Guidance for (Acting) Returning Officers administering a UK Parliamentary election in Great Britain

Commonly used names

Where a candidate commonly uses a different name from their actual name, or for elections taking place on or after 2 May 2024, commonly uses their names in a different way to those stated on the nomination paper,  they can ask for this to be used instead of their actual name.1

A candidate can request to use a commonly used forename, surname or both. They may also use initials if they are commonly known by them. 

For example, they may be known by their abbreviated name Andy, rather than their full first name Andrew. In that case, they can write Andy into the commonly used forename box on the nomination form if they would prefer that name to appear on the ballot paper.

A candidate with a hyphenated surname may choose to use one part of their surname if this is how they are commonly known. For example, in the case of Andrew Smith-Roberts, he could use Andrew Roberts or Andrew Smith (if either was the name by which he is commonly known).

However, if a candidate has a title, they can use this as their full name. For example, if the candidate’s actual name is Joseph Smith, but their hereditary title is Joseph Avon, they can use the name Joseph Avon as their full name. 

For elections taking place before 2 May 2024, the legislation makes it clear that a commonly used name is one which, as a forename is different from any other forename (whether the first or middle name) of the candidate or, as a surname is different from any other surname of the candidate. If a candidate wishes to use a commonly used forename, this must be different from their actual forename as it appears on the nomination form. If a candidate wishes to use a commonly used surname, this must be different from their actual surname as it appears on the nomination form. 

For example, in the case of Andrew John Smith, he could not use Andrew Smith as his commonly used name, although he would be able to use Andy Smith (if Andy was the name by which he is commonly known). 

The table below sets out a non-exhaustive list of potential variations for elections taking place before 2 May 2024:

Candidate actual nameCommonly used nameDifferent forename from any other forename or surname from any other surname?Acceptable?
Andrew John Smith-JonesAndrew Smith-JonesNoNo – a commonly used name cannot be used to drop a middle name.
Andrew John Smith-JonesJohn Smith-JonesNoNo – a commonly used name cannot be used to drop a first name.
Andrew John Smith-JonesAndy Smith-JonesYesYes - if Andy was the name by which he is commonly known.
Andrew John Smith-JonesJohnny Smith-JonesYesYes - if Johnny was the name by which he is commonly known.
Andrew John Smith-JonesAndrew John SmithYesYes - a candidate with a hyphenated surname may choose to use one part of their surname if this is how they are commonly known.
Andrew John Smith-JonesAndy JonesYesYes - if Andy was the name by which he is commonly known and a candidate with a hyphenated surname may choose to use one part of their surname if this is how they are commonly known.
Andrew John Smith-JonesAJ Smith-JonesYesYes - if AJ are initials by which he is commonly known. 
Andrew John Smith-JonesAndrew J SmithYesYes - if Andrew J was the name by which he is commonly known and a candidate with a hyphenated surname may choose to use one part of their surname if this is how they are commonly known.

For elections taking place on or after 2 May 2024, in addition to candidates using a commonly used name that is different to their actual name, they can also can use a commonly used forename or surname, if they use one or more of their names as given on their nomination paper, in a different manner. If a candidate is commonly known by some of their names, such as a middle name, they may request to use these names on the ballot paper. For example, if Andrew John Smith-Jones is more commonly known as John Smith-Jones, they can ask for this name to be used.

Decisions on Commonly Used Names

It is not for you to decide whether the commonly used name is a name that the candidate commonly uses or whether it meets the legal requirement that a forename needs to be different from any other forename and a surname needs to be different to from any other surname they may have. The law requires you to take whatever has been entered in the commonly used name box at face value and to accept it as the candidate’s commonly used name.

The only grounds you have in law for rejecting a commonly used name is that you consider that:2  

  • its use may be likely to mislead or confuse electors, or
  • it is obscene or offensive

If, for an election taking place before 2 May 2024,at an informal check stage, you are presented with a nomination form that has been completed in such a way that it appears to you that the commonly used name given is not different from any other forename or surname that the candidate has, you should:

  • draw the candidate’s attention to the legal definition of a commonly used name
  • highlight that it is an offence to knowingly make a false statement on the nomination form
  • point out that if a nomination form is not completed in accordance with the law, the candidate will run the risk of challenge if they are elected

It is the candidate’s responsibility to ensure that they have completed their nomination form in accordance with the law and to be satisfied that the given commonly used name is a name that they genuinely commonly use.

In the course of providing informal advice, you may wish to draw the candidate’s attention to our guidance for candidates and agents on commonly used names. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023