak to someone there who you trust. Be ready to answer questions such as, what do you want the school/workplace to change on their systems? How do you want to approach a change in name socially? Creating an action plan with them will ensure that you are in complete control and everything happens at a speed you are happy with. 

If your school/workplace requires a deed poll to change their records and you require the consent from an unsupportive parent, a decision can be made based on your own competence and what is in your best interest. This should be dealt with on a case by case basis. If you are someone who requires the consent of a parent for a deed poll to be signed, but do not have their support, a decision can be made based on your own competence and what is in your best interest. This will be dealt with on a case by case basis.

Schools and workplaces must be very careful not to out a child/adolescent (unless they have consent or a legal obligation to do so), noting also that outing someone may subject the individual to risk of harm as a result of the disclosure.

If you have further questions, you can contact our helpline on 0808 801 0400 or email [email protected]

4.       What do I do if someone is deliberately not using my new name or pronouns at work or in school?

If this is at work or in school and you believe this is deliberate/malicious, speak to someone you trust as soon as you can. Only challenge the individual should you feel it safe and productive to do so – your safety must always come first. 

We suggest that you, if you can, take a note of the time, location and details of what has happened (including the name of the perpetrator) so you can remember everything when you speak to the appropriate person. Make it clear to this person should you wish to make a formal complaint or grievance. Your workplace and school should have policies in place to deal with such situations and if they don’t, you can still insist that they work in line with their duties under equality law. If the reason you’re being harassed is because of who you are – for example, because you’re trans, it could be unlawful discrimination. If you’ve been discriminated against, you can take action under the Equality Act 2010.

The use of the incorrect name or pronoun can also amount to a hate crime or incident – (even if it only happens once). It should be taken very seriously. Therefore, as well as dealing with it privately, you also have the option of reporting such incidents to the police, which you can do online or by calling the non-emergency number 101. So long as you are comfortable, ensure the police are aware you believe something was motivated by transphobia if you believe it was to ensure it is dealt with as a hate crime/incident. 

If you are in immediate danger you should call emergency services on 999

The main thing is ensuring it is dealt with in a way that you are comfortable with.

If you have further questions, you can contact our helpline on 0808 801 0400 or email [email protected]

5.       Can someone refuse to use my name if I haven’t ‘legally’ changed it?

There may be some official bodies that require formal evidence of a change in name before they change their systems, such as HM Passport Office, your bank and GP surgeries (to name a few). 

There is a lot that can be changed however without formal evidence. For example, schools often have the ability to recognise a ‘preferred’ name on their systems. 

Because deed polls can be organised at home, it hopefully should be relatively easy to obtain the evidence you need, but try and organise some certified copies (highstreet solicitors usually do this for around £5-10) so you don’t have to send off the original… keep that safe! 

If you have further questions, you can contact our helpline on 0808 801 0400 or email [email protected]

Please note that this article is not intended to constitute legal advice and if you require specific advice, it is important to speak to a solicitor directly.

During February and March 2020 you can pick up a limited edition Mermaids cookie in selected Starbucks stores. 50p of each sale will go towards the Mermaids helpline.