What sort of name can you call yourself?

You are free to change any part of your name — you can change your first name, your middle names, and your surname.  You can add or remove names, and you can change the spelling of names.

As for each name itself; in general you can choose any name you like — it is not specifically laid down in law what sort of name you can call yourself.  However, in some cases a change of name will break the law in another way.  For example, you cannot change your name to avoid paying a debt, or you would be committing fraud.

In practice, you also have to choose a name that official bodies will accept.  In particular, HM Passport Office have their own rules about what sort of name can be put in a passport.  Your name is legally established by usage, so if your name is rejected by HM Passport Office, then effectively you have not changed your name.

Unacceptable names

We will refuse a deed poll application with any name that:

  • we have reason to believe is chosen with the intention of committing fraud
  • is (potentially) against the law — for example, anything that promotes racial or religious hatred, derides minority groups, or promotes the use of drugs
  • we think is demeaning, for a child application (note that in these cases, we will usually contact you to give you the chance to justify the change of name, but we reserve the right to refuse the application)
  • contains symbols or punctuation marks other than hyphens or apostrophes (note that names with symbols are not illegal, but we are unable to process them for technical reasons)
  • is more than 300 characters in total — that is, the combined length of your forenames and surname, including spaces (note that this limit is imposed for technical reasons)

Inadvisable names

There are certain sorts of names that, although they do not break any law, they are almost certain to cause problems when you are getting your name changed on official records.  We recommend that you do not choose a name that:

  • is unpronouncable or incomprehensible
  • is extremely long
  • contains numbers, e.g. Super8, or 4Real
  • is vulgar, offensive or blasphemous
  • is chosen for purely commercial reasons
  • is chosen for a bet or frivolous purpose
  • is trade-marked, or subject to copyright, e.g. Coca Cola, or Asda
  • is a combination of names which makes up a phrase or saying not normally considered to be a name, e.g. Happy Birthday, or See You Later
  • is a presumed title — that is, a first name that gives the impression that you have a title, such as Lord, Baron, or Princess
  • gives the impression that you have honours, for example, surnames ending with OBE or VC
  • is a single name — that is, a surname only, with no forenames

HM Passport Office have their own policy on unacceptable names, and you should take particular care to follow their rules.  If your name is refused by HM Passport Office, then legally you won't have changed your name, because you need to update all of your official documents.  (Note that if you don't actually hold a U.K. passport, then in theory it doesn't matter what HM Passport Office thinks, but bear in mind that you may want to hold a passport in the future, and anyway, if your name is unacceptable in the eyes of HM Passport Office, it's quite likely to be thought unacceptable by other organisations as well.)

Restrictions on names on passport applications

Any name which we refuse for one of the rules above will also be refused by HM Passport Office.  However, HM Passport Office has further restrictions on what sorts of names it will print on a passport.  These restrictions are not the official government policy on names — they are the rules of HM Passport Office itself.  HM Passport Office is entitled to refuse what they may recognise to be legal names in order to ensure that the reputation of the U.K. passport is not called into question or brought into disrepute.

Names containing diacritical marks (accents, umlauts, etc.)

HM Passport Office will not print names with diacritical marks in passports — that is — accents, cedillas, circumflexes, umlauts etc.  However, they will print a transliterated version of the name, for example, by writing Chloë as Chloe.  You should write the transliterated version on your passport application — it does not matter if your official documents show the name with diacritical marks, provided the transliteration is clearly derived from the original name.

Names containing numbers, e.g. Super8, or 4Real

HM Passport Office will not print numerals (0–9) on a passport — only alphabetical characters (A–Z), hypens and apostrophes.  If you have a number in your name and it appears on your original birth certificate, HM Passport Office will write out the number alphabetically, for example, as Super Eight or Four Real.  However names containing numbers on a deed poll will be refused.

Vulgar, offensive or blasphemous names

Vulgar, offensive or blasphemous names are not necessarily illegal.  However HM Passport Office will not accept names of this sort.

Names which fall into this category are (or may be):

  • (potentially) blasphemous names — names with religious connotations, for example Jesus Christ or Allah
  • taboo swear words
  • sexually explicit words

Note that Jesus on its own is acceptable and regularly used in some cultures.

Names that are merely distasteful are (or may be) considered "unusual", and may be accepted by HM Passport Office — see the advice on unusual names below.

Trademarks or coyprighted names

Names that are trademarks, such as Coca Cola or Asda will not be accepted by HM Passport Office unless you have obtained the written consent of the company that owns the trademark.

Changing your name to a trademark is not itself a breach of the trademark, and it is not illegal.  It is only a breach of trademark if the name is used for commercial gain.  However, HM Passport Office cannot be sure whether that is your intention, hence their requirement for consent from the trademark holder.

If the name is also recognised as a normal name, for example Paul Smith or John Lewis, then this rule does not apply — you do not need any consent from the trademark holder.

