This document is provided to give the reader a thorough review of federal and California state civil court cases which certify the legal certainty of name changes and other identity changes by way of common law. The reader should be aware that that this site does not inform anyone of how to go about pursuing a civil court suit or civil name change, but only quotes these civil suits below to help the reader understand the validity of common law name changes and to give further clarification on how a common law name change actually works.
To begin, as one reads about these cases one ought to keep aware that at common law, you are the sovereign, which means you are the court. For, as explained elsewhere on this site, a court is, “The person and suit of the sovereign; the place where the sovereign sojourns … wherever that may be” (Blacks’s Law Dictionary 4th ed., p.425).
Some civil cases (such as In re Ritchie 206 Cal.Rptr.238 and Lee v. Ventura County Superior Court 11 Cal.Rptr.2d 763) speak of the state’s power to regulate or proportedly put limits on civil recognition of name changes in relation to changing one’s name to a roman numeral or to a racial epithet. In such cases, it is important to remember that if you are functioning at civil law, you are a subject of the state and under state jurisdiction. But at common law, everything is under your unlimited jurisdiction. “The ordinary King’s Court … exercised a jurisdiction limited in fact only by the king’s will” (Perry 139) and “it had unlimited jurisdiction” (Common-Law Pleading and Practice: Its History and Principles, by R. Ross Perry, p.139 038; 28). This is the power and freedom of common law. Again, those limits practiced are in civil law suits only, and do not function in a common law suit.
If one did pursue a civil suit one must understand that one is typically then subject to follow civil law in such cases. Though of course, one may invoke common law at any time regardless:
“The people of this State, as the successors of its former sovereign, are entitled to all the rights which formerly belonged to the King by his prerogative.” [Lansing v. Smith, 4 Wend. 9 (N.Y.) (1829), 21 Am.Dec. 89 10C Const. Law Sec. 298; 18 C Em.Dom. Sec. 3, 228; 37 C Nav.Wat. Sec. 219; Nuls Sec. 167; 48 C Wharves Sec. 3, 7.]
“To presume that a sovereign forever waives the right to exercise one of its powers unless it expressly reserves the right to exercise that power in a commercial agreement turns the concept of sovereignty on its head.” [Merrion et al., DBA Merrion & Bayless, et al. v. Jicarilla Apache Tribe et al. (1982) 455 U.S. 130, 102 S. Ct. 894, 71 L. Ed. 2d 21, 50 U.S.L.W. 4169 pp. 144_148]
Anyway, it is good remember that even if you are functioning at civil law, you never give up the right to function at any time as a sovereign at common law.
Okay, let’s get to it and examine these cases.
In the case of Lindon v. First National Bank (1882), 10 F. 894, a woman who had changed her last name to one that was not her husbands original surname name at birth, was trying to claim control over her inheritance. The court ruled in her favor, “At common law a man may change his name, and he is bound by any contract into which he may enter in his adopted or reputed name, and by his known and recognized name he may sue and be sued.” Thus, by common law, one may lawfully change their name and be “known and recognized” by that new name. Also, one may enter into any kinds of contracts in their new adopted name. Contracts include employment (See Coppage v. Kansas (1915) 236 US 1). And one can be recognized legally in court in their new name.
In the next case, In re McUlta (1911), 189 F. 250, 26 A.B.R. 480, the ruling states that even if a civil court is granted permission, by statute, to change a name by petition and decree, this does “not change the common law rule that a man may lawfully change his name at will and will be bound by any contract into which he enters under his adopted or reputed name, and that he may sue and be sued in that name.” So, explicitly, we can understand that a common law name change carries the same legal weight as a court decreed name change. In this passage is also the use of the wording “at will”—this is precisely what common law allows—no court issued order of name change is required. The name change is done “at will.” As shown elsewhere in this site, you do not need a civil court issued name change at common law, because at common law, you are the court, you are the king or queen in your court, and by your “will” you decree that your name is changed, and it is thus legally done. In this case, a certain person moved from New York State to Pennsylvania, by common law, at will, assumed the name of “J. D. McUlta,” and then went bankrupt after several years of doing business in that new name. This case is also an example that a person’s name is really irrelevant in regards to the person, for it only indicates the person — your name and other idica of self are thus possessions you have total control over. Your certain presence and the truth of your word are all that matters at common law:
This exception charges the bankrupt with fraud in obtaining the goods and merchandise purchased, in that he did not inform his creditors of his right name, and therefore he did not obtain title to the goods which he claims as exempt. We dismiss this exemption. A name is used merely to designate a person or thing. It is the mark or indica to distinguish him from other persons, and that is as far as the law looks. In re Snook, supra; Rich v. Mayer (City Ct. N. Y.) 7 N. Y. Sup. 69, 70. They are merely used as means of indicating identity of persons. Meyer v. Indiana National Bank 27 Ind. App. 354, 61 N. E. 596. There is nothing in the evidence to show that any fraud was committed by the bankrupt in purchasing the goods. They were sold to him under his assumed name (the creditors never knew until after the institution of bankruptcy proceedings and the adjudication, that the bankrupt was doing business under an assumed name;) and he took title of the goods and could have disposed of them under his assumed name and given a good title to the same. Credit in this case was given to the man—not the name—and that man was J. D. McUlta.
