What’s in a Name?

The Law of Names

In Scotland, at common law, a citizen in general is entitled to take any name that (s)he pleases, including the use of a title or a  territorial designation, with the proviso that any such change must be made with “good faith and absence of any improper object”. Thus although it may be possible to adopt a descriptive title, such as Laird, Lord or Lady in the absence of being a Scottish landowner, as some have argued, it is possible that in doing so a citizen would be straying to the wrong side of the law.

The law may differ in other jurisdictions but we are not aware of any jurisdiction where taking a new title “in good faith” is not an absolute right. The means by which the matter is achieved may vary, in England and Wales for example a Master Title Deed is usually used.

Of course, many, if not most, of the purchasers of souvenir plots, despite being of Scottish descent, are not citizens of Scotland and few, if any, are able to make use of freedoms granted by the Scottish Crown. Laws regarding name change vary across jurisdictions and the English legal documents supplied by the vendors may not have the legal effect claimed for them in another jurisdiction (eg Australia or USA).  Purchasers are, therefore, bound by the laws of their own jurisdiction rather than those of Scotland. That aside, few if any purchasers who wish to change their titles appear to encounter any difficulty in doing so.

In essence citizens are simply changing one descriptive title, which is available to them by custom and use (Mr, Mrs or Miss) to a different descriptive title which they have the right to use through the ownership of land (Laird, Lord or Lady).  It is inconceivable that any authority could suggest there to be “any improper object”.

Second, where name changes involve a territorial designation the purchaser should hold some of the land so described, and a personal right of one square foot of souvenir plot appears to meet this criterion.  What is less certain is whether the more imaginative methods of holding land, such as that adopted by Scottish Land Sales, would pass this test.  Scottish Land Sales simply lease the land, rather than selling a personal right to the land, and this type of land ownership is more closely associated with tenant farming than lairdship.  Cheryl Cole would probably merely gain the rights to the style of Cheryl Cole, Crofter of Bandrum rather than Lady Cheryl Cole.

It is important to discount any wild notions that name changes involving a territorial designation fall within the remit of the Lord Lyon’s functions as a Minister of the Crown.  His duty in this regard is simply to record the correct name and territorial designation should he sell a Grant of Arms. The Lord Lyon has stated that “Ownership of a souvenir plot of land is not sufficient to bring a person otherwise ineligible within the jurisdiction of the Lord Lyon for the purpose of seeking a Grant of Arms.”  As few purchasers of a souvenir plot of land, who have typically spent under $50, will want to pay Lord Lyon $4,000 for him to draw up Arms to dignify the purchase, this restriction, in practice, is irrelevant. Lord Lyon is a “revenue generating arm of the United Kingdom Government“. Whatever you pay him is lost in the pot of general taxation and his services do not come cheaply.

What Lairds are more likely to care about is whether their AmEx card is reissued as Laird John Smith. Fortunately AmEx operate in the 21st century and will oblige upon receipt of the documentation as usually supplied.

Territorial Designation

Vendors of souvenir plots normally explain to their customers that all Scottish landowners are legally entitled to call themselves “Laird, Lord or Lady” of x (a territorial designation).  Some have taken the precaution of copyrighting their Laird “courtesy title” with its to include a territorial designation.  Examples include “Laird of Kincavel”, Laird of Dunans” and “Laird of Glenmore”.

So what is a Territorial Designation?  The Lord Lyon, who was at the time of writing Mr David Sellar, gives following guidance:

A territorial designation proclaims a relationship with a particular area of land ”.

The main concern that you should have is that there is not some person who has already made use of the territorial designation that you intend to use. The easiest way to ensure that nobody will claim that you are passing yourself of as him or her is to confirm that the vendor has registered the title with the appropriate body; in this case the United Kingdom Trademark Office.

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