Could a Person Change His Name During the Regency Era?

Was it possible for someone to change his name during the Regency?

I recently purchased An Index to Changes of Name: Under Authority of Act of Parliament or Royal Licence, and Including Irregular Changes from I George III to 64 Victoria, 1790 to 1901 by William Phillimore and Watts Phillimore.

Book Blurb: The sources from which this index has been compiled are several. Primarily it is based on the Changes of Name by Royal licence. For this purpose the volumes of the London Gazette, and also the Dublin Gazette from 1760 to 1901 were examined, but it must be remembered that not all Royal licences are advertised in the Gazettes, though the vast majority are so advertised for obvious reasons of convenience, and often also in the Times and other newspapers. Registration at Heralds’ College only, is a sufficient compliance with the Royal licence granted.

According to many sources I researched, one was not supposed to change one’s first name because it was given at the sacrament of Baptism and established publicly at confirmation. However, it should be noted that the bishops sometimes changed baptismal names at confirmation if he found them displeasing. So, this means if Phoebe’s real name on “Friends” had been Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock as she claimed on the 14th episode of Season 10, the bishop might have taken umbrage at her name, and, certainly, he would have done so if Mike Hannigan, her betrothed, had been originally named “Crap Bag,” as he dares to make his point in the episode’s plot.

One could change his/her surname at any time and as informally as one wished as long as it was not done to cheat creditors or to commit bigamy, commit a crime, or the like. If it was a permanent change one would put a notice in the Times.

The official changes were listed in London’s Gazette.

Between the casual change of name that someone like an actor might do, or for other non-criminal reasons, there was change by royal license. A petition was prepared with the help of a solicitor and the College of Heralds and presented through the College.

There is a fee, of course This can run into the hundreds of pounds. If one changes the name for one’s own pleasure one paid £10. If a will or other document required it, the price went up to £50. Then there was the cost of the advertisements and recording the change in the College of Arms.

The College of Arms website tells us, “A change of name may be evidenced by a deed poll prepared by an officer of arms and entered into the official records of the College of Arms. The change of name is gazetted in the London Gazette. The person whose name is changed need not be a person entitled to arms. A deed poll which has been prepared elsewhere may also be entered into the College registers. 

“A surname may also be altered or changed by Royal Licence. Arms granted to one family can only be transferred to another person not in legitimate male line of descent from the original grantee by means of a Royal Licence, followed by an exemplification of the arms. A Royal Licence is usually granted, on the advice of the Secretary of State for Justice, where the petitioner is required by a clause in a will to assume the name and arms of the testator, in order to inherit a legacy, but voluntary applications are also entertained.

“A petition for such a Royal Licence is drafted by an officer of arms for signature by the petitioner. It is then submitted on his or her behalf by the officer of arms to the Ministry of Justice, who forward it to Buckingham Palace. A resulting Royal Licence and any subsequent exemplification of arms must be recorded in the official registers of the College of Arms to be valid.”

Were there actual people of the era who changed their surnames?

The Earl of Jersey’s title was created in 1697 for the statesman Edward Villiers, 1st Viscount Villiers, Ambassador to France from 1698 to 1699 and Secretary of State for the Southern Department from 1699 to 1700. He had already been created Baron Villiers, of Hoo in the County of Kent, and Viscount Villiers, of Dartford in the County of Kent, in 1691, also in the Peerage of England. George Child-Villers, 5th Earl of Jersey, was a Tory politician and served as Lord Chamberlain of the Household  and as Master of the Horse. Lord Jersey married Sarah Sophia (died 1867), daughter of John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland, and his wife Sarah Anne (died 1793), daughter of Robert Child. Through this marriage the private bank Child & Co. came into the Villiers family. On account of the considerable wealth brought to the family through this marriage, in 1819, Lord Jersey assumed by Royal licence the surname and arms of Child, and since then the branch of the family has been known as Child-Villiers.

Lord Byron FAQ tells us how George Gordon became George Gordon Noel Byron, 6th Baron Byron. “In 1798, he inherited lands and title as Lord Byron, with the estate of Newstead Abbey in Nottingham and Baron Byron of Rochdale in Lancashire. A confusion arises because his title and surname are the same.

“He was addressed as The Right Honourable Lord Byron (by strangers and on the outside of letters) and as Byron (the title, not the name) by friends. Intimates seem to have actually called him ‘B’, but this may just be the convention of the time to abbreviate names to initials in writing, but possibly not in fact. Servants would have said ‘My Lord’ but an intimately beloved housemaid, Susan Vaughn, addressed her letters to ‘My Dearest Friend’ and his wife addressed a letter to him, ‘My Dearest Duck’.

When his mother-in-law died, a stipulation of her will was that, in order to inherit, her beneficiaries must take her family name. Byron added it to his and became George Gordon Noel Byron in 1822. He also added it to his signature.”

Other Sources: 

You might enjoy Nancy Mayer Regency Researcher‘s take on the subject of name changes. 

BBC History gives us “What’s in a Name?”

Roger Darlington also gives us a piece called “What’s in a Name?” presents “Georgian Era Names”

FYI, if you are interested: Gov.UK gives specific directions on how to change one’s name by deed poll HERE.

I did a similar post previously that contains additional information (and some repeats). You may find it HERE


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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4 Responses to Could a Person Change His Name During the Regency Era?

  1. Sally C says:

    I find all these name changes confusing! As in P&P Darcy’s Fitzwilliam cousin who is the heir to the Earldom is named Viscount So in So of somewhere. But his actual name at birth is different from all of that!?! I don’t know how anyone would be able to understand any of that.

  2. Jennifer Redlarczyk says:

    Fascinating. I’ve read quite a few of Nancy Mayer’s research articles. Love it!

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