Name indicates the person; it is not, by law, the person. So if you already know a specific person, and an aspect or aspects of that person change or evolve over time, this is inconsequential. Furthermore, this federal case makes clear that, without any civil court authorization, by common law one may legally assume and thus change their name, their “indica,” “at will.” Also see California Civil Code § 1798.92(c) concerning types of indica. This next case, Christianson v. King County (1912) 196 F. 791, 36 S.Ct. 114, 239 U.S. 356, 60 L.Ed. 327 made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and was affirmed by them. In this case, an immigrant from Norway, by common law, changed his name. The case predominately revolved around a land dispute regarding the descendants of the said person. The court speaks here of one’s “assumed” name-that it is one’s legal name. “A man may lawfully change his name without resorting to legal proceedings, and for all purposes the name assumed by him will constitute his legal name.” Very clearly here, the name a person assumes as theirs, it is their legal name. The court proclaims here that an at will name change carries the exact same legal weight as that of a civil court ordered name change.
To clarify intent, in the next case United States v. McKay (1924) 2 F.2d 257, a couple who’d assumed different names than their birth names were illegally selling liquor out of their home during the Prohibition. The warrant issued to search their premises was made out using their new name of McKay, but the accused tried to get out of being prosecuted due to that it was issued under their assumed names. In response, the court affirmed:
Under the common law a man can change his name at will, provided it is not done with a fraudulent purpose; he may sue and be sued by such adopted name, and will be bound by any contract into which he enters in his adopted name. [And this] is not abrogated by the fact that a procedure is provided by statute for the change of one’s name.
Here again, is the conclusion that the common law carries the same legal weight as a civil court ordered name change. The ruling concludes also that one’s name is fairly irrelevant, unless deception is involved, and that one may change and enter into any kinds of contracts under one’s newly chosen name.
In the case of Jech v. Burch (1979) 466 F.Supp. 714, some parents had given their newborn child a last name that was not their own. A friend of the parents did not think this was right and went to court over it. The court affirmed their common law right to choose any name they wished. Particularly, the court touched upon the morality and constitutionality of this right:
…a proper interpretation of Anglo-American political and legal history and precedent leads to the conclusion that parents have a common law right to give their child any name they wish, and that the Fourteenth Amendment protects this right from arbitrary state action. …
The common experience of mankind, whether parents agonizing over a name for their newborn child, or grandparents trying to participate in the naming process, or grown children living with the names their parents gave them, points up to the universal importance to each individual of his own very personal label. Every society has developed a special folklore around a person’s name. One’s name becomes a symbol for one’s self.
Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls;
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.
W. Shakespeare. Othello Act III, Sc. 3, Line 155 (1604)
The “Blessings of Liberty” mentioned in the preamble of the Constitution include time honored rights, amenities, privileges, and immunities, among which is autonomous control over the development and expression of one’s intellect, interests, tastes, and personality. See Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179, 93 S.Ct. 739, 35 L.Ed.2d 201 (1973) (concurring opinion of Douglas J., at 210-211, 93 S.Ct. 739). The naming of one’s own child comes within this catalogue of blessings of liberty.
And likewise, the naming of the self. This case directly expounds that this common law right is part of the “Blessings of Liberty” that the U.S. Constitution protects and that specifically the Fourteenth Amendment aids in protecting people from intolerant policies in this matter. The 14th Amendment specifically relates to government behavior at civil law, and equal protection under it; clearly this ruling also indicates the inclusion and protection of this common law right under such amendment. Furthermore, the wording “of universal importance” speaks of how truly this right to determine one’s name is a very human right, applicable to all. This protection of the law must be honored; none are to ‘robbed’ of this right “of universal importance,” “of that which … enriches [them]”— this right, at will, to freely choose their “own very personal label”— their name.
