What is in a name?

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What is in a name? How much importance does our name carry and what does it mean to a child?

On my son’s birth certificate, his surname is his fathers.  At the time, obviously you don’t think about the possibilities of not staying together so the name for me was not a major point of discussion.  Once we had separated, I started to feel uncomfortable whenever I had to use both our surnames, for example making a doctor’s appointment and so on.  I could sense people looking at me in a particular way, questioning my relationship with ‘MY’ child and acting curious of the background behind the two different names when read out loud. I had to deal with this and I did without anyone really knowing how it was cutting me up inside.  Then, one day my son started to question the difference in our names.  He was also suffering and it was causing him confusion and despair and he let me know he wanted the same as Mummy. I tried to explain the legal side although I did this poorly and quite possibly caused more confusion for the poor soul, however I did my best. I also explained what I thought was morally the right answer as I did not know better

As time passed, my son kept bringing up the subject of his name and asking if he could have the same one as me.  I felt awful as I wasn’t sure of the right answer to give him.  After some thorough researching and checking on my court orders, we (my son and I) came to the decision we would change it and we did.  My son’s name is now hyphenated with my surname first and his father’s second.  I had an appointment with the school principal who agreed graciously with the new name and from the following year, my son took on a new identity almost and he had never been happier.  I sensed he felt more connected with me now we shared a name and over time, my part of the name is more used than the other.

As I have sole responsibility (which in the older term was known as sole custody), I actually have the right to apply to get a new birth certificate with the desired name.  This is certainly on our ‘to do list’ and once we can afford this, we will be changing the name officially.  My son’s father was not happy about this decision at all and at times has caused stress and grief, and an overreaction causing embarrassment, yet at the end of the day it was in the best interest of the child. In my case, it was my son’s choice and after much discussion and counselling of the idea, I supported him and his decision and it could not have worked out any better.

I ask you if you, have been in a similar situation – if so, what did or would you do?

Do you feel it was right that I changed the name of my son although different to what is on his birth certificate?

Do you feel this decision takes anything away from the father, particularly if they do not play a major role in the child’s lives?

I would love to hear your comments and discuss this subject as I feel for many it is a sensitive issue for all involved.

Love and Light


I have found some sites for those of you who are curious about name change and children’s rights.

Ferguson Cannon Lawyers:  http://www.fclawyers.com.au/fact_finders/view/120/category:3

Births, deaths and marriages registries:  http://australia.gov.au/topics/law-and-justice/births-deaths-and-marriages-registries

Australian Human Rights Commission – Children’s Rights:    http://www.hreoc.gov.au/human_rights/children/index.html

12 comments on “What is in a name?

  1. Even as a child I never understood why everyone inherited their father’s name and not their mother’s. When I married, I was undecided as to whether I would change my name. A forward thinking aunt pointed out that it didn’t really matter, because both names were part of a patriarchal system. Since changing my name a year ago, I have at last found a name that I identify with. The difference is not so much how others see me, but as I see myself. As long as it is his own decision, I think children should be allowed to choose a name that they identify with. There is no point choosing one name or another to appease a parent, because without that confidence in who they are, a child will struggle to grow into the person that they want to be.

    • Hi Coco, thanks so much for taking the time to comment on my post. It certainly has created some discussion which is fabulous. I think you raise a very good point – “It is how we see ourselves”and this is so true. It is harder for children’to understand this concept and we as parents can only guide them to the right way of thinking and encourage to always have confidence in themselves. Yes it was my son’s decision and he actually wanted to not has his father’s name at all and only mine. I have said when he is old enough to change his name himself, he can choose that but for now, morally it is the right thing to have both names. Thanks again 🙂 xo

  2. Shelly what a great topic to discuss. My girls have asked me similar questions over the past few years, especially my oldest (who is turning 12 next month). She would like to replace her fathers surname to my maiden name, and my youngest wants to keep her fathers surname. So it is a little tricky. I tried to go back to my maiden name after the separation, and i did for a while, but I began to feel similar to your explanation of waiting in the doctors room, and returned to the same surname as theirs.
    I think my hesitation does not lay with their father as he is not present in the lives at the best of times, but it stems from his parents who are very active still in my girls lives.
    I do like the idea of the hyphenated surname though. May need to read those links 🙂

    Anth Goodman

    • Hi Anth, thanks so much for making a comment. You raise a good point to that although a father may not have much of a presence in the child’s life, the grandparents may and in your case they do. This is why I feel looking at the option of hyphinating the name as it satisfies both parents needs but mainly the child can related to either names and have confidence in their identity. This is not the case for all yet its certainly a good option if it can be done. 🙂 x

  3. Great article Shell! I am in a very similar situation whereby the children wanted to change their name to my maiden name a few years ago. I didn’t think I was able to unless I received permission by the father so I didn’t pursue the matter. I also have sole responsibility for my children.

