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 due to 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.
Cases in Scotland
Listed below are the most important cases in Scots law which apply to a person’s name or surname.
|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.
|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.
|Konstantinidis  EUECJ C-168/91||Court of Justice of the European Communities||1993|
|Garcia Avello  EUECJ C-148/02||Court of Justice of the European Communities||2003|
|Standesamt Stadt Niebüll  EUECJ C-96/04||Court of Justice of the European Communities||2006|
|Grunkin & Paul  EUECJ C-353/06||Court of Justice of the European Communities||2008|
|Sayn-Wittgenstein  EUECJ C-208/09||European Court of Justice||2010|
|Runevič-Vardyn & Wardyn  EUECJ C-391/09||European Court of Justice||2011|
|U  EUECJ C-101/13||European Court of Justice||2014|
|Bogendorff von Wolffersdorff  EUECJ C-438/14||European Court of Justice||2016|
|Freitag  EUECJ C-541/15||European Court of Justice||2017|