Namespace update

May 14th, 2008 by Stian

OK, as suspected I’m not very good in updating my blog.. To give you a quick brief, I am now happily married, and I have changed my name. Or at least I’m trying to. Let’s start with my original name, as given to me by my parents:

  • Stian Søiland

Now as a side note, my dad’s grandfather changed his surname from Søyland to Søiland when he moved to Stavanger, probably to make it sound a bit more posh, as Søyland is a rural area.

I’ve done something similar, if you know me from the Internet, my name is:

  • Stian Soiland

Within United Kingdom one needs to make it perfectly clear that I’m not a nobility or a professor:

  • Mr Stian Soiland

Those companies who keeps sending me bills are polite enough to keeps my first name a secret and to show how well their IBM System/36 machines can process 5-bit names:


The airlines would need to send this through a couple of Telex machines, transforming my name to:


This is still quite good compared to once when I bought a ticket from an Norwegian airline using my proper name, and something broke down in the Latin1->UTF8->Latin1->EBCDIC->ASCII loop:


Woh, look at all those names!

Now that we are married we decided to change our names, and after careful consideration we agreed on the double-barrelled surname Soiland-Reyes. There are many good reasons for this particular choice:

  • By Mexican traditions, given our original names, our kids would get the surname Soiland Reyes, a combination of my father’s surname and my wife’s father’s surname. (Or my wife’s father’s father’s surname, if you want).
  • The hyphen should to some extent avoid us appearing as Mrs Soiland or Mr Reyes in various systems. (This technique is already used by some Mexicans in UK to avoid them getting addressed by the mother’s surname only)
  • Avoiding the Ø makes the name easier to use internationally – we are after all a Norwegian-Mexican couple living in UK
  • It sounds nice
  • It’s very modern.. or posh

Now just to make this clear, we’re not really following any particular traditions:

  • Mexicans don’t change their surname when they marry
  • In England usually only the wife changes her name
  • Norway is kind of similar to England, except it’s getting common these days to either just keep the old names, or to take the spouse’s surname as a middle name – kind of exchanging surnames. (This still leaves the question open about what surnames the kids get)

So how do I get about in changing my name? Well, traditionally in Norway this is quite a straight-forward process, as there is a National ID registry, Folkeregisteret (literally: people registry). In Norway basically everybody, from the tax man and banks, insurance companies and health service, all the way down to mobile phone and cable TV subscriptions, require your personal ID number, personnummer.

This number is assigned when you are born, or when you move into the country, and is simply your 6-digit birthdate, ddmmyy, and 5 identifier digits (to separate the individuals born on the same day). Well, that’s not totally true, the two last digits are actually checksum digits, so there’s only 3 digits to identify the person. Not true again, as the first digit is limited to 000–499 for people like me born in 19xx. (Since the century is not part of the birthdate). Well.. and the third digit is even (0,2,4,6,8) for females and odd (1,3,5,7,9) for men. (So that means there is room for a maximum of about 250 boys born on the same day. Not a problem yet for Norway..)

Just to summarise with an example:

241279 15365

For the (roughly) 76th boy (76*2+1=153) born 24th of December 1979 (153 is within 000-499, so 19th century), with a checksums of the previous digits being 6 and 5 – the last checksum includes the first in its calculation for improved security. I wonder why there isn’t a third and fourth checksum?

Well, the idea is that since everybody uses this number as your identifier, they can look up your name and address in the ID registry, and in theory all I need to do for them to pick up my new name is fill in and send a form to the ID registry requesting a name change. Yes, it’s requesting, not reporting, as there are rules about valid names in Norway. For instance I can’t change my surname to something that is used by less than 200 people, unless it’s a new surname I invented, or you are getting married to someone with that name, or you have a letter of support from each of the persons currently holding that surname. Oh, and Jesus is not a valid first name either. (Keikoburger is allowed, though).

Puh! Or – at least – this is what the rules used to be. I’m not quite sure what they are now, but as there are only 197 with the surname Reyes in Norway (and probably a few hundred thousands in Mexico), that’s just below the limit, so I played safe and attached a copy of our wedding certificate with my form for the name change. I think I had to let them know I was married anyway. I was not quite sure if I was to sign with my old or new signature, so I think I did both.

However, that’s not how it ended. It turns out the national ID registry is only allowed to change name of people who live in Norway, and as I currently live in UK, that doesn’t include me. Well, is that really a problem? I’m not paying tax to Norway or using my Norwegian bank accounts much. I don’t believe my student loan would disappear overnight because they didn’t get my new name.

