Teens as young as 15 are legally changing their names, say lawyers

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) receives some 6,600 requests for names to be changed every year.

And while it used to be mainly popular among newly-married women adopting their husbands' surnames, more teens - some as young as 15 - are appearing at lawyers' offices with their parents in tow to have their names changed by deed poll.

The process is relatively simple.

A lawyer prepares the document, which declares that you will stop using your former name and start using your new chosen name. If you are below 21, consent from both parents is required.

Once signed, the deed poll will allow you to have a new IC and passport made in the new name.

Mr Maurice Oon, a lawyer who has specialised in preparing deed polls since 1990, has seen a definite increase in the number of requests for deed polls in recent years.

Mr Oon, 51, says: "It's popular for teens to add a Western name before taking their O or A levels. The certificates will then reflect their new name so as to save the inconvenience of having to explain the discrepancy later on."

Lawyer Eben Ong receives at least a thousand such requests at his office every year, and the number is growing. About a quarter of them are minors, he says.

"I think it's because people are more aware that they can change their names now," he says.

Why would one want to change one's name? The reasons can be as varied as the chosen names themselves.

Mr Ong says that many of his clients choose to change the Chinese characters in their names for auspicious reasons.

Mr Oon himself changed his name legally when he was 20.

Formerly Oon Beng Hui, he decided to name himself after Bee Gees member Maurice Gibb.

Some, like him, choose to adopt the names of their favourite celebrities.

"But they rarely admit it," says Mr Oon wryly. "Andy is a very popular name right now, but whenever I ask if it is because of Andy Lau, they almost always deny it."

While Western names like Elizabeth and Daniel are popular, he has seen people take on quirky names like Sephrenia and Frayzer.

The ICA generally does not restrict name choices unless the chosen name is offensive or falsely implies that the bearer has a title like "Datuk", "Dr" or "Sir", says a spokesman.

Mr Oon has also seen new citizens from Myanmar adopt Chinese names to better assimilate into Singapore society. Sometimes, a family will change their names together before moving here.

Transgender clients usually opt to change their names after they have had sex reassignment surgery, he says.

Others simply hate their given names, or were given unfortunate names that invited ridicule.

Mr Oon recalls one client whose Chinese name sounded like the Hokkien term for male genitalia.

He says: "I don't think his parents were Hokkien, or they would not have given him this name."

Mr Oon says that client was 50 when he changed his name. He had endured harsh teasing but did not do so earlier out of respect for his parents. When they died, he went to get the name changed.

Mr Aaron Yang Wen Jie, 26, officially added 'Aaron' to his IC last year.

"My parents have been addressing me by this name, but they forgot to add it in during my birth registration," he jokes.

He made the decision on his own and informed his parents only later on. But if his children wanted to change their names, Mr Yang would be reluctant to consent.

"I would say no, but ultimately it is their choice," he says.

This article was published on May 4 in The New Paper.

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