When and how did my father change his name?
QI am trying to find out some details about my late father. He was born Ernest William Raby in Bethnal Green on 13 February 1910, but when he married my mother in October 1942, his name is shown as Ernest William Wilson. When and how did he change his name?
No one else in the family seems to have followed suit. His younger brother Benjamin Raby was still known by that name in the early 1950s. Can you suggest where I should start?
I have a copy of a New Testament presented to ‘SIR EW WILSON 2090005’ by the National Bible Society of Scotland, presumably at the start of his war service in 1939. Peter Ernest Wilson
Aperson is free to change their name at any time, so long as there is no fraudulent intent. No official notice is usually required but a deed poll document can be used to make the change more easily recognised, but it isn’t legally necessary. Those using a deed poll have the option of paying for it to be registered with the courts (known as enrolling) and if enrolled a notice must also be published in the London Gazette.
Because of the additional cost, many were never enrolled and leave no other official trace. During the Second World War, anyone intending to change their name was also required to publish a notice in the Gazette, whether a deed poll was involved or not. The Gazette is available to search online for free at thegazette.co.uk, but I can find no such notices in your father’s name.
In the 1938 electoral register for Stepney, Ernest seems to be living with his brother Benjamin at 17 Louisa Street, both with the surname Raby. So the change seems to have happened between then and when the New Testament was given to him in 1939.
I would suggest obtaining a copy of your father’s Second World War service record to see if there is any mention of his name change. The record would still be held by the Ministry of Defence and can be ordered at a cost of £ 30. More details can be found at gov.uk/get- copy-military-service-records/overview.
Changing his surname might indicate a falling out with the Raby family, or perhaps he knew of an issue with his parentage. If you have copies of his birth and marriage certificates, look for clues – particularly who he named as his father when he married in 1942. Antony Marr