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  1. #1

    Default Reasons for "Black Sheep" Changing Their Name

    My grandfather changed his name and I wondered is there any information available as the reason someone might do this?

    He was originally called George Jolley (born 1894 to John Jolley a Zinc Worker) but on George's marriage certificate to my grandmother in 1917 he calls himself Arthur Smith (with his father shown as John Smith a Zinc Worker).

    My cousin (we share the same grandmother) told me that her father remembers my grandfather being labelled as "the black sheep of the family" - but no details as to why he had earned that title.

    On his marriage certificate he shows himself as a "Tube Drawer" (in the gun industry) so I hope there was nothing sinister!! ...but if there was then so be it.

    We originally thought that my grandfather changed his name because he had deserted the Army - however a very helpful member here (Retlaw) found my grandfather's army papers which showed he was discharged as "medically unfit" on 29/9/1914.

    Any thoughts as to why people changed their name would be grateful and did they have to do it by deed poll and if so how could that be traced? Thank you.

  2. #2
    Loves to help with queries Kiltpin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
    The Highlands of Norfolk, England


    Debt is the usual reason - "Jimmy Smith? Not me guv - I'm Johnie Jones!"

    But I do have a great, great, great, grand father who changed his name because of adultery, which shortly became bigamy in the next county.



  3. #3


    Thank you Kiltpin - I hadn't thought of debt! ....since my grandfather was only 23 (or younger) when he changed his name seems so young to be in debt, if he'd been older I could understand - but quite possible. His sister had a booking shop - maybe he gambled a lot.

    (He was good at working out bets - all the local folk used to come to him to work out their winnings so that they could get the correct amount form the bookmaker.) Thank you again

  4. #4


    Have you checked the old newspapers of the time? G's always possible that he was up in court for something, and wanted to put it all behind him..
    There's dozens of other reasons, all just speculation unless there's a paper trail!

  5. #5
    Brick wall demolition expert!
    Join Date
    Sep 2005


    The National Archives have a research guide which might answer some of your questions:

  6. #6


    Thank you Lesley - i did google the newspaper archives but it didn't bring anything up in particular but I might take another look some time!

  7. #7


    Thank you for that very helpful link Megan!

  8. #8


    We have two in our family that changed their name, both because they were marrying while still already married. one of them was young - in his twenties when he disappeared from his first wife and moved across the country to find another one. He then left that one and moved abroad before finding the third one. Each time he had a different surname to marry
    Sadly, our dear friend Ann (alias Ladkyis) passed away on Thursday, 26th. December, 2019.
    Footprints on the sands of time

  9. #9


    Thank you Ladkyis - I am unsure whether that would apply in my grandfather's case since he never moved very far from the street where he was born! unlikely. Also his step-children knew his parents, so there must have been some contact with his previous family who lived close by.

    My guess is that he possibly did something underhand regarding money and so changed his name to avoid that, but I doubt I will ever know.

  10. #10
    Starting to feel at home
    Join Date
    Mar 2016


    Given the date he was discharged being a mere three months into the first world war it could be possible that the family simply did not believe he was discharged medically and castigated him for desertion. Depending on how strongly they felt he may have changed his name to avoid that tie - although service was still voluntary until 1916 so I don,t see why that would be as big an issue.

    Aside from that debt or other bad rep. Or because they didn't like their name - unfortunately there was no real record of it then


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