What's in a name?
Newly married Kate Johnson discovers first-hand the practical and legal issues that can arise with a name change
It is me. But, yes, I have changed my name since my last appearance in Solicitors Journal. And not because I had had enough after 30 years of being asked ‘Is that “Davies” spelt with an “e” or without
an “e”?’ It was simply because
I got married.
Except it is not that simple.
Putting aside the many and varied arguments over whether a married woman should change her name, it is the practicalities that have caused me trouble.
For starters, how should I answer the phone – something that I do many times each working day? It is almost impossible to know who is calling before I have picked up the ringing handset, and therefore whether they know me as Kate Davies, Kate Johnson, or both. So I currently plump for the accurate, if a bit short and informal, ‘Kate’. Needless to say, this has led to several awkward silences while the caller waits for me to expand on my introduction.
Then there are the countless forms to complete to change my passport, driving licence, and bank accounts. Thankfully, all I have to do is produce a copy of my marriage certificate. The situation would have been worse if we had decided to use a double-barrelled name, ‘mesh’ our names (as it is known), or take on a completely new name. In these circumstances, you need to change your name by deed poll, thereby complicating the process further.
Not so easy to change was my personal email address. When I set up my email account in the 1990s, ‘email@example.com’ was the obvious choice, and was available. Fast forward a couple of decades and, with a new, but equally run of the mill, name, it will come as no surprise that I could not find an email address that did not require the addition of several meaningless numbers or letters to my name. I had found my line in the sand.
I was simply not willing to swap a simple email address for one that appeared to be full of ‘txt spk’ and would be near impossible for anyone to remember.
Luckily, after several weeks
of my agonising over every permutation of my new name, my old university launched a new email service for alumni.
I immediately signed up for ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’.
Since marriage revokes
a will, I made a new will ‘in contemplation of my marriage’ before my wedding. No further update is needed, thankfully, as a name change alone, whether by marriage or deed poll, does not affect the validity of a person’s will, similarly to if a beneficiary’s name changes.
But problems can crop up if
an incorrect spelling is used for
a beneficiary named in a will.
A gift to ‘Kate Johnston’, when it was intended for ‘Kate Johnson’, might not cause too much of a headache and can be managed without involving the court, if you can get the beneficiaries entitled to the residue of the estate to agree that ‘Johnston’ should read ‘Johnson’, but messier situations can arise when the misspelling is not so obvious – think ‘Jones’ in place of ‘Johnson’.
This might involve an application to the court for rectification of the will, a process that can be time consuming as well as expensive. You may also need to produce evidence from outside the will that the testator knew and wanted to benefit Kate Johnson (and hope to goodness that they did not also know a Kate Jones).
No doubt I will be completing paperwork updating my details for some time to come, but sooner or later I will once again know the simple pleasure of operating under just one name. And for the moments when I do mourn my maiden name, I can at least find some comfort in now being asked ‘Is that Johnson spelt with a “t” or without a “t”?’ SJ
Kate Johnson is a solicitor at Wedlake Bell