Why British Muslims change their names

For British nationals, it’s relatively easy to legally obtain a new name through the U.K. Deed Poll Service, and it costs as little as $70. But most people changing their names in Britain – and 40,000 did so last year, up 26 per cent from 2006 – do so for more serious reasons.

“The increase in business that we’ve been doing in recent years has been since 9/11,” Mike Barratt, chief executive of the U.K. Deed Poll Service, said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Witham, about 60 kilometres northeast of London.”There’s been this prejudice against people with Muslim or Arab-sounding names who are British nationals, often of Indian and Pakistani descent.”

Sheikh Ali Tariq Ahmed, a British Muslim, changed his name by deed poll to Daniel Jacob when he found job interviews hard to get. With his new name, he received calls from companies that had previously ignored him.

Meanwhile, many British Muslims have changed their names as a result of problems experienced travelling to the United States. “I spoke to a chap on Friday with a very traditional Muslim name,” said Mr. Barratt, “and he said, ‘How do I change my name? I’ve just come back from the States and I was questioned for three hours at immigration.’ And he had to get the British consul involved to prove there was nothing sinister about him.”

That’s why a Mohammed tends to become a Michael and a Karim becomes a Kevin.

Globe and Mail, 23 January 2008