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  • Lord Orsam

The Game of the Name

We must never forget that, according to Christer Holmgren, aka Fisherman:

'I have repeatedly stated that my definition of a false name is any name that is not the name officially registered. And the carman was registered by the name of Lechmere, not Cross.'

That was posted in #2 in the Casebook thread 'Lechmere-Cross bye bye' on 2 October 2015 and, as far as I know, he maintains that position. In other words, by giving his name as Charles Cross at the Nichols inquest, Charles Lechmere is alleged to have given a false name to the coroner.

In response, over the years, I have posted numerous examples of men from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who legitimately bore two surnames, usually because they were brought up by a stepfather, showing that it cannot properly be said that their use of their stepfather's surname was a 'false' name, despite it not being the surname under which they were 'officially registered', whatever that is supposed to mean.

In my 2017 Casebook Name Issue Part 2 thread, post #19, I gave some examples of advice to individuals published in the newspapers about what to do if they had two surnames, usually in respect of marriage. The purpose of this blog post is to provide an expanded look at what people were being told the law was in this respect. Those entries in purple are those I already included in my Casebook post.

South London Press, 8 October 1869

"The legality of a marriage cannot, on any account, be called in question because of the husband being illegitimate, and marrying in the name of his stepfather. "

South London Press, 19 February 1876

'If the son has been in the custom of using his stepfather's name, it is perfectly legal for him to marry in that name - indeed, marriage in a false name does not now make the ceremony invalid; it merely subjects the guilty person to punishment.'

Here we clearly see a distinction made between a stepfather's name (which someone has been in the custom of using without any official registration) and a false name. They are not the same thing.

Reynolds's Newspaper, 5 March 1876

'If the illegitimate person has always been known by his father's surname, or for a period of several years, he has a perfect right to use it and can be legally married in it.'

Obviously, the father's surname for an illegitimate person is not recorded on the birth certificate so that under Holmgren's definition that person would be using a false name if they gave their surname as their father's surname.

Newcastle Chronicle, 17 May 1890

' "A Moulder" must use his adopted surname on all occasions, that name having been chosen for him which he was a baby. As he has never been known by any other surname, it is obvious that the banns could not be properly published except in that name. Supposing that the banns of marriage of a person of the name to which he was born, but which he has never used, were to be published, that would not give the necessary information as to the intended marriage of our correspondent. Of course, he did quite the right thing in using his adopted surname when he entered the societies to which he refers; because it is in fact his proper name now. He must use that name on all occasions, and never use the former one.'

So the advice here is to discard one's officially registered birth name and use one's adopted name when marrying. Further, and perhaps quite extreme advice, the officially registered birth name should never be used again. Christer must think that the advice here is to use a false name while abandoning one's real name. How does he compute it? Or perhaps he thinks that when one marries under a different name from the one under which one is born, one has now officially registered that name. It is quite confusing. Perhaps, on that basis, Charles Lechmere officially registered the surname 'Cross' when giving evidence at the inquest?

Leigh Chronicle, 29 December 1893

'There is nothing to prevent an illegitimate child taking the surname of his putative father. If the father and mother marry it is better that the child should take the father's surname, and should always be known by it in order that his illegitimacy may be forgotten. When he marries he may safely use his adopted surname; indeed, it will be the proper thing for him to do.'

We here have advice for someone to marry using their adopted surname, and that it would be the 'proper' thing to do, even though they were not officially registered at birth under that surname, which would make it very odd for that adopted surname to be a false name.

Sheffield Weekly Telegraph, 13 July 1895

'The young man ought to keep the name by which he has generally been known, and that, we understand, is his stepfather's name. If he marries in that name it will be all right.'

Sheffield Weekly Telegraph, 23 November 1895

'The husband ought to use the name of his own father, and not his stepfather's name. But if he has long been known by his stepfather's name, there should be no harm in marrying in that name, but it is certainly a step which we should not advise to be taken.'

Factory Times, 15 July 1896

'A person should be married in his own name though marriage in another name by which such persons may be known does not invalidate the marriage. The advantage of using the registered name is that it saves all trouble if any dispute arises as to property or personal effects.'

So the advice here is that one should be married in one's 'own name' but only in order to save trouble in case of future legal disputes. There is no actual legal reason not to marry in the name by which one is commonly known.

Morning Leader, 18 February 1897

'You can get married in any name you like. The name by which you have been known and generally recognised for years is the proper one to use. The registrar has no power to raise any objection because your father's surname is different from yours, but he might ask the reason.'

We already saw this one in the Name Issue, Part 3, blog post but it's worth repeating. It clearly demonstrates that the name under which a person has been known and generally recognised for years, even if not officially registered, is a 'proper' name. A proper name cannot possibly be a false name. Christer Holmgren is wrong.

