When a child is born to married parents one or both of them will register the child's name on the birth certificate. The surname, such as Smith, Patel, Cohen, is the name by which the whole family unit is known. Children normally take the surname of their father unless their mother wishes them to have a different surname and the father agrees to this.
Unmarried fathers do not have to register their children's birth and have no independent right to have their name entered on the birth certificate. Unmarried mothers can only enter the father's name if they:
- both agree and sign the register
- each produce a sworn statement, or
- have an appropriate Court Order
After a divorce children normally keep their present surname but their name can be changed. When some children in the stepfamily have different surnames, the parent and stepparent may want everyone in the new family unit to have the same surname.
The law on family names
You cannot simply change a child's last name when you remarry or set up a new partnership. The Court has the duty to decide what is in the best interests of the child. An application to change a child's surname is normally only successful when everyone having parental responsibility for the child gives their written consent.
They may agree to the name change or they may order a Specific Issue Order stating you cannot change the child's name. If there is a Residence Order there will automatically be a provision stating that the child's surname cannot be changed without the written consent of every other person who has parental responsibility or the Court.
A mother, or father, cannot change a child's surname by herself or himself unless she or he is the only person with parental responsibility. Even then if the other parent objects a Court Order should be made. Any child who has sufficient legal understanding may apply in their own right for the Court's permission to change their name.
How to change your child's last name
A name can effectively be changed by common usage but this normally relates to first names only and will not usually be legally enforceable. The easiest way of obtaining a formal proof may be to make a statutory declaration in front of a solicitor confirming the change of name. This is usually sufficient for banks, work and the Passport Office, etc.
For a change of name to be fully legally recognised, the person having parental responsibility for the child can execute a Deed Poll which is a legal document containing personal information about the child and which will later be advertised in the London Gazette by the Court. The child must sign the Deed Poll as evidence of consent, if that child is aged between 16 and 18 years.
There is a procedure in England & Wales called enrolment, which means that a deed poll is placed for safe keeping in the Royal Courts of Justice. It is not a requirement for the deed poll to be enrolled. Government bodies (e.g. HM Passport Office, DVLA, etc.) accept both enrolled and unenrolled deed polls. The process of enrolment doesn't affect the legal status of your name. It isn't more or less legally recognised than an unenrolled deed poll. It's simply a matter of making a safe and public record of your change of name.
The Deed Poll must be accompanied by the child's birth certificate and a declaration sworn by a third party to formally identify the child and state the length of time for which that person has known the child and his or her parents. The Deed Poll must be supported by an Affidavit, a solemn promise that the proposed change of name will be for the benefit of the child.
For more information on how to change your child's surname, visit the website of Deed Poll Office where there is vast information on this and more.
Questions from other parents
Q. Can the parent and stepparent alone change the child’s name?
A. No, they must have the written agreement of anyone else with parental responsibility or if not, consent of the Court.
Q. What happens if my ex won’t give consent?
A. The Court can overrule the other parent but only after careful consideration of all the facts.
Q. What if I was unmarried when the child was born?
A. An unmarried father can get legal responsibility for his child in 1 of 3 ways:
- jointly registering the birth of the child with the mother (from 1 December 2003)
- getting a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
- getting a parental responsibility order from a court
If the father doesn’t have Parental Responsibility and you want to marry someone else, you should still seek his permission. This is because the law is fast moving towards giving unmarried fathers greater involvement in their children's lives, even where they do not have parental responsibility.
Q. How long does it take?
A. It varies according to which route you take. Your solicitor will advise you.
Q. Can a child change their own name?
A. If aged between 16 and 18 a child can generally change their name themselves but the consent of any person having responsibility for that child may be required.
Q. Can a child object to their name being changed?
A. Yes, if the Court is involved the child may well be consulted, if not the child could apply to the Court.
Q. How much does it cost?
A. It varies according to which route you take and who is involved. Ask your solicitor to tell you all the costs before taking any steps.
Making a decision
Think about all the implications of changing a child's name before you go ahead. You need to be sure that such a big step like changing a child's name is the right thing to do in all the circumstances.
Think about all who will be affected - the child, the father's feelings if the child stops using his name, and those of grandparents and other relatives.
The child may resent it later in life and want to change their name back again. Building family togetherness does not depend on the use of the same family surname. Try talking it through with a solicitor, local CAB or with one of our Family Support Workers at Family Lives. You can get in touch with us on our confidential helpline on 0808 800 2222.