words from a colons

Being colons: the DVLA

Aug 5th, 2020 history

As of the first of August, I finally have formal, government-issued identification with my name on it. It's a provisional driving license, and it cites me as 'MX - COLONS'. The 'COLONS' is embossed and everything, it's very fancy. I'd rather it didn't have a title on it at all, but I can sort that later.

Extreme close-up of a UK drivers license for someone with the name "MX - COLONS"

2020-03-01: Initial application posted

I originally applied for an updated license on the first of March. With the application, I enclosed my old license, a copy of my existing deed poll, and documents like bank statements and utility bills calling me by my name as supplementary evidence in case they had doubts that I was being serious.

2020-03-23: Refusal

On the 28th of March, I received my application back. They'd updated the address and nothing else. Included with the application was a letter, dated five days earlier:

Dear Mr Colons.

Thank you for your recent application to change your name.

The United Kingdom driver licensing system forms part of the European Community‘s driver licensing system, as does that of all other Member States. As such, we are obliged to recognise the full driving licences issued by all other Member States, as are all other Member States obliged to recognise those issued by the United Kingdom.

The UK driving licence is a valuable document both here in the UK and the wider European driving licence network. The integrity of the licence and the DVLA’s reputation among other Member States is important to us and unfortunately we are unable to issue you a licence in the name requested as it is not our policy to grant a licence in a name that may bring the UK licence into disrepute or may cause problems when using the licence in the UK or the EU/EEA abroad.

In these circumstances, we will issue a licence in your original name without making reference to your change of name.

Yours sincerely,

[DVLA representative]

A lot about this letter sucks. Basically every sentence is wrong, mean, or deferent to falsehoods about names to a pitiable degree. I'd be flattered if my name had the power to bring an entire document-issuing institution into disrepute, but I don't think it does.

For a while I tried to get on the phone with someone I could moan at. I never got through to a human, though, presumably because of COVID, so instead I sulked.

2020-03-29: A second attempt

When I was done sulking, I sent the same application again, but with the following letter attached, in which I tried to explain the many problems with their refusal:

Dear [DVLA representative],

I remain bewildered by your response to my request to issue a license in my name. I've been trying to get in touch by phone ever since I received it.

I've been going by colons full-time for most of the last decade. My friends, colleagues, bank, council, and utility providers all know me as colons, and most of them never knew my birth name. GOV.UK's name change guidelines are pretty explicit that just going by a name is all that's necessary for a name change to be legal, so the deed poll I signed in late 2019 was at this point largely a formality. Given this, it was wild to see you open your response calling my request for a correct license an 'application to change my name', especially given that it was almost* correctly addressed.

I can only read the combination of this letter and the license you sent as a deliberate issuance of ID that you know to be incorrect. I am pretty confident that the GDPR has provisions about my right to have you correct data that is wrongly held, which I would like to use in this case. I would also appreciate clarification of what power exactly you're exercising to make editorial decisions about people's names.

The letter also has alarming finality to it, which I find I cannot accept. There has to be something I can do to demonstrate that this isn't some stunt I'm pulling, that this is my real actual name. I'll attach some correctly-addressed bills, if that helps, but any guidance on what might turn you on this would be appreciated.

Stay safe,


*I'm unsure why you were happy to re-issue the license but refused universally, even in the letter, to respect my title. Honestly, though, I'd rather just have no title at all.

I then waited for three months, hearing nothing. I assumed it'd managed to fall through a crack somewhere or was being intentionally ignored, but this is happening to a lot of people at the moment. When I chased on the 27th of July, I was told the license had already been issued and posted, and that I'd have it soon. It showed up a few days later without any enclosed acknowledgement of my letter.

I'm hoping this'll reach some people who will find it useful, although I'm not sure what specific lesson might be the most useful for you, dear reader. For me, it's a good reminder that I have more power and control than I usually give myself credit for.

I don't know what turned them on the second attempt. I don't expect I'll ever be able to find out. Maybe it was the supporting documentation. Maybe it was the GDPR angle. Maybe they were overwhelmed because of the COVID backlog and wanted to get me off the pile as fast as possible. Maybe they were testing me with their initial response; making sure I was being serious. If it was just a test, it really would have been nice if they'd said so; a simple "this is a pretty unusual request; we'd appreciate it if you could confirm this is absolutely correct and also maybe provide some more supporting documents to prove you're actually using this name", perhaps.

I guess the main takeaway is that the DVLA do not require a court-enrolled deed poll to issue an updated license, even for folks with mononyms. Don't give up. There's precedent other than mine for repeat attempts paying off.

P.S.: To any family members reading this, I'm totally okay with not being colons to you. Do what makes you comfortable and what the people around you will understand.