Ah, I’ll tell you, my passport is Norwegian, and that’s currently the only valid ID I have in UK, and also it tends to be the what those airport people want to look at when I check in. So I guess I shouldn’t change the name of my credit cards and book airline tickets in my new name yet. To change the name in the passport, as with everything else in Norway, the passport authorities asks me to do this through the National ID registry.

OK, so I asked the registry how I get them to update my name, and they said what I needed to do was to first change my name in the country where I was resident, and then send them a proof from the the authorities of that country that I had changed my name. If I am not allowed by law to change my name in that country, I would need to send a letter from the (for me British) authorities explaining why, for instance if they had a rule that foreigners had to change their names at home. (I’m sure Norway has such a rule, just to make it difficult. I wonder if that one has a similar clause: If you are not allowed to change in your home country, then write to the UN).

So I should go to the authorities of name changes in UK to get this done.. presumably the naïve Norwegians think there’s a UK National ID registry with a similar scheme as in Norway. Luckily this is not yet the case, although they are trying. How do you change your name in the UK? Well, at first glance the procedure is quite straight-forward:

  1. Start using your new name

I have to say, there’s something charmingly attracting with the low-profile bureaucracy of this country. Well, it’s unfortunately not quite that simple, as I have to go to every authority and company I’ve been dealing with, like the tax authorities, the gas company, telephone company, my employer, etc, and inform them about my name change.

Some of the companies just happily updates their records, but others, like my bank, are a bit more reluctant, as they want some kind of proof that I really intend to keep the new name and no longer use the old one. After all, I might owe them money, and they don’t want to waste time hunting me down by my old name. “No, sorry, Mr Soiland doesn’t live here any more.”

As a side note – since this blog post is already long enough for a book chapter – as UK don’t have the luxury of a primary key such as the Norwegian personal ID number, what is your identity in the UK? Well, it’s a kind of combination of:

  • Your surname
  • Your title (Mr/Miss/Mrs, etc)
  • Your full postal address
  • Your first name
  • Your date of birth
  • Your previous postal addresses for the last two years

The lower down the list you go, the more authoritative. So “Soiland” is enough for ordering a taxi, while my date of birth is needed to buy an insurance. If I apply for a credit card I need to go all the way down.

You might be asked to prove your identity. Proving your name and date of birth is through the usual ways, like a driving licence or birth certificate. In UK the driving licence also includes your current address, so you can get quite far down the list.

However, when the companies wants to be really, really sure about who you are, like when you open a current account in a bank, they also ask you for a second proof of address. Like.. a gas bill! What if you don’t have gas installed? Well, though for you.

Funnily enough I didn’t need to send any proof of ID to get a new credit card from a company I’ve never dealt with before, but when I wanted a new account with a bank I’m already a customer with, I had to send in my original gas statements, photo-copy of driving licence, etc.

I still think this is somewhat better than a national ID card.. I’ve seen in Norway how anyone really thrust you must be you, since you happened to know those 11 digits – that you keep giving away to more and more organisations.

So, back to name changes in UK. Traditionally a woman who changes her name after marriage just needs to bring her marriage certificate to the bank so they can update their records, but if you are changing your name for another reason you can do what is called a deed poll. A deed poll is kind of like a one-man contract where you just make a public statement, kind of like:

I hereby declare that I, previously known as Stian Soiland, am now to be known by the name Stian Soiland-Reyes.

But of course not those exact words, it should be a bit more formal, proper Shakespearian English. In addition to your signature, the statement need to be signed by a witness, signed and possibly even sealed. Legally any adult would do, but of course the lawyers say you should do this through them so they can charge you. Well, actually it’s not the only way, another one is to just print it as a notice in a major newspaper, and bring the newspaper to the bank. Yes, really. I don’t know if anyone has tried this, though.

So there are no naming authority in UK, you just change name with all the organisations you care about, preferably at the same time so they can’t claim you changed your name to avoid trouble. But I am already in trouble, because I don’t want to change my name with the bank when I don’t have a valid ID with my new name on – what if I need to manually withdraw my money? (To be fair, I could technically bring my passport and my marriage certificate, but still!).

I talked to the Norwegian embassy in London, and they said that to pass the rules I just have to write a letter to the ID registry stating that in UK there is no naming authority, and that I would still like to change my name, please. So that’s what I’ll be doing pretty soon. Oh, but they want the original wedding certificate, which I don’t want to send away as then I can’t go around doing my name changes in the UK. They said I could send a certified copy instead.

