I’ve been thinking about my name quite a bit recently, not just because I’m trying to become the most fictional man in the world by getting people to name characters in their books after me, but also because I’m quite self obsessed.
The other day, in the pub, we were talking about names and the inconvenience of having an unusual or commonly misspelt name. Often, when I’m on the phone, people mis-hear my name and think I am called “James Wood”, I normally let this pass because it’s not worth correcting them, although sometimes I will have to give them my email address, which contains my surname and at that point, I have to make sure they don’t get my name wrong. Sometimes I’m honest with them. “Yes, you said my name wrong earlier, but I couldn’t be bothered to correct you.” Other times, I pretend it was just a simple mix up, usually putting the blame on myself.
Sometimes a name which has served you perfectly well suddenly becomes problematic. I was at university with a girl called Julia Roberts. When she was young, that probably wasn’t a problem, but as she got older, along came an actress with the same name and so whenever anyone found out what she was called, they would always say “Oh, like the actress” and she would have to reply “Yes, like the actress”. It must happen all the time. Think of all the poor innocent Harold Shipmans and Fred Wests out there, wandering the streets, cursing their evil namesakes. There are probably hundreds of Harry Potters out there too, wishing that JK Rowling would die in a pit of gravel. Of course, there’s a chance that if a character named after me suddenly became successful, I would be similarly inconvenienced, but at least I would have the comfort of knowing this wound was self-inflicted, that I was the actual James Ward that the fictional James Ward was named after.
The obvious solution, if your name suddenly starts causing you problems, is to change your name by deed poll. It only costs about a tenner. You can apply online.
There are certain restrictions in place which limit what you are allowed to change your name to. It has to consist of at least one first name and one surname, it must be possible to pronounce, it can only consist of letters of the alphabet (no numbers or symbols or punctuation marks), it can’t be offensive and it can’t imply you have any title or qualification (you can’t change your name to “Doctor” or “Viscount”).
I read the restrictions carefully. I then applied to change my name. I got an email confirming the details of my application:
Thank you for your instruction to prepare your Deed Poll using our Standard delivery service. The name change you have requested is as follows:
From: James Michael Ward (Ward is the surname)
To: James Michael Ward (Ward is the surname)
You are given your name as a baby, you have no choice over what you are called. I wanted to change my name to my own name to say that my name is not just something I was given, it is something I have chosen. If you are baptised as a baby, you can later be confirmed. “Yes, I agree with my parents’ decision to raise me as part of the Christian faith, no matter how obviously flawed the Christian faith is.” I view my decision to change my name to my own name as much the same thing.
I got an email back from the deed poll office:
Thank you for your deed poll application. However, we note you have not provided us with a name change on your application form. You have given your current and new name as James Michael Ward.
If your application is to provide you with a replacement deed poll or to provide you with a deed poll as documentary evidence of a former name change, please let us know your former name (which is probably your birth name) because we need this name for the deed poll documentation we will be issuing you.
Please note, if your application is to provide you with documentary evidence of a former name change, we can modify your deed poll to include a declaration that states you have been using your current name for all purposes since a particular date (the year you started using the name James Michael Ward). This declaration, for which a £4 fee is payable, will explain to those you show your deed poll to that it is not for a recent name change. If you would like this modification made to your deed poll, which we recommend, please let us know when and how your name was originally changed to James Michael Ward, for example, in 1998 by usage or by deed poll.
Please respond by clicking on your email software’s Reply button. This will ensure our email is included in your response.
Deed Poll Officer
UK Deed Poll Service
Thanks for getting in touch.
As stated on my application form, I wish to change my name from James Michael Ward to James Michael Ward.
According to the section of your website headed “Are there any restrictions on names?” (http://www.ukdps.co.uk/AreThereAnyRestrictionsOnNames.html), it states:
1. Name restrictions
We will not accept an application for a name that:
- does not include at least one forename and one surname;
- is impossible to pronounce;
- includes numbers or symbols;
- includes punctuation marks – although you can have a hyphen to link forenames or surnames (for example, if you want a double-barrelled surname) and an apostrophe in the case of surnames like O’Brien;
- we consider vulgar, offensive, blasphemous or unsuitable;
- 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
The list mentions no restriction on changing your name to your own name, therefore I would like to proceed with the deed poll application.
I’ve just received a voicemail from Claudia. She asked me to give her a call back so “we can talk over the phone about your, well, your non-name change”. I’ve just rung back, but she wasn’t at her desk. I’ll try again later.