So thus far we have learned that common law name changes are a constitutional right and that at common law, your word is equal to that of a civil court order. The next few cases we shall examine reveal several things. First, that one may have multiple names and identities in which one conducts one’s life. Secondly, as such, all records of one’s name and names do not need to be in perfect alignment in one’s life and dealings with others. Thirdly, it is the right of each individual to control the use of these their names and identities, chosen or otherwise, in their personal and business lives. As these things are true, one may conclude that they might have a social security card and birth certificate in one name, but conduct their business and personal lives in any number of other names. They might even have a driver’s licence in a even another name.
In the case California Packing Corp. v. Kandarian (1923) 62 Cal. App. 729, a person had signed a contract for some goods using a name that did not appear to be his own. The court ruled that the contract was valid. “Without abandoning his real name, a person may adopt any name, style, or signature wholly different from his own by which he may transact business, execute contracts, issue negotiable paper, and sue and be sued.” From this, one can completely live their life, especially financially, in any name or names they chose. One might get caught up in the statement “real name” and reason that someone only has one name that is their true name. This is a difficult argument in the light of In re McUlta in which we read that, “A name is used merely to designate a person or thing. It is the mark or indica to distinguish him from other persons, and that is as far as the law looks.” Thus understood, the concept itself of “real name” is more or less irrelevant in so “far as the law looks.” Other cases as we shall see further reveal the right to control multiple legal names.
The next case is Abdul-Jabbar v. General Motors Corporation, 85 F.3rd 407 (9th Cir. 1996), in which the basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sued the GMC for using his former name in one of their commercials. This case particularly reveals that the common law right to control one’s own name and identity is very much alive and well. Frequent references are made to the common law rights of Abdul-Jabbar throughout this case. In this case the court ruled in Abdul-Jabbar’s favor saying that just because he ceased using his birth name for 10 years to that point, did not mean that he had abandoned control over it and its use. Specifically the court said:
An individual’s decision to use a name other than their birth name—whether the decision rests on religious, marital, or other personal considerations—does not therefore imply intent to set aside the birth name, or the identity associated with that name.
Lucidly here, one may have control over the use of multiple names and identities that they have and have had. Furthermore, the case explicitly speaks of injury, both economic and emotional, that others do not have the right to use aspects of one’s identity such as one of their names without their permission, as such non-approved use by another may cause the person injury. And “injury … is not limited to present or future economic loss, but ‘may induce humiliation, embarrassment, and mental distress.’ Waits, 978 F.2d at 1103 (quotations omitted).” So, in one’s economic matters, one has control of their identities and how they are used. Others, individuals, governments, and other institutions, do not have the right to publically choose which identity they will use in any aspects of someone’s economic and social life, but especially their economic life. “Social life” is included in the previous sentence in that “humiliation” and “embarrassment” are aspects which are very much a part of one’s social life. And so as one may have and be in control of the use of multiple names and associated identities, all records in all places cannot be and will not be in perfect alignment with each other.
In the next case of Touchton v. Dover Corp./Rotary Lift Div., 319 F.Supp2d 1290 (N.D.Ala. 2004), Chris Touchton sued a company for recovery of his attorney’s fees. Of significance here in that Mr. Touchton, a single person, sued using the name “Chris Touchton d/b/a Touchton Enterprises Inc.” and the court ruled that this was fine: “Absent a statute to the contrary, an individual has the right to be known by any name that he chooses, and a judgement entered for or against that individual in either an assumed or a trade name is valid.” Hence, a person may be known by multiple chosen names and that choice of names is theirs to make, and neither the courts nor anyone else can force them otherwise, unless a civil statute deems so (as shown if filing a suit specifically at common law, such restrictions do not apply).
Of such statutes, the next case speaks of how some particular California statutes are actually enacted as an “affirmation” of the common law right. In re Useldinger 35 Cal.App.2d 723 (1939) reads:
The common-law right to change one’s name has not been abrogated by statute in this state and such change may be accomplished without resorting to legal proceedings, and as sections 1275 to 1279, inclusive, of the Code of Civil Procedure were enacted in affirmation of that right and for the purpose of establishing a change of name as a matter of record.
