Case law on changes of name

In all parts of the U.K., your legal name is the name you are generally known by.  This is something which has been established by case law, going back hundreds of years.

Over the years — whenever a dispute about someone’s name (or surname) has been brought before a court of law — the court (and in particular, the judges who were there) have interpreted and defined where exactly the law stands.  There has never been any statute, in any part of the U.K., which formally defines what your name is in law (or how you can change it).  The law was defined, in the large part, by these cases.

Most of these sorts of cases have arisen because of disputes about —

  • whether someone had been married in their true name (and thus their marriage was valid)
  • whether a contract or bond was signed in someone’s true name (and thus was valid)
  • whether someone was entitled to an inheritance because of a clause in a will which required them to change their name

Cases in England & Wales

Listed below are the most important cases in English law which apply to a person’s name, surname, or title.

Cases applying to a child’s name — and in particular, who can change a child’s name (and under what conditions) — are listed separately.  However, in principle, a child’s name and surname are legally defined in the same way as an adult’s — and all the cases below apply to children as well (in that respect).

These cases do not of course apply to Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, or the Channel Islands.  However, in principle, the law in those jurisdictions is essentially the same, in that your legal name is simply the name you are generally known by.

Case Court Year
Richard v William (1335) Court of Common Pleas 1335
Mary, otherwise Mariot (1372) Court of Common Pleas 1372
Hyckman v Shotbolt (1568) 1568
Disply v Sprat (1587) 1587
Fermor v Dorrington (1591) 1591
Codwell’s Case (1593) 1593
Button v Wrightman (1594) Court of Queen’s Bench 1594
Blodwell v Edwards (1596) 1596
Bearbrook v Read (1600) 1600
Field v Winlow (1602) 1602
Sir Moyle Finch’s Case (1606) 1606
Blunt and Farly v Snedston (1607) 1607
Loyd’s Case (1609) Court of King’s Bench 1609
Sir Edward Ashfeild (1610) 1610
Watkins v Oliver (1618) 1618
Panton v Chowles (1620) 1620
Maby v Shepherd (1623) 1623
Jacob Aboab’s Case (1674) 1674
Clerke v Isted (1686) 1686
Allen v Symonds (1694) 1694
W R (1698) 1698
Rex v Newman (1700) Court of Queen’s Bench 1700
Shield v Cliff (1702) 1702
Walden v Holman (1704) Court of Queen’s Bench 1704
Linch v Hooke (1704) 1704
Lepiot v Browne (1704) 1704
Warner v Sir Edward Irby (1705) 1705
Metham v Duke of Devon (1718) 1718
Barlow v Bateman (1730) Court of Chancery 1730
Barlow v Bateman (1735) House of Lords 1735
Read v Matteur (1736) 1736
Evans v King (1745) 1745
Pyot v Pyot (1749) Court of Chancery 1749
Gulliver v Ashby (1766) 1766
Jones v Macquillin (1793) 1793
Frankland v Nicholson (1805) 1805
Wakefield v Mackay, falsely calling herself Wakefield (1807) Consistory Court of London 1807
Mather v Ney (1807) 1807
Leigh v Leigh (1808) 1808
Weleker v Le Pelletier (1808) 1808
Gould v Barnes (1811) 1811
Pouget v Tomkins (1812) 1812
The King v the Inhabitants of Billingshurst (1814) Court of King’s Bench 1814
Docker v King (1814) 1814
Walker v Willoughby (1816) 1816
Hawkins v Luscombe (1818) Court of Chancery 1818
Sullivan v Sullivan (1818) 1818
Doe dem. Luscombe v Yates (1822) Court of King’s Bench 1822
Addis v Power (1831) 1831
Davies v Lowndes (1835) Court of Common Pleas 1835
Williams v Bryant (1839) Exchequer of Pleas 1839
Nash v Calder (1847) 1847
Lomax v Landells (1848) 1848
Ex parte Daggett (1850) Bail Court 1850
Ex parte James (1850) Bail Court 1850
Regina v Dale (1851) 1851
Fendall v Goldsmid (1877) 1877
Cowley v Cowley (1901) House of Lords 1901
Re Parrott, Cox v Parrott [1946] Ch 183 High Court 1946
Dancer v Dancer [1949] P 147 High Court 1948
Re Jack White — Lord de Carmel (1979) CA Court of Appeal 1979

Cases in Scotland

Listed below are the most important cases in Scots law which apply to a person’s name or surname.

Case Court Year
Young (1835) Court of Session 1835
Forlong (1880) Court of Session 1880
Robertson (1899) Court of Session 1899

Cases in Northern Ireland

Listed below are the most important cases in Northern Ireland law which apply to a person’s name or surname.

Case Court Year
Fowler v Fowler (1866)  Rolls Court 1866
Bevan v Mahon Hagan (1893)  Court of Appeal in Ireland 1893

Case happened in Ireland before the partition of Ireland on 3rd May 1921

European / EU cases

Listed below are the most important cases in European / EU law which apply to a person’s name or surname.

Case Court Year
Konstantinidis [1993] EUECJ C-168/91 Court of Justice of the European Communities 1993
Garcia Avello [2003] EUECJ C-148/02 Court of Justice of the European Communities 2003
Standesamt Stadt Niebüll [2006] EUECJ C-96/04 Court of Justice of the European Communities 2006
Grunkin & Paul [2008] EUECJ C-353/06 Court of Justice of the European Communities 2008
Sayn-Wittgenstein [2010] EUECJ C-208/09 European Court of Justice 2010
Runevič-Vardyn & Wardyn [2011] EUECJ C-391/09 European Court of Justice 2011
U [2014] EUECJ C-101/13 European Court of Justice 2014
Bogendorff von Wolffersdorff [2016] EUECJ C-438/14 European Court of Justice 2016
Freitag [2017] EUECJ C-541/15 European Court of Justice 2017