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31 Changing Your Name

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1. Introduction

2. When may I want to change my name?

3. When am I allowed to change my name?

4. What if I am widowed?

5. What if I enter into a civil partnership?

6. What if I want to change my child's name?

You don’t need to follow a special legal process to change a child’s name. However, certain people must agree to the new name. If you don’t get their agreement before you change your child’s name, they could start court proceedings to stop you changing the child’s name or to make you change it back.

When can I change my child’s birth certificate?
You can change a child’s name on their birth certificate only in certain circumstances, including:

  • changing your child’s forename within 12 months of originally registering the birth, perhaps because you decide the original name was not suitable;
  • changing the child’s surname to that of their father because you marry the father after the child is born; and
  • changing the child’s surname to that of their father if you were not married when you registered their birth and did not include the father’s name on the register. In this case both parents must agree to the change of name.

In other cases if you want to change a child's name - for example, to take the surname of their step-father - the new name will not appear on the birth certificate.

Who must agree before a child’s name can be changed?
Everyone who has ‘parental responsibility’ for a child needs to give their consent if you want to change your child’s name.

When a child is born, the mother automatically has parental responsibility, whether or not she is married. So does the father, but only if he is married to the mother when the child is born, or if he is registered as the father on the baby’s birth certificate (for births registered on or after 1 December 2003). However, later in the child’s life, the unmarried father of the child can get parental responsibility, by:

  • marrying the child’s mother and making a parental responsibility agreement with her;
  • making a parental responsibility agreement with the mother;
  • re-registering the child’s birth to record the father’s name; or
  • obtaining a parental responsibility or residence order from the court.

A step-parent or civil partner can get parental responsibility by:

  • making a parental responsibility agreement with the child's natural parents, under the Adoption and Children Act 2002; or
  • obtaining a parental responsibility or residence order from the court.

Adoptive parents get parental responsibility when they adopt their child.

Even if the father doesn’t have parental responsibility, the child’s mother should still try to get his consent before changing the child’s name - a surname can be an important link for a child. In some cases, the courts have allowed a father without parental responsibility who is in frequent contact with his child to reverse a change of name. The courts will consider whether it is in the child's interest to 'disassociate' (separate) them from their birth name.

If a child under 18 doesn’t want to change their name, even though the parent wants it, the child can apply for a court order to stop it. The court will assess whether the child is mature enough to understand the consequences of this, and will take the child's view into account in making its decision. The court will normally accept the wishes of a child who is 16 or 17.

If the other parent or anyone else objects to you changing your child’s name, they can apply to the court to try to stop it. If this happens, you will need advice from a solicitor. You may be able to get help with the costs of this if you and your case qualify – ask your solicitor.

In deciding whether to allow the change of name, the court will consider what is in the child’s best interests, including the social implications of the change. In particular, they will ask how important it is for the child to keep their existing name as a link with their father.

7. What sort of name can I choose?

8. How do I prove I have a new name?

9. Who should I tell about my name change?

10. Further help

11. About this leaflet

The leaflets in this series give you an outline of your legal rights. They are not a complete guide to the law and are not intended to be a guide to how the law will apply to you or to any specific situation. The leaflets are regularly updated but the law may have changed since this was printed, so information in it may be incorrect or out of date.

If you have a problem, you will need to get more information or personal advice to work out the best way to solve it. See 'Further help' for sources of information and advice.

This leaflet is published by the Gurkha Free Legal Advice (LSC). It was written in association with Citizens Advice.

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Leaflet version: December 2008

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