A complaint considered by the New Zealand Press Council at its recent meeting raised the intriguing question of just exactly what is a person’s official name in these days where individuals variously marry, but do not change their names, live together and hyphenate their names, or divorce and have a choice about whether to revert back to their maiden names.

In this instance the complainant Michelle Pyke was married in 1984, and took her husband’s surname, becoming Michelle Hannay, but was divorced in 1994, and for most purposes reverted to her maiden name. Since her divorce she had written several letters to Napier’s Daily Telegraph under the name of Pyke. But earlier this year she wrote a letter to the paper praising the work of a teenage nightclub run by her former husband, and wished to use the name of Hannay, arguing that the name was “synonymous” with the club.

The editor of the Daily Telegraph, having recently abandoned the practice of allowing noms-de-plume, has instituted a rigorous checking process to ensure that correspondents to not avoid the need to stand by their letters by using names other than the ones they were usually known by. In the course of that process it was discovered that the complainant was listed in the electoral roll as Pyke. As a result the editor declined to publish the letter under the name of Hannay, arguing that was not the writer’s official name, but offered to let it appear signed by Michelle Pyke or
Michelle Pyke (Hannay).

In order to see the letter published the complainant eventually agreed to her letter being signed Pyke, but nevertheless complained to the Press Council about the refusal to allow her to use her former married name. She maintained that Hannay was an alternative legally established name which she was entitled to use.

The editor, in response, said it would create a difficult precedent if women who were married, widowed, estranged or divorced were able to choose from two names according to what might suit them.

The Press Council took the view that the editor was entitled to impose any reasonable rules for the publication of letters and requiring correspondents to use the name in the electoral roll was a common and acceptable practice. It would certainly create a confusing situation if the same person was able to write letters, possibly on the same subject, using two different names. Accordingly the complaint was not upheld.


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