Who Has the Legal Right to Name a Child?
While the naming rights concerning children vary from state to state, mothers and fathers usually share equal rights to name a child.
Parents have the right to name or change the name of their children. A father's right to change a child's name requires establishing paternity and being listed on the child's birth certificate. It's obviously easier to establish maternity, but in rare circumstances, a mother may also have to produce evidence or documentation establishing the child's parenthood.
Under the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment, the laws for naming children in the United States are broad. However, certain states have interesting rules for naming your child. In Florida, for example, parents who can't decide on either a given name or a surname might find the state government deciding for them. In the state of Kentucky, you can include obscenities when naming your child. Still, in California, you cannot use diacritical marks — or accent marks — on names such as José or Nicolás, presumably due to incompatibility with their record-keeping systems.
Purely offensive or controversial names can also clear the bar. In some cases, you can't use a celebrity's name without their permission.
It would be advisable for new parents or parents considering a name change for their child to consult with their local government officials to be aware of any naming restrictions.
To change a child's name, parents must pay a filing fee and submit the proper paperwork to their state government. The process is simple and smooth if both parents agree to the name change.
However, should the parents of the minor disagree on a potential name change, the case may have to go to court. Family law attorneys specialize in name changing cases, and a judge will rule on the matter. Judges typically consider several factors when deciding a child's name, such as the reason for the change, how the child's new name would impact their family and social life, and if the child is old enough, their feelings on changing their name.
While it's been established that both fathers and mothers have the legal right to change the name of their child as they see fit, it should also be noted that some children live under alternative arrangements.
Legal guardians, related by blood or not, can also change the name of a child they are raising. However, there are some differences — particularly if the child's parents are living. For example, in California, legal guardians can file a Petition for Change of Name. A court date is set, and then you must notify the mother and/or father of the child whose name is being changed.
A judge acting as a representative of the state can also change a child's name if deemed necessary, though this is uncommon.