    On notes to the school, I have to write (mother) after my name to show my relationship with the children. And, there does seem to be a social stigma attached to the mother having a different name to the child. Although this could very well be my own belief because I’m the one that doesn’t feel particularly comfortable about having a different name.

    I will certainly look further into this matter now that you have provided some relevant links. Thanks Shell!

    Roz 🙂

    • Thanks so much Roz x
      I wasn’t sure of what my rights were either when we first started looking at changing the name my son is known by, however the fact we have sole custody (in NSW anyways) means we can have the right to apply for a name change. The cost is $150 (per child) which is why we haven’t done it as yet and hoping to get that money tree so we can make it official.
      I believe and from what I have been told legally and from research that having ‘Sole Responsibility’ means the father has no parental right to make ANY decision in regard to the children. I could change their names , get a passport for them , leave the country, choose their school , make medical decisions etc, etc ,and there is no need to consult or inform the other parent , unless the orders state otherwise .
      I have looked up the application form in NSW and it says that once the child is 12 or over, if you are a sole parent, you can apply for a child’s name change.

      I agree with you Roz, perhaps it is more us at times than the children who feel more uncomfortable with the different name, yet in my case and it seems yours, our children have spoken from their heart and mind with what they would prefer. Thanks again xo

      Here is a link for Briths, Deaths & Marriages in QLD: http://www.justice.qld.gov.au/justice-services/births-deaths-and-marriages/change-of-name

      a link for Briths, Deaths & Marriages in NSW: http://www.bdm.nsw.gov.au/changeName/changeName.htm

    • Thank you for your comment 🙂 – that is a good idea what you have done to have it stipulated from the get go. Why not in today’s times have both parents. More and more women are choosing to keep their maiden names and I feel the rise is up on having their children’s names hyphinated. 🙂

  4. My son turns 18 tomorrow and on that auspicious occasion we will be lodging the papers to have his name officially changed to mine. Qld laws are different to the rest of Australia’s and require the authorisation of both parents to have the name of a minor changed. I wasn’t going to go there and ask the other parent. My son has always been known by my surname and only known by his father’s in dealings with Centrelink and just recently with the passports office. He had held a passport until this year in my surname and not been questioned even though his birth certificate was in his fathers name. I could not join my ex husband’s name with my name because I already have a double barrel maiden surname myself and it is that name that my son is known by.

    Cas x

    • Cas, thanks so much for taking the time to comment. You and your son must be excited to know that finally you can make his name official after waiting all this time. I think in NSW the child can choose their name or at least have some say after they are 12 years old. I am not sure for other states and I would have to check on this, however being 18 does make sense as technically, we are suppose to be an adult. I believe at the age of 12, the child can choose which parent they would like to live with.
      I was advised earlier this year after my son started to panic he would be taken away from me when his father threatened to take me to court (mind you I’d been there done that and he never showed up to all 3 hearings) that he would be eligible to get his own solicitor, and he was made to feel confident that he would have his own voice. I wasn’t aware of this and think its great to know the child really is the main focus which often their not and its about the parents fight for themselves. xo

  5. My son too has a hyphenated name…my ex’s first and then mine. The problem I encounter is that his father’s name is shorter and easier and he tends to use that one in school and I use my name for all appointments and so on. It is a bit of a mess but I am glad I at least had both from day one. That way I could avoid some confusion during doctors visits and that. I truly think any child that has parents that are split up should opt for the hyphenated version…makes things a bit easier in the long run.

    • Thank you @Tat2dmomma for your comments. I agree with you that it would be easier if it was agreed the child’s name would be hyphenated. When I Mother remarried, she took on my Step Father’s name and made her’s hyphinated so we would still be connected – by the name. I have now done the same although I haven’t remarried and as I mentioned in my post, my son could not be happier. Sadly in a way, he would prefer to just have mine and loves the nicknames he gets and relates more to it rather than his Father’s name. I have said to him when he is older enough, he can make that decision himself, yet for now it is the right thing to have both. I can understand what you are saying about the shorter name and I think it can sometimes be harder particularly for the kids at school to take on both. Sadly, you miss out on this which is a shame, but as you said, technically your child has both which can be a nice balance. 🙂

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