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Estate Planning

As recent news suggests, parents are looking towards Instagram filters, The Hunger Games and the Kardashians for baby name inspiration and it begs the question – what are the laws around naming your child?

Many people have reacted with more than just a raised eyebrow when hearing about a celebrity couple’s unique choice of name for their newborn baby.

While Reign and North may be perfectly normal choices for Kourtney and Kim Kardashian, in Australia there are laws that govern what children can be named.

Most parents are sensible about what they call their children and these laws are not designed to take away a parent’s right to name their children. The laws exist to protect children, to ensure they are given an appropriate name – a child’s sense of identity and self-worth is strongly connected to their name.

Firstly, it is important to note that giving a child a name is a legal requirement under Australian law. You don’t have to have a chosen a name before the child is born or even straight after they are born, but parents must register their child’s birth within 60 days and that includes giving them a name.

Some parents follow family, religious or cultural traditions or use a baby name book for inspiration. Others come up with their own creative names that may involve unusual spellings or unique pronunciations. While some of these names may raise eyebrows, most will be accepted under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act. However, a registrar can refuse to register a name for a number of reasons, including:

  • It is offensive or obscene.
  • Is too long
  • Contains symbols or numbers
  • It is not in the public interest
  • Is an official title or rank

In Australia, names including Princess, Lord and Anarchy have all been rejected.

A French court recently barred a couple from naming their newborn daughter Nutella because the judge felt the girl would be mocked. They were forced to rename her Ella.

Across the Tasman, in New Zealand a couple who named their daughter Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii also ended up in court in 2008 and were ordered to change her name because it was embarrassing and make a fool of the child.

When it comes to whose surname a child will take, most Australians still opt for tradition. The majority of children still take their father’s surnames. But there is absolutely no legal requirement to do this.

If a child is born to an unmarried couple, the child will be registered with the mother’s surname, unless both parents agree to use the father’s surname.

If a couple divorces, a parent has the right to apply to have their child’s name change. But it’s not an easy process. The permission of the child’s other parent needs to be obtained before any change can go ahead and if no permission is granted, an application can be made to the Family Court.

Ultimately, the court will have to decide if the name change is in the child’s interests.

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