Changing One’s Name During the Regency

I wish I could recall where I encountered this information, but I cannot. Therefore, I must apologize up front if someone shared it with me, and I am not giving them credit or whether I read it in a Facebook post. 

41Mu6hBzOXL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg The question was whether a person could legally change his/her name during the Regency Period [and I would assume during the Georgian Period, as a whole]. A book was suggested: An Index to Changes of Names: Under Authority of Act of Parliament or Royal Licence and Including Irregular Changes from I George III to 64 Victoria. 1760-1901. [ William Phillimore Watts Phillimore and Edward Alexander Fry, Forgotten Books, 17 October 2017] It is one of those books that is reproduced from the original artifact, meaning it is in the public domain.

Here is the book blurb for the book from Amazon: 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. 

Contrary to popular belief, it has always been possible to change your name without having to register the change with any official body. It is still perfectly legal for anyone over the age of 16 to start using a new name at any time, as long as they are not doing so for a fraudulent or illegal reason.

According to The National Archives: “The Index to Changes of Name for UK and Ireland 1760-1901 by WP Phillimore and Edward Alex Fry is made up of information from the following sources:

  • Private Acts of Parliament
  • Royal Licences published in the London and Dublin Gazettes
  • notices of changes of name published in The Times after 1861 with a few notices from other newspapers
  • registers of the Lord Lyon [King of Arms] where Scottish changes of name were commonly recorded
  • records in the office of the Ulster King at Arms
  • some private information

It does not include

  • changes by Royal licence not advertised in the London Gazette
  • changes by deed poll that were enrolled but not advertised in The Times

First, let us address those “Under Authority of Parliament” and those under “Royal Licence.” What did that mean? Staying with The National Archives, we learn: “

Royal licences to a change of name were common in the 18th and 19th centuries, but in later years would be issued where:

  • an inheritance depended on someone taking the deceased’s name
  • marriage settlement required a husband to adopt his wife’s name
  • a change of name also required a change to a coat of arms

Information relating to Royal licences can be found in:

  • The National Archives
  • The London Gazette
  • The Royal College of Arms

“The National Archives holds a small number of warrants for Royal licences to changes of name in the following series of records (please note they are not searchable online):

  • SP 44 for the period up to 1782
  • HO 38 from 1782 to February 1868
  • HO 142 from February 1868 onwards

“There is also some correspondence describing individual examples of changes of name in:

  • HO 45 for the period 1841-1871
  • HO 144 for the period 1868-1959

“The London Gazette can be searched by name on The Gazette website for any references to changes of name.

“Some changes of name were made by a private Act of Parliament – usually for the same reasons as those made by Royal licence (see above). This was fairly common in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but since 1907 has only been used once.

“Acts of Parliament are published in printed volumes arranged by year. The National Archives library has a set as do some other libraries. It may be helpful to:

“For more information on where to see copies of private Acts click on the link and scroll to point 6. The Parliamentary Archives also has records relating to change of name by Act of Parliament. See their website for details of how to visit.”

 Wikipedia’s article on Name Change tells us: “From the mediaeval age to the 19th century, the era of family dynasties, name changes were frequently demanded of heirs in the last wills and testaments, legacies and bequests, of members of the gentry and nobility who were the last males of their bloodline. Such persons frequently selected a younger nephew or cousin as the heir to their estates on condition that he should adopt the surname and armorials of the legator in lieu of his patronymic. Thus the ancient family otherwise destined to extinction would appear to continue as a great dynasty in the making. Such changes were also more rarely demanded by marriage settlements, for example where the father of a sole daughter and heiress demanded that as a condition of his daughter’s dowry her husband should adopt his father-in-law’s surname and arms. Thus the progeny of the marriage would continue the otherwise extinct family’s name. Such name changes were generally only demanded of younger sons, where an elder brother was available to inherit the paternal estates under primogeniture and carry on the name and arms abandoned by the younger brother. Such name changes were effected by obtaining a private Act of Parliament or by obtaining a Royal Licence. A less radical procedure adopted from the 18th century onwards was for the legator or settlor to demand only that the legatee or beneficiary should adopt his surname in addition to his patronymic, not in place of it, which gave rise to the ‘double-barrelled,’ even the ‘triple-barrelled name, frequently parodied in literature as epitomising the wealthy ‘squirearchy’ with an embarrassment of inherited estates.

Well known examples are:

  • Russell to Gorges (14th century). Ralph IV Gorges, 2nd Baron Gorges, died without issue in 1331. In an effort to preserve his family name and arms he made one of his younger nephews his heir, on condition that he should adopt the name and arms of Gorges. This nephew was William Russell, the second son of his second sister Eleanor de Gorges who had married Sir Theobald Russell (d.1341) of Kingston Russell, Dorset. The event is referred to in one of the earliest heraldic law cases brought concerning English armory, Warbelton v. Gorges in 1347. 
  • Smithson to Percy (18th century). Sir Hugh Smithson, 4th Baronet (1715-1786) (c.1714-`786) in 1740 married Lady Elizabeth Seymour, daughter and sole heiress of Algernon Seymour, 7th Duke of Somerset, and granddaughter of Lady Elizabeth Percy (d.1722), daughter and sole heiress of Josceline Percy, 11th Earl of Northumberland (1644-1670). In 1740, by a private Act of Parliament, Smithson changed his surname to Percy and inherited the title Earl of Northumberland and was later created Duke of Northumberland.  

edwardknight-234x300.jpgFor those of you who relate everything I write to Austen, I offer Edward Knight. Edward Austen was the only Austen brother not to have a profession. Early in the 1780’s he was adopted by Mr. Austen’s Patron, the rich but childless Thomas and Catherine Knight. Instead of going off to University, He was sent on the “grand tour” of continental Europe in 1786-1788, and eventually inherited their estate of Godmersham, Kent, and took the last name of “Knight”. 