Factory Times, 17 May 1901

'A person can be married in a different name to his own if it is shown that it is the one by which he is usually known, otherwise an inaccurate name will make the marriage null and void.'

Northern Weekly Gazette, 18 October 1902

Q. I have two names. I am registered in one, and was married and am known everywhere in another. Would there be any difficulty in my wife claiming club money etc.? A. The best way would be to have yourself named in the club as A known as B, but it does not really matter if your wife is able to show that you are the person meant, and that she is your wife.

Another man with two names!

Lloyd's Weekly News, 4 February 1912

'Marriage in a false name cannot be invalidated on that account, unless it is by banns, and the falsity is known to both parties. But if the name in which a man marries is that by which he is commonly known it is not a false name'.

BOOM! There was have it in black and white and clear as day. If a man marries under the name he is commonly known (even though it's not the name under which he was 'officially' registered at birth) it is not a false name. Christer Holmgren's definition of a false name is proven to be incorrect.

I don't know if the laws of Scotland in this respect are very different to the laws of England and Wales but it is certainly interesting to note the following advice from a Dundee newspaper:

Dundee People's Journal, 24 January 1914

'A man may marry under the name by which he is commonly known. In this case if he had been known by his step-father's name he should be married in that name'.

So there is advice that a man positively should use their stepfather's surname if that was the name under which they were commonly known. Perhaps they encouraged the use of false names in Scotland, I don't know.

Nottingham Evening Post, 26 October 1933

'Your son may use his stepfather's name if all three of you are agreed about it. If he is ever required to produce a birth certificate or sign a legal document he would sign with his registered name followed by "known as -" (stepfather's name). This is quite lawful: but a legally registered and advertised change of name although expensive, would possibly save future trouble.'

Reynolds's Newspaper, 9 January 1938

'A person's legal and true name is that by which he or she is usually known, so that your marriage in your adopted name was quite legal. The fact that you gave your adoptive father's name as that of your real father does not affect the matter. You only need to give a simply explanation of the facts when you apply for pension.'

Oh golly, a person's legal and true name is the one by which they are commonly known. I had thought that this was supposed to be a false name if it wasn't officially registered. Evidently not.

Daily Mirror, 31 May 1951

'I hope to marry a wonderful boy in the autumn, but there is one secret in my life which I cannot bring myself to tell him. I have just discovered that I was born before my mother married, and that the man who has been a wonderful father to me is really my stepfather. The shock has been pretty bad, but I can bear it so long as it does not have to be made known when I marry. Could I give my stepfather's name as my real father? He has always been that to me and my name is the same as his. - (Engaged, Burnley.)

You can certainly be married in the name you have always used. As regards any legal statements, however, I think the wisest plan would be to write for a confidential interview with the Registrar of Marriages in whose district your wedding will take place. You will find the Registrar helpful and sympathetic, and if there is any way in which you can legally meet your difficulty he will be able to tell you about it. Try not to worry too much about this. Even if your story has to be told your boy will only feel more protective and loving towards you.'

Coventry Evening Telegraph, 31 March 1970

'I am a divorcee and have just remarried. My wife was a widow with two sons. We have agreed that the younger boy, aged eight, should take my surname. How best can I deal with this problem?

The easiest way is for the boy simply to use your name. If there is any future difficulty after he becomes of age he can sign a statutory declaration saying that he wishes to adopt his stepfather's name. The alternative is for the boy to have his name changed by deed poll. That would involve legal consultation and a total fee probably in the region of 30 guineas.'

We're obviously out of our time zone here, into the 1970s, but the advice is still for a boy to simply use his stepfather's name. It. is. not. a. false. name.


Let's go back to Holmgren's use of the expression 'the name officially registered'. What does it mean? You might think it must be the name on a birth certificate or perhaps on a baptism register. But that can't be right, can it? What about someone who changes their name by deed poll? Would they be giving a false name? Obviously not, so I assume that Holmgren's use of the expression 'officially registered' is designed to incorporate what he assumes to be official or legal changes of name. Look, however, at this advice:

Cardiff Times, 5 November 1892:

'Yes, a person may add on his mother's surname, leave off his father's surname, swop Christian names with his brother, or do away with any name at all, and call himself by a number, all without any legal formality. The law is very generous in this respect. All it requires is that a person shall be able, if necessary, to prove his identity; and the course usually followed is to put an advertisement in the Press announcing the change of name.'

So there never has been any legal formality required to change one's name. It doesn't need to be officially registered in any way for it to be one's true and legal name. Holmgren clearly doesn't understand this.


21 September 2023

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Sep 21, 2023
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No further discussion on this topic is required David. Your research has thrown up absolutely cast-iron proof that Christer is wrong. More excellent, unbiased work. I doubt if there will be an admission of error though. Sadly.

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