Chapter VI Article VI of the Mass. Constitution provides:
All the laws which have heretofore been adopted, used and approved in the Province, Colony or State of Massachusetts Bay, and usually practiced on in the courts of law, shall still remain and be in full force, until altered or repealed by the legislature; such parts only excepted as are repugnant to the rights and liberties contained in this constitution.
IN RE THIBAULT, Bankr. Court, D. Massachusetts 2014 (Case No. 13-31204, Adversary Proceeding No. 14-3001., US Bankruptcy Court, D. Massachusetts, Western Division) states:
In Massachusetts, unless adopted for fraudulent or other nefarious reasons, a persons' chosen name...has legal effect: "[A]t common law a person may change his name at will, without resort to legal proceedings, by merely adopting another name, provided that this is done for an honest purpose." A person may be known by, and use, more than one name, and the business he transacts under such names will be valid and binding if unaffected by fraud. Commonwealth v. Clark, 846 N.E.2d 765, 771, 446 Mass. 620 (2006) (quoting Merlovitz, petitioner, 70 N.E.2d 249, 250, 320 Mass. 448 (1946)) (additional citations omitted); see also Young v. Jewell, 87 N.E. 604, 604, 201 Mass. 385 (1909) ("Where a person is in fact known by two names, either one can be used. This principle has been applied in about every connection.")
SECRETARY OF THE COMMONWEALTH & another vs. CITY CLERK OF LOWELL & others.
373 Mass. 178 provides:
"It is well settled that at common law a person may change his name at will, without resort to legal proceedings, by merely adopting another name, provided that this is done for an honest purpose." Merolevitz, petitioner, 320 Mass. 448 , 450 (1946), and cases cited. This principle was recognized by this court very early: ". . . we know not why corporations may not be known by several names as well as individuals." Minot v. Curtis, 7 Mass. 441 , 444 (1811). "Where a person is in fact known by two names, either one can be used. This principle has been applied in about every connection." Young v. Jewell, 201 Mass. 385 , 386 (1909), and cases cited. Numerous authorities in other jurisdictions are in accord. See Smith v. United States Cas. Co., 197 N.Y. 420, 423-429 (1910), and cases cited.
In Merolevitz, petitioner, 320 Mass. 448 , 450 (1946), we said, "In jurisdictions where this subject has been regulated by statute, it has generally been held that such legislation is merely in aid of the common law and does not abrogate it. [Citations omitted.] We assume, in view of the wording of our statute (G. L. [Ter. Ed.] c. 210, Section 12), that it provides the only method by which one can change his name with legal effect. But it does not follow that one may not assume or use another name without resort to the statute if such use is for an honest purpose." We have since adhered to this view. Buyarsky, petitioner, 322 Mass. 335 , 338 (1948): "The common law recognizes his freedom of choice to assume a name which he deems more appropriate and advantageous to him than his family name in his present circumstances, if the change is not motivated by fraudulent intent." Mark v. Kahn, 333 Mass. 517 , 520-521 (1956). Rusconi, petitioner, 341 Mass. 167 , 169-170 (1960). So far as our cases suggest that a person has a "legal name" or a name "with legal effect," different from the name he has lawfully chosen, those suggestions were not necessary to decision.
More directly relevant is the enactment of G. L. c. 151B, Section 4, cl. 15, by St. 1975, c. 84, and c. 367, Section 3, under which it is "an unlawful practice: . . . 15. For any person responsible for recording the name of or establishing the personal identification of an individual for any purpose, including that of extending credit, to require such individual to use, because of such individual's sex or marital status, any surname other than the one by which such individual is generally known." We have no doubt that a city or town clerk recording a birth or marriage is a "person responsible for recording the name of . . . an individual" within the meaning of that statute. It is stipulated that one of the defendants required that Ms. G use on an affidavit of paternity, because of her sex and marital status, the name L, a name other than the one by which she was generally known. Similarly, two of the defendants required Ms. McC to use on her marriage license, because of her sex and marital status, the name L, a name other than the one by which she was generally known. But the present action has not followed the statutory procedure. G. L. c. 151B, Sections 1-9. Compare East Chop Tennis Club v. Massachusetts Comm'n Against Discrimination, 364 Mass. 444 , 453 (1973), with Trustees of Tufts College v. Volpe Constr. Co., 358 Mass. 331 , 340 (1970), and Black v. School Comm. of Malden, 365 Mass. 197 , 202-203 (1974). We therefore do not decide the case under the statute. But we think we may take into account the policy embodied in the statute.
All these recent developments seem to us to indicate strongly that the common law principle of freedom of choice in the matter of names is not out of harmony with modern conditions.
We recognize that a foolish choice of name may have undesired consequences. "But freedom to choose is freedom to choose foolishly." Hershkoff v. Registrars of Voters of Worcester, 366 Mass. 570 , 578 (1974) (choice of domicil). City and town clerks are not empowered to prevent such folly. In argument the defendants disclaimed any right to review first or middle names. Neither the common law nor our statutes give them any greater right to review surnames.
Mass G. L. c. 151B, Section 4 provides:
It shall be an unlawful practice:
15. For any person responsible for recording the name of or establishing the personal identification of an individual for any purpose, including that of extending credit, to require such individual to use, because of such individual's sex or marital status, any surname other than the one by which such individual is generally known.
Mass RMV policy provides:
If the customer's name matches current or prior information that the Registry of Motor Vehicles holds on file, the customer does not have to change his/her name with the Social Security Administration.
Mass RMV policy further provides:
The customer is not required to present any documents to the Registry of Motor Vehicles to prove the new name.
Mass RMV's website also says:
You may change your name with no documentation as long as there is no attempt to defraud.
Boston Herald article from 1999 title "The RMV gives everyone the license to have a new identity."