Lucidly here, it is pronounced that these codes were “enacted in affirmation of that [common-law] right.” The procedural codes are merely for recording purposes. By the common law, the only proof that is needed is one’s honest word, not a civil court order. This particular case concerned a man who had gone by a different name than his birth name since age 12 and now at age 25 wanted to establish a more permanent record of it.
More than 14 years before the filing of the petition petitioner had exercised his legal right to change his name to James J. Britt. Thereafter petitioner had consistently used and had been generally known by the last-mentioned name and it constituted petitioner’s “legal name just as much as if he had borne it from birth”. (Ray v. American Photo Player Co., supra, p. 314) The purpose of the petitioner in filing this proceeding was to establish a legal record of that which he had already legally done many years before.
So, simply giving one’s word, by the common law stands as being of equal validity as one’s birth name. And it stands legally, as if one “had borne it from birth.” No proof is required, no civil court order, no marriage certificate, no driver’s licence or social security card. Again, by cases such as In re McUlta 189 F. 250, which is similar to this, name is basically irrelevant in so far as the law is concerned, the person and their self-determination and will for how they live their life is all that matters. You are the sovereign court at common law, and your word is the court order. The statutes are just to make a record of it. This also brings into question any sort of weight to the term, “real name,” as the name one assumes is one’s name as if they had borne it from birth.
It is also worthy to mention that in the state case In re Marriage of Banks (1974) 42 Cal.App.3d 631 the civil courts also ruled that:
Code Civ. Proc., §§ 1275-1279, were enacted in affirmation of the common law right of a person to change his name without initiating legal proceedings and for the purpose of providing for the establishment of a change of name as a matter of record.
This makes it even more crystal clear that changing one’s name is actually a matter ONLY of common law, the common law is the legal name change. The civil court procedure just makes it recorded, if that person desires it to be recorded. The federal case of Brooks Bros. V. Brooks Clothing of California (1945) 60 F.Supp. 442 affirms this:
It should be added that in California a person may without judicial proceeding, change his name, and acquire property and do business under it. Ray v. American Photo Player Co., 1920, 46 Cal.App.311, 189 P. 130; In re Useldinger, 1939, 35 Cal.App.2d 723, 96 P.2d. 958.
Statute is simply to have a public record of it, and it is not prerequisite for legally changing one’s name. The codes are “in affirmation of that [common-law] right” and not to hinder it. If someone asks for proof of the change from you, and they are quite certain of who you are, you need only inform them of the common law right and truly they should accommodate. As an example, there is likely nothing wrong with anyone, an individual or institution may have a “policy” of asking for proof of your change of name or other changes to your identity, but if before them invoke the common law — it is the law and they are required, especially in business matters, to change it in accordance with your will of how you wish to be represented. Otherwise, they are breaking the law.
In the case of United States v. Mount, 757 F.2d 1315 (1995), someone was accused of making a false statement about their chosen name when they applied for a passport. The civil court ruled that the burden of proof of a common law name change is not legally upon the one who has changed their name.
Where use of a false name is charged, the prosecution must show, first that the name was not, in fact, the defendant’s name, and second, that the defendant assumed the name for a fraudulent purpose. See United States v. Cox, 593 F.2d 46 (6th Cir.1979).
Essentially, the burden of proof is not upon one who has chosen a new name, but the one who questions their honesty. And if they do question that honesty, they must show both that it is not, “in fact” their name, but also, and perhaps more importantly, that they have changed it so to engage in fraud. If you, as the king or queen in your court decree it, then it is so, unless someone can tell you otherwise and prove you have decreed it out of fraud.
United States v. Cox, 593 F.2d 46 (1979) was a very similar case as someone was accused of making a false statement in application for a U.S. passport. When the passport agency went to do their research on whether the name was correct, they found that the person had been going by several other names than the new one they had put on their passport application, and so they accused the person of making a false statement. The higher court that made the final ruling said that though the passport agency did find proof that the person was using other names—they had no proof of fraud regarding the person’s free right to choose, by common law, whatever name they will.
In summary, at common law, you are the court, you speak to others what your name is and thus it legally is changed. You can go by multiple names all of them perfectly legal as long as you are not involved in fraud, and the burden of proof of the change or chosen designation is never upon you, but only upon those around you, if they question it. And even if they do question it and find discrepancies, they can only really challenge the change if they additionally have proof of fraud. Perhaps they find that your social security card and the name you give them, or perhaps the name on your driver’s licence do not match, they are still obligated to change or accept the name you have given to them — so that they will, thus, not misrepresent you in the various manners you choose to present and conduct yourself in your business and personal affairs.