A guide for researchers who may have difficulty tracing individuals because they changed their name. It outlines some of the reasons for changes of name and, if the change of name has been registered, suggests where evidence of the name change may be found.
During the nineteenth century the common way to effect a change of name was by an entry in a newspaper or by consistent usage. Then, as now, it was not compulsory to register a change of name. Between 1875 and April 1996 the administrative responsibility for registering all changes of name in New South Wales was with the Land Titles Office. After April 1996 the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages assumed the responsibility.
Although it is not legally necessary to register a change of name there are occasions when it may be necessary to provide proof of identity. Individuals may register their change of name at the New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. People born in New South Wales will have their new name recorded on their birth certificate. People born outside of New South Wales will be issued with a 'change of name' certificate.
A person may change their name:
- to hide their true identity or to assume another person's identity
- to adopt a more 'acceptable' or popular name
- to revert to the surname recorded on their birth certificate
- to anglicise a name, or
- when they marry. When people marry they may choose to change their surname to their partner's surname or to combine the two surnames. This is done as a matter of convenience and not of law.
Deeds Poll and Instruments Evidencing Change of Name
Prior to 1997, a name change could be effected by completing a Deed Poll or Instrument Evidencing Change of Name. The document was usually signed before a witness and included all relevant information such as the date and place it was signed, place of birth, current address, a clear statement of intention to change the name, the old name and the new name. Deeds Poll and Instruments Evidencing Change of Name were recorded at the Land Titles Office (land titling information is held by the NSW Land Registry Services).
Current forms of name change
An individual may change both their given name and surname without taking any formal steps simply by the consistent use of an alternative name over time.
Registration at the NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages
Under current legislation in New South Wales a name is changed once it is registered at the NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages.
Any individual over the age of 18 who was born in New South Wales, or Permanent Australian Residents living in New South Wales, may register a change of name at the NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages. Children under the age of 18 must have consent of the parents named on the birth certificate, or a court appointed legal guardian. Children over the age of 12 must consent to a change of name.
Records held by NSW State Archives
We hold a copy of the Registrar General's Change of Name Index for the period 1901-1967 which is available to search in the reading room.
We also hold microfilm copies of 'Enrolled deeds poll and documents evidencing change of name' for the same period, although the records appear to be incomplete. The records are arranged by registration number per the above index (Reel numbers MR1-MR16, Registration numbers 456-3723). Please ask at the reading room desk for access to the reels.
Records of 19th Century changes of name might be found in the newspapers of the day. 19th Century newspapers are available on the National Library of Australia's Trove website. Original copies of newspapers may be held by the State Library of New South Wales.
1875 to April 1996
May 1996 to the Present
ARCHIVES IN BRIEF
Content in this Guide first appeared in Archives in Brief 35 - Change of Name
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