The BBC reports that record numbers of Britons are legally changing their name by deed-poll, and speculates on the factors that account for this (escaping your past, reverting to maiden names after divorce, merging names for marriage), but they miss the big one: the fact that you can't just change what you call yourself anymore. My grandparents all had fistfulls of names — the names they were born with, their Hebrew names, their Yiddish names, their anglicized names, their nicknames — and their ID, papers and records use a mishmash of all of them.
I've had several passports without my middle name ("Efram") which I've never used (though I'm not embarrassed by it or anything); however all the identity documents I've received in the past decade had insisted that all my names be present and identical on every piece, thanks to the growing use of databases and the growth of the Zuckerberg doctrine that every person should have exactly one name and that name should be identical in every context.
So while Britons might earlier have gone by names of their choosing with little trouble, today, officialdom requires that what you call yourself be what the state calls you, hence all the formal name-changing.
And it looks like this could be a record year, with an estimated 58,000 people changing their name by the end of 2011 – an increase of 4,000 on the previous year. A decade ago, only 5,000 people changed their names.
Many have been inspired by celebrities or their sporting heroes. In the past few years, the UK Deed Poll Service has welcomed 15 new Wayne Rooneys into the world, five Amy Winehouses and 30 Michael Jacksons.
And nearly 200 people can now say that "Danger" is officially their middle name.
However, 300 people opted for the solid but less glamorous John Smith, which indicates that people change their names for reasons other than just fun.