Now, here’s yet another culture crash between the countries, for Norwegians a certified copy means that you have shown the copy with the original to someone working at a government office, and that they stamp the copy to verify that it’s a true copy. While in UK as far as I know you can verify a copy yourself by simply writing on the copy, I confirm that this is a certified copy of the passport of Fred Bloggs, and that I have compared both original and copy….yada yada, and sign it. To make it more official, any “trustworthy person” can do this, including a GP, teacher, member of parliament, nurse, police man, etc.

I have a backup plan. Don’t worry. Under EEA rules, which I love more and more, I am entitled to exchange my Norwegian driving licence to a British one provided by DVLA, the driving authorities if you want. Once I’ve done that, I can inform DVLA of my new name, and tada – I have a British photo ID with my new name. I asked them about this, and it is even possible to do it all in one go, so it should only take a few weeks. The only sad thing is that I would lose my Norwegian driving licence, which in addition to my passport is the only thing I have to prove my magical 11 digits to Norwegians.

Well! Just to cheat, I’ve started using my new name for unofficial stuff, even if I’ve not gone through with all of this yet. So my new name for any practical purposes:

  • Stian Soiland-Reyes

I’m still collecting samples of how this looks after going through various systems, Amazon seems to do it properly, while DVLA use “MR STIAN SOILANDREYES”. Another mail order company had used a simplified capitalisation algorithm and sent a letter to “Stian Soiland-reyes”.

I’ve updated my email address to stian {} – and as you might not yet notice, my passive blog has moved to our family domain name as well. If you send me emails to my old name or address, I might politely remind you of my new details. Just to annoy you. If you want the same right – get married. Or do that deed poll. I can be your witness.. or are you saying I’m not a trustworthy person?

For my wife it’s a totally different story I won’t go into, but it’s sufficient to say that in Mexico people generally can’t change their name, and also that the Mexicans assume everybody always have both a mother’s last name and a father’s last name. (Which could make it look like her father is called Soiland!). And if we get kids, they might in Mexico get the surname Soiland-Reyes Soiland-Reyes..

Posted in Bureaucracy, Norway, UK

4 Responses

  1. Morten Brekkevold

    Congrats on becoming a married man, Stian :-)

    Interesting reading about all the crazy obstacles to changing your name; can’t say I had any problems changing to a compound surname after I got married. But then again, I still live in Norway, and no-one else was using Brekkevold as surname :)

    The only minor hassle was that Norwegian credit card companies don’t update from the National ID Registry based on your personal ID number, so I needed to mail them a copy of my name change certificate.


  2. Graham Gregory

    Dear Stian,

    We Brits have the same problems in proving our identity. I recently wanted to open a new bank account over the internet with a mainstream bank and although I already had an account with them, they wanted fresh proof that I am who I say I am. I took my passport and a utility bill to the local police station and the uniformed officer on duty did me the service of putting the official police station stamp on copies of each plus his own signature, certifying they were true copies of the originals (as required by the bank). He spent about 10 – 15 minutes making the copies, filling in the accompanying form etc etc and I thought what a thorough job had been done. But no! Two weeks later the bank tell me they can’t accept the copies as true because the policeman had written his occupation as Charge Officer instead of Police Officer. Have you ever heard of anything so absurd?

    Anyway, with the weak £ and strong Nkr I’m now looking to open an account with a Norwegian Bank with a UK branch and keep all my cash in krone. Got no-where so far searching the internet. Any suggestions?

    Best wishes.

  3. Tracy

    Geez, how’d I even get to this article. Oh yeah, through google, on a quest for ‘css no frames’! Well, I don’t know y’all, but congrats on your marriage!! Living in the US, this made for a very interesting read. The only time I’ve ever heard of ppl using surnames, is if they’re a celebrity and get married… or if they’re some sort of professional and want to keep their current last name in addition to their married name, for business reasons. I’ve just never heard of a guy going through any name changes due to a marriage. Whew! What a mess! I sure hope it smooths out for you so y’all can live ‘happily ever after’! :) Oh, and thanks for the “Emulating frames with CSS”! I appreciate the help! :)

    God Bless, <– I like the part of not being able to use ‘Jesus’ as a first name… LOL!

  4. Stian Soiland-Reyes » Blog Archive » The curious case of Steve Rice

    [...] it – a new blog posting from Stian. By pure coincidence related to earlier postings about pizza and names. Mainly written on my sturdy Nokia N80 telecommunication device while on the road, carefully [...]

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