Sunday, December 31, 2006

Changing Baby's Last Name

When you have your baby, you will have to fill out a great deal of paperwork. It seems odd that everything has to be completed for a baby just born, but you will have plenty to complete to make your baby officially yours. One of the big questions will be what you are naming the baby. You will be told to make sure that you get everything correct and that you definitely want to choose this name. (Just as an aside, you can change it legally later, but it is easier to pick what you want now.)

For most people, the first name is the biggest question, but for a growing number of people, the last name is just as questionable. That may be because the mother is unmarried, and the father is only vaguely in the picture. It may be because of immigrant customs of naming that differ from local customs, or it may be because of the political decisions of the parents. For whatever reason, you may find yourself with a decision to make regarding the last name of your baby.

The first key, particularly if you are making the decision for political reasons, is to know what your rights are. Sometimes in hospitals, doctors and nurses, as well as members of the administrative staff, will try to tell you that you do not have a choice on the last name. We were told that when our son was born. Because my husband and I are married, the child must get the father's name automatically. While that is true in some states, it is not the case everywhere. It was not the case in the state where our son was born, but it makes people more comfortable to do things the traditional way.

So, know the law before you get there and do not allow yourself to be convinced that you are wrong. Take printouts or the names of officials who gave you the information. You should call the vital statistics department for your state to get the word. If someone in the hospital tries to tell you that you are wrong, ask for proof. Refuse to sign any birth certificate that does not have the name as you want it.

Should you have to sign the birth certificate to be able to take the baby home, such as may happen for a Friday birth, then you will need to be sure that you ask who to call locally to change it when the business week is back. Ask for the name of the person in the hospital who is responsible for making this decision on the name of the child. You will want to contact that person if you are in fact correct to let him or her know that you are unhappy with the staff members pushing you to change the name.

Should you need to change the last name because of the above situation or because you were a single mom who later got married or had paternity proven, then you will need to contact the Social Security Administration. They are in charge of all names in the United States. They have forms that you can complete to have the name changed legally. Most of the time it will be a simple process. You will complete the form, take it to the local office, and have everything processed there. Your child will then get new social security cards.

Sometimes the process can be more complex, particularly if you are making structural changes to the name. For example, a Robert Andrew Smith who you want to change to Robert Andrew Jones-Smith. You may have to go before a juvenile judge in that matter. Never fear. The process is not as scary as it sounds. Basically you will explain the reasons (succinctly and objectively), and the judge will make the final decision. Since juvenile court judges tend to be overworked, they are not likely to hold up the court over a request they will consider small potatoes for their courtroom. It is just a matter of going through the motions of the hearing.

Remember that it is best to take care of this issue before it becomes a problem, so the best step you can take it to find out now what you can do.

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