Sunday, June 03, 2007

What's in a Name?

Everything and nothing! My four year old son has decided to change his name to Matthew (after his best friend) James Blond (after an action movie character whose name he has got wrong but in that special arrogant 4 year old way he refuses to accept is his error). Obviously I have not proceeded with a name change deed but he will now only respond to Matthew James Blond or Strong Boy (I think I prefer the former).

If contemplating changing the name of a minor you need the permission of all parties with parental responsibility or a Court Order. If the father does not have parental responsibility and you proceed regardless of his wishes it is likely to be overturned if the father goes to Court.

What will the Court take into account?

The Law in this area is unsurprisingly sexist as Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss pointed out, and retaining the absent father's name is considered a way of encouraging dad to keep in touch.

To quote Lord Justice of Appeal Hale in the case of Re R (2001)
"It was a matter of great sadness that it was so often assumed that fathers needed the outward and visible link of a shared surname in order to retain their relationship with and commitment to their child, whereas the crucial point was that it was important for there to be transparency about a child's parentage, for it to be acknowledged that the child always had two parents."

It is therefore very difficult to change a child's name. Basically you have to show that it is in the child's best interest and the burden of proof is on the applicant seeking the change.

Even if the other parent plays no part in the child's life the Courts may still consider it is better for the child to retain an outward link, after due consideration of the Welfare Checklist, which is the subject of another post.....................

The majority of disputes arise where the parents have never married. Given that the mother has retained her own name, either through choice or because her partner rejects marriage why then register your child in the father's name? Seems mighty sexist to me. It's an open secret that cohabitation breaks down more often than marriage and that the majority of children live with their mother after their parents separate. A puzzling dilemma and therefore more difficult for the mother to overturn the child's name later given that she was involved in the initial choice...................

Importantly, the law changed in respect of unmarried fathers obtaining parental responsibility in December 2003. For children born of unmarried parents after that date, if the father's details are included on the birth certificate he will automatically acquire parental responsibility. Putting the father's details on the birth certificate and giving the child the father's name are two different things......

Register of Births


Orhan Kahn said...

I just read your profile and I think it is as cute as you son you wants to be James Blond.

I have a legal name and a name I use online, but also one that I will legally change at some point.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. Changing your name is an important step and should be done for positive not negative reasons. Your identity as a child is difficult to escape. Sometimes people want to change their label because it does not fit their social conscious - eg the left thinking politician Anthony Wedgwood Benn became known as Tony Benn. However, his voice could cut glass, so his origins were still clear to all. There are always unexpected consequences.

Orhan Kahn said...

Thank you for the advice and the link, I'll check it out.