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When is a Name Change Not a Name Change?

07th June 2009
By mgordon in Law
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Changing one's name is something that has been done time and again in the past and will be done many more times in the future. But there is a difference between a name change and a "name change." Confused? Don't be. Essentially, what we mean is that there are different kinds of name change, and some people who go by a certain name may have a different one legally. Legally changing your name entails going through a legal process to formalize your new name and using it in every aspect of your life. Occasionally, we will recognize someone by one name, when their driver's license and passport will say something completely different.

For example, actors often go by one name when their actual given name is something else entirely. There is a good reason behind this, often absolutely unconnected with any desire to get away from an embarrassing name (although if an actor feels that their original name is one that might not fly as well as an alternative, they can go with that). The Screen Actors Guild in the US (and its British equivalent, Equity) has a rule that prevents any two actors on its books having the same name. Michael Keaton, famous for roles in the films Beetlejuice and Batman, was actually born Michael Douglas. But as there was already a Michael Douglas on the books - and a fairly successful one at that - the newer actor changed his name for the purposes of acting, taking the surname from the actress Diane Keaton, who herself was born Diane Hall.

Then again, consider the actor Martin Sheen and his sons Emilio and Carlos. Born Ramón Gerardo Antonio Estevez, he took as his stage name the surname of Catholic theologian Fulton J. Sheen as a nod to his Irish roots. As Martin Sheen, the former Ramón Estevez went on to have a hugely successful acting career and one which continues to this day. His children evidently caught the bug from him, as four registered actors have gone on to have careers of varying success. Among them are two who have had a similar degree of success as their father. Emilio Estevez and Carlos Estevez have each appeared in successful films and TV comedies and dramas. You have certainly heard of Emilio Estevez, but Carlos Estevez may not ring so many bells. But what about Charlie Sheen? Yes, they are one and the same person, Carlos having chosen to adopt his father's professional surname.

Then again, consider Reginald Kenneth Dwight, the popular singer and songwriter who under that name may never have made it quite so big. Which is why in the 1960s he changed it to "Elton Hercules John". Under the British deed poll system he changed his name not only for the purposes of the stage, but for everything. Hence, upon being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998, his legal name became Sir Elton John (take or leave the "Hercules" part).

Other actors and singers have done the same, but Elton John is arguably the most famous and successful to have taken such stringent measures. Snoop Dogg's real name, for what it's worth, is Calvin Broadus, while Eminem was christened Marshall Mathers and continues to go by that name legally. This is the difference between an assumed name and one that is legally changed.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. is a complete online resource that compares the legal services offered by various online companies. Find the best company to help you change your name at
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Melissa Gordon is the publisher of, a complete online resource that compares the legal services from various online companies. Find the best company for your LLC formation needs at /.
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