Skywalker and Queens Park Rangers: Passport problems for 'wacky' names

Luke Skywalker, Passports, Queens Park Rangers Image copyright AP/LUCASFILM/GETTY
Image caption Names inspired by Luke Skywalker and Queens Park Rangers have caused passport problems

What do Luke Skywalker, Pudsey Bear and Queens Park Rangers all have in common? The answer: They have all been refused a passport.

They are also all examples of names which people have officially adopted or added by deed poll in the last few years.

Despite being able to get other official documents altered, including driving licences and bank accounts, those who have changed their names have had their passport applications rejected.

Her Majesty's Passport Office says it will not issue a passport in a name which breaches copyright law or which undermines the integrity of the British passport.

Image caption Laura "Skywalker" Matthews ran into difficulty when she tried to renew her passport with her extra name

Laura Elizabeth Skywalker Matthews, 29, added her extra middle name in 2008 "for a bit of fun".

"The process was really simple, and I'd never had any problems getting official documents with my new name, or using my L. Skywalker signature," she said.

But when she went to renew her passport earlier this year, she was told her signature "infringed a trademark".

"When I looked, I couldn't find a trademark for L. Skywalker," said Miss Matthews, who lives in Southend.

"It's a signature, not a printed name, and I'm not a good or service which is the dictionary definition of a trademark. So I wanted proof."

When she was asked to send off a disclaimer, which she described as "very scary", she was asked to confirm she did not need authority from the trademark's owner to use it.

After contacting a law firm specialising in intellectual property law, and threatening to take legal action against the Passport Office, Miss Matthews was issued with her passport.

Image caption The Passport Office initially said Miss Matthew's signature infringed a trademark, but later issued a passport

But Miss Matthews is not alone with her passport problems.

Mike Barratt, the chief executive officer of UK Deed Poll Service, said he has heard of similar cases before.

"We had a family once, a man who changed his name to Queens Park Rangers, and his son did too. The Passport Office refused to issue them with passports and said they were violating a trademark.

"What's the problem with being called Queens Park Rangers?"

Image caption Mike Barratt said his company issues 60,000 deed polls each year

What's in a name?

•The Passport Office refused to renew the passport of Mathew Whelan, Britain's most tattooed man, when he changed his name to King of Ink Land King Body Art The Extreme Ink-Ite, as reported by the Birmingham Mail in February

•Shahid Iqbal, 54, claims racial prejudice drove him to change his name. Now called Richard Brown and in charge of his own business, he said his customers admitted if they had known he was Asian, they would not have given him a chance

•Birmingham pub football team Lynam Athletic hit national headlines after the players changed their names to famous stars in a bid to improve their fortunes

Image caption Changing your name by deed poll can be done through an agency or through the Ministry of Justice

Mr Barratt said his company screens every application, and does not allow name changes that would be offensive, blasphemous or misleading.

He finds the passport office's decisions on trademarks "disturbing", and would like to see someone seek a judicial review of the Passport Office's policy.

"How on earth there can be an infringement of a trademark when you're not trading is beyond me," he said.

"A lot of people have died in this country for the freedoms that we have. One of those is that we're entitled to be known by the name that we choose."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Ned Rocknroll, married to actress Kate Winslet, is one famous face to have changed his name by deed poll

Patricia Collis, a trademark attorney with Bristow LLP in London, said the Passport Office's rules around trademarks were "unclear".

"The agency says it can't be sure if a name change will be used for commercial gain. But trademark law already has a mechanism to deal with that," she said.

"The approach is haphazard and dependent on how individuals interpret the policy.

"The key thing here is that just having a passport is not infringing a trademark," she added.

"You would need to be trading to be in violation of a trademark. A passport is just a document."

And it is not just trademarks that have been causing passport problems.

Image caption Raising money for Children in Need lead to Ms de Bont changing her name to Pudsey Bear

In 2009, Eileen de Bont, from Prestatyn in North Wales, changed her name to Pudsey Bear, after raising money for the BBC's Children in Need appeal.

But she was told by the Passport Office her new name was "frivolous", and it could bring the British passport into "disrepute".

"I had already got my driving licence, bank cards and even changed my name by deed poll to Mrs Pudsey Bear, " she said at the time.

"There are lots of pop stars who call their children by wackier names and they manage to get a passport."

In the end, she was issued with a passport in her birth name, but with a note which says "AKA Pudsey Bear" on the next page.

"That's not the outcome I wanted," she said.

"Six years after changing my name, I'm still Pudsey Bear. I've stuck with it for longer than most marriages last."

Image copyright Pudsey Bear
Image caption Pudsey Bear said she was "disappointed" she was not allowed her name on her passport

As part of its guidance around acceptable name changes, the Passport Office says those wishing to use a trademarked name should request the consent of its owner.

But it says in certain circumstances, consent is not needed.

"These are for registered trademark names which are also recognised as normal names.

"For example, William Morrison or William Henry Smith or Paul Smith which are all registered trademarks and normal names at the same time," the guidance says.

Image caption The Passport Office said "it would not recognise a change to a name which is subject to copyright or trademark"

Ms Collis says the Passport Office "is not being clear", and its policy seems to be trying to do different things.

"If officials are going to enforce a rule about 'trademarked' names, they will need to run a check on every application they get.

"At the moment, staff will recognise the trademarks they know, but not the ones they've never heard of. The system seems to be based entirely on what films they like, what products they're aware of.

"From a legal perspective, that's a bit crazy."

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