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Common law jurisdictions, in stark contrast to civil law jurisdictions, are considerably liberal in their procedures for allowing a name change. In some cases, for example in Ireland:

no formality set out in law in Ireland for the change of a person’s name or the assumption of another name. You may change the name you commonly use by simply adopting a new name (source)

although deed poll exist. US states vary, but in some assuming a new name openly could suffice.

Assuming that no intention to deceive is at play, how would a person who changed his name from, say, John Suzie McMillan Manson, to John McMillan, would prove that he's the owner of his car, house, company bank account, and so on? How could government agencies and institutions connect that new name to his past name?

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    Any useful answer here will depend on the specific jurisdiction. Mar 29, 2022 at 17:15

4 Answers 4

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I am a notary public in Vermont and have had to deal with people who had name variations. Readers of Law StackExchange like to citations to reliable sources; I'm not going to do that, just describe my experience.

Many states do indeed allow a person to adopt a new name through usage. Government agencies and large commercial agencies don't like that, and they can and do thwart the law by imposing their own administrative procedures. If you don't like their procedures, fine, give a lawyer a $20,000 retainer, have the lawyer sue, and wait three years. And after spending all that money, the court might find that although it isn't a crime for a person to change their name by usage, there is no law requiring the administrative agency to accept it.

If you don't have tens of thousands of dollars to waste or years to wait, you have two choices. Get married, and use the marriage license as evidence of your name change. The format of marriage licenses is different in every state, so how well this works depends on the state.

The other option is to get a court-ordered name change.

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    -1 This answer would indeed be better if it cited reliable sources. Have there been any court cases such as this answer describes? If so, what cases? Mar 29, 2022 at 20:44
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    Re common law name change by using a new one see, e.g., In re Nguyen, 684 P.2d 258 (Colo. App. 1983); In re Knight, 36 Colo. App. 187, 537 P.2d 1085 (1975). Re red tape resistance see, e.g. washparkprophet.blogspot.com/2008/12/… and washparkprophet.blogspot.com/2009/10/…
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 29, 2022 at 22:11
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With evidence

Typical evidence would be a series of witnesses who could state how long they have known the person and that the person’s name is John McMillan. Presumably John has documentary evidence that they are also John Suzie McMillan Manson.

Admittedly, this isn’t very practical. The more practical solution is to have two or more names and use the one that you can prove with documents for the important stuff.

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  • So, you would keep your real documented name for all official/contractual/governmental/banking stuff and you chosen name would be just a pseudonym for some artistic endeavor? Mar 29, 2022 at 22:15
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    @QuoraFeans it can be more than that. You can enter enforceable contracts under a pseudonym for example. Just don’t register your car under it.
    – Dale M
    Mar 29, 2022 at 23:58
  • @QuoraFeans essentially yes, although you can use your pseudonym for more than publishing books or whatever. I use my legal name "Bob" for dealings with the government or similar, but everyone I interact with on a regular basis knows me as "Charlie". In my private life I'm Charlie, and when I'm at work my coworkers and customers know me as Charlie. HR calls me Charlie unless I'm filling out paperwork, then I sign as Bob. Over the last 20 years that's only caused minor confusion a couple of times. Mar 30, 2022 at 15:47
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Here in the UK, although you can call yourself by any name you like (so long as it isn't offensive or intended to deceive) you will not be able to get a passport in that name without an official Deed Poll document. Other institutions such as banks will also want to see this document before they will use your new name. It's fairly low cost to do it officially, about 70 GBP.

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    – Community Bot
    Mar 30, 2022 at 16:59
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how would a person who changed his name from, say, John Suzie McMillan Manson, to John McMillan, would prove that he's the owner of his car, house, company bank account, and so on? How could government agencies and institutions connect that new name to his past name?

If John wants government agencies and institutions to recognise his new name, it has to be changed officially. He can't sit on two chairs: take advantage of the easyness of informal name change and have it officially recognised at the same time. Either one, or the other.

Officially changing one's name in New Zealand concludes with getting a new birth certificate (if John was born in New Zealand) or a name change certificate (if born outside New Zealand). Either of the two works to get government agencies and institutions recognise the new name.

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    The premise of the question is that the name change was made without a "name change certificate."
    – phoog
    Mar 30, 2022 at 1:49
  • @phoog I don't really see such a premise spelled out in the question. It simply cites that changing name without formalities is possible — as opposed to setting it as a premise.
    – Greendrake
    Mar 30, 2022 at 2:29
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    -1 The question might not specifically say that our hypothetical person changed their name without formalities, but that is the clear implication of the question. If they changed their name with formalities, the question would make no sense. Mar 30, 2022 at 11:13

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