is the name
A name is a word or term used for identification. Names can identify a class or category of things, or a single thing, either uniquely, or within a given context. A personal name identifies a specific unique and identifiable individual person, and may or may not include a middle name...
that an individual is given at birth and/or recognized by a government or other legal entity, or which appears on a birth certificate
A birth certificate is a vital record that documents the birth of a child. The term "birth certificate" can refer to either the original document certifying the circumstances of the birth or to a certified copy of or representation of the ensuing registration of that birth...
(see birth name
), marriage certificate (in jurisdictions that permit or require a name change to be recorded at marriage), or other government issued document (e.g., court order) on which a legal name change is evidenced and recorded. The term is also used when an individual changes their first or full name, typically after reaching a certain legal age (usually 18 or over, though it can be as low as 14 in several European nations).
A person's legal name typically comprises their given name
A given name, in Western contexts often referred to as a first name, is a personal name that specifies and differentiates between members of a group of individuals, especially in a family, all of whose members usually share the same family name...
and a family name
A family name is a type of surname and part of a person's name indicating the family to which the person belongs. The use of family names is widespread in cultures around the world...
. The order varies according to culture and country. There are also country-by-country differences on changes of legal names by marriage
Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found...
, see married name
In 1991, a Swedish couple refused to give their newborn a legal name, in protest of existing naming laws. In 1996, when fined after leaving their child legally nameless for five years, they submitted the child's name as Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116.
Most states still allow the common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...
of changing one's name through non-fraudulent use. This is actually the most common method, since most women who marry do not petition a court under the statutorily prescribed method, but simply use a new name (typically the husband's, a custom which started under the theory of coverture
Coverture was a legal doctrine whereby, upon marriage, a woman's legal rights were subsumed by those of her husband. Coverture was enshrined in the common law of England and the United States throughout most of the 19th century...
where a woman lost her identity and most rights when she married). Most state courts have held that a legally assumed name (i.e., for a non-fraudulent purpose) is a legal name and usable as their true name, though assumed names are often not considered the person's technically true name.
In strict English law, if there is such a thing as a "legal
" surname, it is easily changed. In the words of A dictionary of American and English law
, "Any one may take on himself whatever surname or as many surnames as he pleases, without statutory licence". However, this does not apply to names given in baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...
. "A man may have divers names at divers times, but not divers christian names".
In Germany, names are regulated to a large extent. Apart from possibly adopting the partner's name upon marriage, German citizens may only change their name for a recognised important reason. Among other reasons, a change of names is permitted when the name can give rise to confusion, ridicule, unusual orthographic difficulties, or stigmatization. In certain situations, children's last names may also be changed to their natural, foster or adoptive parent's last name. Transsexuals may change their first names. Foreign names in writing systems that are not based on Latin are transliterated according to rules which may conflict with the system of transcribing or transliterating names that is used in the country of origin. Former titles of nobility became integrated into the last names in 1919 but continue to be adapted according to gender and other circumstances.