I have had a number of moms ask me if they can change the name of their child because dad isn’t around and they don’t think it’s fair for their child to be stuck with his last name.
On the flip side, I have a number of dads ask me if the mom can change their child’s name behind their back.
The short answer is no, you can’t change the child’s name without the other parent’s permission.
Maryland Rule 15-901 provides the procedure for changing a name. To change the name of a minor, both parents must be notified. If the parents agree, then the name can be changed.
But what if the parents disagree?
There have been a number of Maryland cases dealing with this issue. Dorsey v. Tarpley (2004) does a good job of distinguishing between the two types of name change cases:
Initial name: When the baby is just born and the parents can’t agree on a name.
Lassiter-Geers v. Reichenbach, 303 Md. 88 (1985) establishes that neither parent has a presumption in their favor and the standard is what is in the best interests of the child. The case also provides factors for the court to consider:
- The child’s reasonable preference
- The length of time the child has used any of the surnames being considered
- The effect that having one name or the other may have on the preservation and development of the child’s mother-child and father-child relationships
- The identification of the child as a part of a family unit
- The embarrassment, difficulties, or harassment that may result from the child’s use of a particular surname
- Misconduct by one of the child’s parents disparaging of that parent’s surname
- Failure of one of the child’s parents to contribute to the child’s support or to maintain contact with the child
- The degree of community good will or respect associated with a particular surname
Change of name: When the parents agreed on a name but now they have a disagreement.
West v. Wright, 263 Md. 297 (1971) established the idea that when a child has already been named, the court must determine if it is in the child’s best interests to change that name. There is a presumption in favor of keeping the name that can only be overcome by extreme circumstances. Schroeder v. Broadfoot, 142 Md. App. 569 (2002) describes factors for the court to consider but the bar is set pretty high. One parent has to behave almost criminally bad before it rises to the level to warrant changing the name.