Monday, 28 June 2010

What's in a Name?

I'm going to change my name
Why, what's wrong with your old one?
It's Bill Smells
Yes, I can see why you are going to change it. What is your new name going to be.
Charlie Smells

(Chestnut Corner, Band Waggon, BBC Radio 4, 1940s)

In Jersey, the Superintendent Registrar holds the registers of births, deaths and non-Anglican marriages registered by the Registrars of the twelve Parishes from 1842 to the current year, and records of Anglican marriages registered by the Rectors and Vicars from various dates up to the current year. The surname of the child had been that of the mother where the parents were not married, and there was no allowance for the father's surname to be taken instead.

Jersey finally caught up with the same rights enjoyed in the United Kingdom with the Marriage and Civil Status [Amendment No 2] [Jersey] Law 2008 which came into force in March 2009 and "enables parents , both married and unmarried, to choose any surname for their children when registering the birth of a child."(1). The law is retrospective, so where this was not permitted before, it can now be permitted.

However, the Registrar is still the final arbiter over Christian names, and it would be interesting to know if the same degree of latitude that the United Kingdom enjoys can apply over here.

The Radio 4 Programme, "The Name Game" explored the world of changing names, both first names and surnames. Last year over 50,000 people changed their names by deed polls. There are a variety of reasons.

Historically immigrants want to change their names, to sound more British, and to adopt a protective colouring when integrating with British culture. I know a Maurice Green, for example, whose family was originally Greenburg. This trend has probably diminished in a more multicultural society, but still goes on.

But there is also a drive towards rebranding, a kind of identity reinvention, to do with changing goals and self-image. Sometimes this can be to do with escaping the nonsense that your parents saddled you with, although this can be done otherwise - "Tiger Lily Heavenly Hirani" for example, manages by calling herself plain "Lily", "Zowie Bowie", the son of pop star David Bowie, was fortunate to have a first name of Duncan, and his father's real surname of Jones, so he now goes under the name of Duncan Jones.

But names can be changed temporarily to make political points. In October 2002 Labour MP Austin Mitchell "temporarily changed his name to Austin Haddock as haddock is a staple catch for his constituents that was suffering a decline and it was his wish to promote it."(2)

A more permanent name change was done by was Seán Dublin Bay Rockall Loftus:

In 1972 the Dublin Port and Docks Board proposed the building of an oil refinery in Dublin Bay. The plan was vigorously opposed by environmentalists, including Loftus, on the grounds that it posed a serious risk of pollution. At the 1973 general election, Loftus stood for election to the Dáil in the Dublin North Central constituency as a Christian Democrat on the issue of Dublin Bay. Under election rules, he would be listed as 'Independent', he changed his name by deed poll to "Seán D. Christian Democrat Dublin Bay Loftus" in order that his political affiliation and campaign issue would appear on the ballot paper.(3)

In the following years Loftus changed his name by deed poll several times more, to "Seán Dublin Bay Loftus", "Seán Dublin Bay Rockall Loftus" (as part of a campaign to press the Irish Government to make a territorial claim to the Rockall islet 424 kilometres off the coast of County Donegal) and "Seán Alderman Dublin Bay Rockall Loftus"....He continued to contest Dáil and European elections until 1997. He remained on Dublin City Council, and served as Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1995 to 1996.

As Lord Mayor, he would sign his documents "Seán Dublin Bay Rockall Loftus", so the name change has been included in official record.

Other surnames are changed because they are the cause of insults. If your surname is "Crap", for example, you may wish to change it. One family, interviewed for the programme, explained how they had changed their surname from "Gay" after it had blighted their son at school, where he was the target for bullies, and did not want to see his name on any awards or school certificates as a result. The family were happy with the idea of a name change; the wife said that " I think it was initially felt that my husband was more upset as he had experienced bullying at school and didn't want his son growing up with the same issues". Once the name was change, his confidence was restored massively overnight. And name changing can be quick - the husband changed his family surname online in little more than half an hour, plus fee, for the deed poll. Although as his wife said, while he boasted about how easy this was, it was she who had to write to the banks, the utility companies etc and sort out the real paperwork - "he doesn't accept that I spent six months time to really do it by writing to every company I came across!"

Sometimes the name change is practical. Someone divorced may revert to their maiden name. But among the more radical names changes (4) are:

A man named General Ninja Ant
Company director Janice Glover became Saxon Knight
Brown now answers to Aron Mufasa Columbo Fonserelli Ball In A Cup Boogie Woogie Brown
(representing his range of interests)

Happy Adjustable Spanners, 27, from Hornchurch, Essex, changed his name under the influence of alcohol, after a bet. Formerly Daniel Westfallen, he is now trying to get to grips with his new situation. For some, the motivation was a general yearning for a happier life.

Mike Barrett, chief executive of the UK Deed Poll Service, said that the rise was due in part to the increasing use of the agency's online service. The charge is only £33. The legal position is as follows:

- Changing one's name does not require legal proof. However, evidence of the change may be required, for instance when applying for a passport
- A public announcement such as a notice in a newspaper can be used as evidence that one's name has changed
- A letter from a responsible person, such as a GP, solicitor, minister, priest or MP will often be regarded as sufficient evidence, though not when applying for a passport
- Names can be changed by deed poll - a formal statement to prove the change. A number of private companies will supply a deed poll for a fee (4)

I liked the interview with Mrs British Battleaxe, who told the interviewer that "I am British, and I am a Battleaxe". The interviewer asked her what her friends called her - the reply was "bossy"!

Prof. Anthony Elliott of Flinders University in Adelaide was interviewed by BBC Radio 4 concerning his research on global identity transformations and his theory of 'new individualism', and he says it is a kind of rebranding of the self, and is one of the makeovers of personal reality like other crazes such as the rise of speed dating and therapy culture, and even plastic surgery. He said "I think something similar is going on with name changes today" that is what he calls "the reinvention craze"; here there is a "message that you can change yourself instantly", and "redesign yourself". But he wonders if it will really make the participants very happy for long. He suggested that it also goes hand-in-hand with the massive growth that we have seen in the last 20 or so years in people being interested in their own ancestry and doing their own family history; and he suggest that they "what they wanted to show uniqueness more homogeneity" in so doing.

The programme also mentioned something I was oblivious too and which is surprising. Surnames in Turkey were only adopted around 75 years ago, with the "Surname Law of the Republic of Turkey" (adopted on June 21, 1934.) This is astonishing, when in Britain, surnames emerged "in the 13th century when state bureaucracy got busy taxing and counting us increasing the need for surnames "

Few names are rejected by the authorities. Any name with Sir or Lord as a component is normally refused because it suggests a legal entitlement that does not exist. But the range of other names, as Mrs British Battleaxe demonstrates, suggests that changing names is one of the liberties of British people

Whether Jersey would permit such a libertarian attitude remains to be seen. I suspect that it may not.

There is one interesting local addendum on name changing, however. Before Jersey and Guernsey had a proper adoption law on their Statute books, adoption was an ad hoc process done by changing the surname (and often the Christian name) by Deed Poll, and by making the quasi-adoptive parents legal guardians of the child. A nasty consequence of this was that if the parents died intestate, there would be no legal right of inheritance. I imagine this could still effect some older people in either Island, although because an adoption law was introduced (The Adoption (Jersey) Law, 1961), the number of people so effected will someday soon be zero.

BBC Radio 4, The Name Game

No comments: