What’s in a name?
“I don’t believe a rose would be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.”
- LM Montgomery
Changing an adult’s name
In December 2015, Japan’s Supreme Court upheld a law dating back to the 19th Century that requires married couples to have the same surname. This law is still in effect. The law appears gender neutral as a husband can choose to take his wife’s surname, although in practice 96% of women in Japan choose to take the surname of their husband.
In Australia, a person who marries may choose to take his/her spouse’s surname. This is not, however, a legal requirement. The married person can produce his/her Marriage Certificate to the relevant agency (for example, banks, Department of Transport, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and so on) to have the document amended, or officially apply to the Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages (‘the Registry’) before taking their official Change of Name Certificate to the relevant agencies.
De facto couples, including same sex couples, may choose to take the surname of their partner if they wish, although they must officially apply to the Registry if they wish to do so formally.
A person may also choose to change his/her name if they are separated or divorced or for any other reason. There is no property in a name and a person cannot force his/her ex-spouse or ex-partner to cease using their name. However, should they choose to change their name, a divorced person can produce their Divorce Certificate to the relevant agency to have the document amended to their maiden name. Without a Divorce Certificate, or if they have a Divorce Certificate but wish to change their name to something other than their maiden name, they will need to officially apply to the Registry for a change of name.
There is nothing stopping anyone from changing their name informally and choosing to call himself or herself whatever they may like, although it may be difficult for him or her to have that name recognised on any legal document.
Changing a child’s name
With children, the story is different.
Both parents must consent (through private discussions or alternative dispute resolution) and sign the application forms to the Registry in order to change a child’s name.
If one parent does not consent, the only way to change the child’s name is to make an Application to a Family Law Court. The Court will still have to consider on a case by case basis whether the change of name is in the best interests of the child/children before deciding to grant an Application, and will consider factors such as:
- whether the name being proposed is a composite (hyphenated) surname;
- the reasons for the change;
- any short term embarrassment (by virtue of having a different name to his or her mother or household) against the long term effects;
- any possible confusion of identity;
- the effect of the change on the relationship between the child and the parent whose name the child originally bore;
- the effect of random or frequent changes of name;
- the child’s wishes (if applicable);
- the amount of time the child spends with the other parent;
- the degree of identification the child has with each of the parents (or stepparents);
- the desire of the other parent that their name be retained;
- any advantages to keeping the name generally;
Even for a parent who has Court Orders awarding him or her sole parental responsibility of a child, this is not sufficient for him or her to apply to the Registry to change the name of the child. The Orders must specifically allow for a name change in addition to the generic Order for parental responsibility.
If you have queries about this process, please contact one of our family lawyers for assistance.