From everything he’d read, Liam thought it unlikely that he’d be able to get Google to remove the links to his name. He decided therefore that he’d do the next best thing and change his name.
I’m a very lucky person. I come from a loving family which also happens to have a rather unique name; so unique that a song was written about it years ago. There’s not many of us around the world, so put my name into a search engine and sadly me and my 12 year sentence for a sexual offence comes up.
Within months of being released from prison, I realised that a quick internet search of my name would unravel the new life I’d made for myself (new town, job, friends, relationship and church). My probation officer made sure that people who needed to know about my offending knew about it but, everybody else was in the dark and I wanted to keep it that way. However, with my very unique name the more I put myself out there and re-joined society, the more chance there was that somebody would look me up. Sadly, I think it’s fairly common practice for new friends/employers to run your name through a search engine – we’re all nosy like that.
So, I elected to change my name. Not my first name as loads of people knew me by that, so if some people called me John and some called me Tom that could lead to some difficult questions. But, my last name had to go even though it was going to be a wrench.
I discussed the idea with my probation and PPU officer. I emphasised that I wasn’t contemplating this as a way to circumvent their supervision or to get one over on the community, but only so I could move forward safely. They agreed, and asked to be told what I was changing it to and when. I then told my parents and asked for suggestions. We decided to go back a generation to a previous family surname. I did a google search on what my new name would throw up and there were loads of people with the name but no mass murderers or child molesters. So rather than my custody photo and the judge’s scathing condemnation of my crime coming up top, I could disappear into the woodwork of nice middle class strivers.
Actually changing my name was surprisingly easy. A google search revealed two ways; official and unofficial. The official way meant paying money, using a solicitor and enrolling my deed poll which would lead to my old and new name being registered in the official London Gazette which also happens to be listed on Google. So my old and new name would still come up – an amazing own goal!
So, I picked the unofficial route. I merely wrote my own deed poll and printed off a number of copies. I signed each copy in the presence of a witness and got them to sign each copy too. The witness has to be over 18, known to you but not a family member. No need for a solicitor or other professional.
A requirement of changing your name is that you have to fully live your life in your new name, you can’t have somethings in your old name and some in your new one. So starts the long process of sending off an original signed copy to banks, insurance companies etc. You can change your driving licence free of charge so I did this first which then gave me photo ID in my new name. I could then apply for jobs and open bank accounts etc. It took a week for the new licence to arrive in the post.
I also applied for a new passport. I chose to go to the Passport Office in person since it was quicker and I could explain my story in person and overcome any administrative issues. I’d asked for my PPU officers permission to apply for the new passport and again emphasised that I only needed it to prove my entitlement to work in the UK and had no intention of leaving the country, thus violating my licence conditions and become a wanted criminal on the run. As soon as my new passport arrived, I photocopied the ID page and gave it to my PPU officer.
I changed all my online accounts – nothing worse than getting an email to your old name. All the paperwork in my flat has been tidied away so if anybody visits they won’t see my old name on anything. I have a stash of things in my old name that I’m really loath to part with but I’ve buried them in a box somewhere.
So, six months on, everything’s in my new name. People can google me as much as they want and nothing comes up. I feel confident using my new name and making my way in society. All this was nearly undone by technology when a friend called me and I was in the car using hands-free. Blow me if the display in the car radio didn’t flash up my old name. I still haven’t found out how I can change it.
If you’re thinking of changing your name, you may want to use my checklist to help you through the process.
- Talk to probation and the police before starting the process and get the ok.
- Research your new name on search engines; choose a commonish name.
- Don’t pay money to change your name, do it yourself.
- Choose your witness carefully; they’ll know your old and new name and may google the old name out of curiosity.
- Get official photo ID in your new name first.
- Ruthlessly change all your online, offline, bank and other accounts to your new name. Just one letter in your letterbox in your old name could undo all your efforts.
- And – relax. Google is no more!
By Liam (name changed to protect identity)