Saturday, December 17, 2005

Your Basic Legal Guide To Naming Your Baby

The process of naming your baby probably seems pretty simple. You have the little one, check on the sex, and declare the name. The actual process, however, is a little more complicated. For most people, it is a matter of filling out some paperwork and checking to be sure that everything is correct. If you find yourself in a different situation, however, here is what you need to know.

First, despite Prince's change of his name to a symbol, United States courts have held that Americans' names must consist of letters. Numbers are not permissible according to a 1978 ruling that prohibited a parent from changing his child's name to 1069. Americans have absolute freedom beyond the letters requirement for what to name their children, which is not true of all nations. There are no rules about whether your child must have a middle name or how many names your child can have. The convention, however, calls for one first name, one last name, and one surname.

Speaking of surnames, this issue is not entirely settled. At one time, children's surname was not an issue up for discussion. Married parents gave the child the father's surname, and unmarried parents gave the child the mother's surname. That trend has been changing, and in many states, the parents now have the choice. There are a couple of reasons for this trend. First, the influx of Hispanics into the United States has called into question patriarchal English naming practices as many Spanish-speaking countries use a maternal naming system. Second, many women now keep their names after marriage, and births to unmarried mothers is not taboo. It has opened the possibilities for new naming practices, including permission to hyphenate or select another surname altogether.

You do not have to decide on your baby's name before you leave the hospital or even before the birth certificate is signed. You can delay the inevitable but only for so long. There are no laws that require a decision on the name within a certain timeframe, but in many instances, you will have to have a court order to continue delaying the name. If you absolutely cannot decide at the hospital, you can take baby home anonymous.

Should you pick a name and then find it unsuitable or discover that it creates problems, you have the right as the parent of a minor child to make changes to the child's name. The procedure for doing so varies. In many states, there are statutes in place that will permit the parent to sign a form to change the name within a certain time period after the baby's birth. The parent simply needs to create a document and get it notarized that will tell the courts that the parents have changed their mind. In other cases, such as changes for an older child or to change a surname, the parents must petition the juvenile or probate courts to make the name change. Finally, some states require extensive documentation to show that the child in question is in fact the right child and that the parents will change the name. Many parents simply begin calling the child by the middle name or a nickname rather than go through the hassle of a legal change.

Should you need to change the child's name because of a birth certificate error, you will find yourself in a similar situation. Some states permit the parents to sign a form recording the error and correcting it while others require court appearances. The best way to deal with this problem is to avoid an error to begin. Do not sign the birth certification registration until you have looked over it completely. If you are the mom and have been taking pain medication, wait until Dad or some other family member arrives. It may sound silly, but some people's spelling or reading abilities are hindered by pain medications. You need to make certain that you have the correct information to avoid problems.

These issues are but a few of the ones you may face when it comes to naming your child. Just be sure that you are making the right choices and that you know the law if you will want to make an unusual request for your child's name.

By Julia Mercer

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