The terms legal and illegal are often used loosely and inappropriately.  They can be used in relation to something that is neither ‘legal’ nor ‘illegal’, but which has negative  ramifications. For example digging a hole in your front yard and leaving it there without a fence is not ‘illegal’, there is no law against it and no criminal sanction. However if someone falls down that hole and is injured you could expect to be sued.

We see a similar misuse of the term legal regarding names.  The Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act creates a mechanism for registering a change of name however, it also provides that a person can still change their name by repute or usage. If a person is known by two or more names, such as a maiden name and a married name, or by two different spellings of their name, they actually don’t have one name but a couple of names. However when government agencies, banks or employers ask for your ‘legal’ name they probably won’t appreciate being told that legally you have two or more names, even if that is correct.

As we often advise clients, sometimes there is the legal answer and the practical answer.  The practical answer is that often the name that is accepted is the name on your driver’s license, passport and birth certificate.  If these names are different, or if you are dealing with an organisation that also asks for a bank account or utility bill and that name is different, you may experience difficulty proving that either name is your legal name.

If you are experiencing these problems then you can actually register a Change of Name with the Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages in NSW if you have a NSW Birth Certificate. You will then get a Change of Name Certificate which you could produce when people ask for your ’legal’ name, which hopefully most organisations would accept.  The registration fee for the Change of Name form is $150, and of course they require supporting documents but this may be a good option for you if you need some more certainty about your correct or legal name.