A registration is, literally, an entry in a register and, if you think about it, this is precisely what a vehicle registration mark is.
However, for "register" we have to think of the massive computer database at DVLA, Swansea.
Back at the beginning of the twentieth century, the term "owner" presented legal difficulties so it was decided that the name and address of the person keeping the vehicle would appear on the log book, as it was then called.
The mark is unique to the vehicle and the right to display it is bestowed by the Secretary of state for Transport.
There are strict regulations now regarding spacing, size of font etc. because the main reason for registration marks is for law enforcement with regard to traffic, licensing as well as criminal offences.
The "golden rule" for assigning marks is that they cannot be used to make a vehicle appear newer than it is. Some people think this rule doesn't apply when they choose a personal registration but, unfortunately, it does.
A registration mark also denotes the year of manufacture, for example, in 1963 a year letter was introduced as a suffix. Every letter except I, Z (denoting Northern Ireland), O, Q and U were used and then reversed (used as a prefix) when the alphabet ran out. We have had to familiarise ourselves with the new format plates with two area identifier letters at the front followed by two numbers denoting the year and three random letters at the end. For example, NU51 BRZ would identify a vehicle as having been registered in September 2001 at Middlesbrough local office.
All drivers will be familiar with a registration document (recently re-named certificate to bring us in line with Europe). Everyone should have received a "new style" certificate (V5/C) by July 2005. As a general rule you should not buy a vehicle without a V5/C since the certificate is a good indicator that the vehicle has not been stolen. The registration certificate allows for the communication of various changes to the vehicle record, for example when you sell your vehicle. Under the system of continuous registration, you are liable for the vehicle until you have informed DVLA of any sale, export, scrap or theft. You can also use the V5/C to tell Swansea of any change of address as well as changes to the vehicle, such as colour, modifications of any kind, fuel type etc.
Previous to 1974, local authorities were responsible for registering vehicles but the number of vehicles was increasing dramatically so plans to centralise the system began in 1965. Therefore, in 1974, DVLC along with the local network took a responsibility for maintaining the vehicle record.
So, like in all other areas of our lives in a crowded, modern society, we as drivers are subject to registration. Thankfully, the DVLA database is governed by strict data protection regulations but, make no mistake, you and your vehicle are well and truly registered.