James_Edward_Austen-Leigh.jpg austen-leigh-james_edward-memoir-B20137-53.jpgA Memoir of Jane Austen, published in 1869, is the earliest full-length biography of Jane Austen, and the only one written by someone she knew. Its author, James Edward Austen-Leigh (1798-1894), was her nephew, the son of her eldest brother James and his second wife Mary Lloyd. The “Leigh” faction of Jane Austen’s family comes from her mother’s side, Cassandra, youngest daughter of the Rev. Thomas Leigh, of the family of Leighs of Warwickshire, who, having been a fellow of All Souls, held the College living of Harpsden, near Henley-upon-Thames. Mr. Thomas Leigh was a younger brother of Dr. Theophilus Leigh, a personage well known at Oxford in his day, and his day was not a short one, for he lived to be ninety, and held the Mastership of Balliol College for above half a century. 

Changing one’s name was generally as easy as simply telling people to “call me Jones instead of Smith” sort of thing. The name couldn’t be blasphemous or profane , nor could one change one’s name to that of princess or prince. [Do you remember on the episode of “Friends,” after Phoebe marries Mike, she decides to change her name. At the department, she learns that she can change it to anything she likes. Her new name becomes Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock. Mike is not too happy about this, and decides to retaliate to this by changing his name to Crap Bag. Finally Phoebe becomes aware of the mistake she made and decides to rectify it, changing her name to Phoebe Buffay-Hannigan.]

However, when a legacy/inheritance was involved, a more formal means was practiced, for a person’s name was considered part of his identity and was not to be changed in a casual manner. It was given and recorded at the sacrament of Baptism/Christening, and it was confirmed at Confirmation. A change in a baptismal name could result in a marriage being invalidated. That being said, the bishop sometimes changed names at Confirmation if he found them displeasing. One could not change his/her name in order to commit fraud or to cheat one’s creditors or to commit bigamy.

Nancy Mayer at Regency Researcher provides a variety of actual name changes during the Regency and earlier Victorian years. “The prime reason people changed their names was to receive a legacy. That sort of name change cost £50. Though people often substituted one surname for another one, they quite as frequently just added a name to the surname they already had. Earl of Jersey added ‘Child’ to the family surname in compliance with the will of Robert Child who was grandfather of Lady Jersey. Even Byron added Noel to his surname. He and Lord Holland incorrectly added names to their titles as well, probably in an excess of caution as to fulfilling the terms of some will. Fanny Burney wrote a novel based on a legacy to a girl of a tidy fortune when she married if her husband would change his name to that of the benefactor. The man who said he loved her refused to change his name so left her prey to all sorts of problems.

“Most people were willing to change or add a surname  if the change came with money.In Jane Austen’s family there are the Austen Knights and Austen Leighs. Byron added Noel to Byron and Jersey added Child to Villiers. Some families had four surnames. Some families did change surname to appear more aristocratic or sophisticated. A Davy Jones , tired of jokes about his lover or  the ocean, changed his name to David St.Paul. One man– a Thomas J Jones had his son’s name changed from Vere Jones to Vere Jones Vere. Deadman changed to Dedman. The name given a child at baptism wasn’t supposed to be changed except that the Bishop could do so at confirmation if he felt the name was inappropriate. Some thought that a person could only marry by a baptismal or legally changed name. The courts  treated each case separately.”

As noted above, there was a fee for a name change that could, literally, run into the hundreds of pounds. If one changed 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 Regency Researcher also explains: “One obtained a royal license to change one’s name by making a application through the Herald’s office. It had to be drawn up with care so as to achieve the exact name requested.
The Royal license is given under the Sign Manual and privy Seal and is countersigned by the Secretary of State for the Home department. The cost was 10£ when changed for one’s own reason’s but the stamp tax paid for a change according to a will was , as I mentioned, 50£. Those fees were the stamp duty. Other fees were charged. 
£ 34 to have the name recorded  by the College of heralds. 
£ 10 to the Exchequer 
£ 2 2s to advertise the name change in the Gazette 
66£ additional if a coat of arms is issued at the time.”

A deed poll is a legal contract involving only one party. Changes of name by deed poll were (and are) made before a solicitor who issues the document to the person changing his name. The solicitor may keep a copy on file, but it is unlikely to be a certified copy, and the file is unlikely to be kept for more than five years. The person changing his name can ask his solicitor to ‘enrol’ the deed poll, for safekeeping, in the Enrolment Books of the Supreme Court of Judicature (formerly the Close Rolls of Chancery). However, this is not free, and most people decide against it, making it more difficult to trace a name for genealogy purposes. 

Research by any of the heralds was an extra charge  as was research into antecedents for coats of  arms. So, a person needing to change a name to receive a legacy had to pay around £100 if he already had a coat of arms.


Jane Austen 

The National Archives

Regency Researcher





About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
This entry was posted in Act of Parliament, British history, customs and tradiitons, family, Georgian England, history, Inheritance, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, peerage, real life tales, Regency era, research, titles of aristocracy, tradtions and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Changing One’s Name During the Regency

  1. nmayer2015 says:

    As I have a copy of the book on Index to Name Changes and have mentioned it, you might have heard the name from me. You have some information I hadn’t seen or had forgotten. They did seem to change names quite frequently sometimes ending with four or five hyphenated names. An informative blog as usual.

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