Traditionally, when a woman married, she took on her husband's surname. The couple then passed on the surname to any children they have. Today, however, parents have the option to break from tradition and give their new baby the mother's maiden name, a hyphenated last name or a combination surname. Fortunately, if the baby’s new surname doesn't fit, his parents can legally change it. New York law gives parents the right to change a child's last name at any time, provided both parents are in agreement about the change.
Changing a baby's last name after birth is easiest when both parents agree to the proposed change. The parents must visit the courthouse and request a Change of Name application from the court clerk. You must fill out the application, noting the baby’s current name and the desired name. Both parents must sign the application and return it to the court clerk along with a certified copy of the baby's birth certificate. If the parents reside in New York but the baby was born in another state, they can still legally change the baby's name with a Change of Name application. The parents must provide the court clerk with a certified copy of the baby's original birth certificate, passport or baptismal certificate as proof of the child's current name.
Contested Name Change
In some situations, one parent wishes to change the child's name while the other parent does not. Should one parent contest the name change, the parent in favor of the new name must obtain the court's permission before the name change takes effect. The judge assigned to the case reviews the reasoning behind the proposed change and makes a ruling based on what is in the best interests of the child.
When a court grants a parent's name change request, the parent must comply with New York's publication requirements. The publication requirements serve to inform others about an individual's new name and apply to both adults and children. To meet the proposed requirements, the parent must publish a notice of the name change in the local newspaper. The publication fees associated with this requirement are the parent's responsibility.
Birth Certificate Errors
When a parent or the hospital makes an error filling out a baby's birth certificate, that error can and will follow the child for the rest of his life. Birth certificate errors are particularly problematic when they involve a baby's name. Parents in New York must fill out a birth certificate correction form and deliver it to the court clerk who forwards it directly to the state Supreme Court for review. If the error was made at the hospital, the parents must submit the correction form and the child's newborn certificate to the hospital that originally made the error. Both parents must sign the correction form and pay any applicable fees. Fees for processing birth certificate corrections vary by district.
References & Resources
- The Civil Court of the City of New York: General Instructions to Change a Name (p. 1,2)
- Divorce New York: Changing the Name of the Child of Divorced or Unwed Parents
- New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene/Office of Vital Records: Correcting a Birth Certificate
- CNN Living: Baby Name Remorse – What Do You Do?
- BabyZone: Can I Make Up a New Surname for My Baby?
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images