This post is part one of my response to misha the Duck of Doom, who commented on this post.
In the United Kingdom we’re pretty lucky: we’re able to change our names for free, as long as it’s not being done to commit fraud. I believe this is not merely a privilege that we’re fortunate enough to have though; it’s an important right.
This applies to anyone who wants to change their name, but is particularly important for many trans people because of the sheer importance a name can have. A name denotes identity, is usually tied to a particular gender role and accompanying gender expectations, and tends to carry a fair amount of personal history with it. No wonder then that a name change can be a key moment for those who transition. A free name change means that everyone has equal access to this right, regardless of age and financial status.
There are several means of changing your name under UK law, but the most simple is to simply announce to the world that you’ve changed your name. You don’t actually need to do anything other than this. It might help, however, to sign a piece of paper as evidence of your doing so. Maybe you could also get someone else to witness it, perhaps a solicitor. This tends to help with getting organisations such as banks, educational institutions and the Inland Revenue to recognise your name change: hence the existence of deed polls and statutory declarations.
Solicitors – and various websites – can charge a pretty penny for preparing your statutory declaration or deed poll. The amount they might ask you for varies, although as a general rule I note that the more fancy-looking the document is, the more it costs. What baffles me is that these individuals and organisations are getting away with this when you can easily make your own document for free. There are some organisations trying to make money from this through advertising, whilst other pages make them available simply out of a desire to help others. My own (free) deed poll was emailed to me by a particularly helpful individual working for the university I was applying for a few years back. I’ve used it to change my details with pretty much every organisation which will ever need to use my name, including the NHS, a Student Union and the Job Centre.
Of course, not everyone who charges for evidence of a name change charges a lot. misha the Duck of Doom suggests:
“Go to a solicitor who swears oaths.
They have the uk courts authority to swear in
a Stat Dec name change.
When doing this, they are recognised as an agent of the court.
It costs £5 IIRC
plus £2 per stamped copy. You need about 15 copies for tax, council, education certificates, utility companies
so they change your name & sex.”
This looks relatively reasonable and not too pricey. I have three major problems with this option though:
1) “Affordable” can be two very different things to different people. The above suggestion actually costs £35 (£5, plus £2 multiplied by 15 is £35). That’s a fair amount of money if you’re a teenager, a student, on minimum wage, unemployed or permanently on incapacity benefit. Of course, many solicitors would provide you with a number of copies for no additional charge, and I’d suggest you could save a lot of that money by creating photocopies and using a stamped, self-addressed envelope when you do need to provide the original, but you’re still spending money. £5 can go a long way towards other things when you’re a teenager, and has to go a long way if you’re on benefits or minimum wage. I can make several days worth of meals on £5. Sure, even the poorest can fork out for this, but would prefer spend money on better things if it’s possible to do so.
2) Trans people are more likely than the general population to have anxiety issues or problems interacting with other people. Transition has given nerves of steel to many of us (and huge amounts of confidence when things are going well), but this doesn’t apply to all. Dealing with this kind of thing via a solicitor or courts could waste a lot of spoons. In this instance, self-created evidence of a name change is clearly preferable.
3) There’s an issue of principle! Regardless of money and spoons, why should we have to spend money on evidence of a name change when, legally speaking, we don’t have to?
This is why it particularly gets my back up when a Gender Clinic decides that it’s above free deed polls, and demands that they’re witnessed by a solicitor. It’s also bizarre that they accepted a free deed poll from a trans woman and then decided to later reject the very same document. I’m glad that Charing Cross no longer seem to be doing this – and in fact have apparently written a new policy to ensure that it doesn’t happen again – but it’s quite telling that they don’t seem to have made this new policy public at all.