Other "unusual" names and changes made for a frivolous purpose

If you choose an unusual name that is not outright rejected by HM Passport Office on the grounds of one of the policies above, HM Passport Office may still reject your name unless you provide additional documentary evidence that you are using it for all purposes.  What makes a name "unusual" is the subjective opinion of HM Passport Office examiner who handles your application, but it will include any name that:

  • is unpronouncable or incomprehensible
  • is sufficiently distasteful
  • is extremely long
  • is a combination of names of superhero or cartoon characters
  • is a combination of names which makes up a phrase or saying not normally considered to be a name, e.g. Happy Birthday, or See You Later (see more about names which are phrases and sayings below)
  • is a presumed title — that is, a first name that gives the impression that you have a title, such as Lord, Baron, or Princess (see more about presumed titles below)
  • gives the impression that you have honours, for example, surnames ending with OBE or VC (see more about presumed honours below)

HM Passport Office will also reject any name that it believes has been changed for a frivolous purpose or if they believe that you have no intention of using your new name for all purposes.  This would include:

  • changing your name for a bet
  • changing your name on a whim
  • changing your name for a humorous reason
  • changing your name for purely commercial gain (see more about names for commerical gain below)
  • linked applications — groups of people changing their name at the same time for a joint purpose (see more about linked applications below)

To have your name accepted by HM Passport Office, you will have to show that you are clearly using the new name for all purposes.  You will need to provide at least two supporting documents in your new name from List A below and at least one supporting document from List B.  Note that it should be two different items from List A — two utility bills would not count as two different documents.

List A
  • Financial statement e.g. pension, endowment, ISA, bank
  • Bank or building society letter naming you and showing your current address
  • P45 or P60
  • Utility bill (from the last three months)
  • Foreign passport
  • Pay slips or employer’s letter confirming you’re known by the name stated
List B
  • National Insurance number
  • NHS card
  • Letter from DWP or other government department
  • Letter from Local Authority
  • Driving licence
  • Benefits book
  • HM Forces ID card
  • U.K. firearms licence
  • Vehicle Registration Certificate (V5C)
Types of "unusual" or frivolous name changes
Phrases or sayings not normally considered to be a name

HM Passport Office will reject combinations of names which make up a phrase or saying not normally considered to be a name, such as Happy Birthday, or See You Later.  If you can prove you intend to use the name for all purposes, by providing additional documentary evidence, HM Passport Office will show the name as an observation:

THE HOLDER IS ALSO KNOWN AS ...

However, note that your old name will still be shown on the Personal Details page of your passport.

This policy does not apply to names that would normally be recognised as names, even if the combination could be thought unusual or in poor taste.  Thus the names May Day, Orson Cart, and Neil Down, for example, would all be accepted without question by HM Passport Office.

Presumed titles and honours

A presumed title is a "title" that someone has bestowed upon themself, but they have not legitimately acquired by appointment or qualification.  There is no legal basis in U.K. law to change your title in this way (with the exception of social titles, such as Mr or Mrs, for which you do not need a deed poll).  For more information about titles in general, see our section on how to change your title.

If you change your first name to give the impression that you have a title — to something like Lord, Sir, Baron, or Princess — HM Passport Office will reject the application unless you provide additional documentary evidence that you are using the "name" for all purposes.

If you change your surname to give the impression that you have a post-nominal title such as OBE or VC — and you provide additional documentary evidence to show you are using the name for all purposes — HM Passport Office will show the name as an observation:

THE HOLDER IS ALSO KNOWN AS JOHN SMITH OBE

However, note that your old name will still be shown on the Personal Details page of your passport.

Changing your name for purely commercial gain

HM Passport Office will reject a name change if they believe it is for purely commercial reasons, unless you can prove you intend to use the name for all purposes.  Furthermore, note that it is illegal to change your name for a fraudulent commercial benefit, such as avoiding a debt or obligation.

You should take care that if your new name is also a trademark, you should get consent from the trademark owner (see more about names which are trademarks above).

"Linked applications"

HM Passport Office watches for groups of people (or members of the same family) who submit passport applications at the same time, for a bet or a humorous reason.  These linked applications include, for example:

  • groups of people that have changed their names to the same name
  • groups of people who have each taken the name of someone from the same football team
  • family members who change their names to cartoon characters

HM Passport Office will reject a linked application unless each person can prove individually that they intend to use the new name for all purposes, by submitting additional documentary evidence.

Single names

There is no law preventing you from being known by a single name, or mononym — that is, a surname only, with no forenames — and HM Passport Office should accept such a name, although they may be more sceptical of your application.

On a passport, a single name will be shown in the surname field, with XXX (i.e. three X's) shown in the forename field.  They may also include an official observation explaining the situation.

You should bear in mind that HM Passport Office may be sceptical of anyone applying for a passport in a single name — if they consider the change of name to be frivolous, they will not accept it (see more about frivolous name changes above).  However, there are cultures — for example, in Burma, Java, and parts of East Africa — for which the use of two names (i.e. forename and surname) has not become common practice.  If you are part of one of those cultures, then clearly HM Passport Office has no reason to consider the name frivolous, though it will help to make this point clear on your application.

Your should also bear in mind that having a single name may make it more difficult to establish your identity, not just for HM Passport Office but for any organisation.  At the least, it may make your passport application or any process of updating your records take longer.

And you should also consider the obvious practical difficulties of updating your records with record holders, particularly with computer systems that insist on both forename and surname.

Minimum length of a name

The minimum length of a name is one letter.

Maximum length of a name

There is no legal limit on the length of your name, but we impose a limit of 300 characters (including spaces) for your full name.  If you want a name longer than this please contact us for advice.

Note that other organisations will have their own restrictions about what they will show on the documents they produce — for HM Passport Office the limit is 30 characters each for your forename and your surname, and for the DVLA the limit is 30 characters in total for your full name.

HM Passport Office will normally show as many names as possible and then the remaining names as initials, but on request they will drop some of the middle names, and add an official observation showing the entire name.