How to legally change your child’s name

You can change your child’s name at any time — so long as they’re under the age of 16 years.  You don’t have to have a valid reason, but everyone with parental responsibility must agree to the change.

16 and 17-year-olds should change their own name — using an adult deed poll — but there are some situations where they’ll need the consent of everyone with parental responsibility for them.

The process of changing a child’s name is just the same as for an adult, so for more general information you should look at our advice on how to change your name.

Note that young people over the age of 16 can change their own name by deed poll — they don’t need the consent of anyone with parental responsibility.  This doesn’t apply if there’s a court order still in force forbidding the change of name.

To change a child’s name by deed poll, everyone with parental responsibility for the child must agree to the change of name in writing.  Official bodies will insist on seeing this written consent (as well as the deed poll) when you update the child’s records.

Alternatively, you can make a statutory declaration confirming that everyone with parental responsibility has agreed to the change of name.  However this is only possible if there are no court orders in force concerning the child — otherwise, you must have everyone’s written consent.  Note that making a false statutory declaration is a criminal offence.

If you cannot get everybody’s consent, then you’ll have to get a court order permitting the change of name — typically a Specific Issue Order.

It’s good practice to get the consent of all the child’s parents even if one of the parents doesn’t have parental responsibility.  In cases where a dispute reaches the courts, the court tends to particularly resist changes of surname — it’s considered to be an important link of identity to the child’s father (or mother, as the case may be).  There have been cases where a child’s father has got a court order to reverse a change of surname even without having parental responsibility for the child.  For more information, see below about changing a child’s surname when the father doesn’t have parental responsibility.

If your child is resident in Scotland, it’s enough that one person with parental responsibilities and rights gives their consent to the change of name, but that person must make a written statement that they’ve consulted everyone else with parental responsibilities and rights about the change, as far as practical, and taken their views into account.  Official bodies will insist on seeing this written statement (as well as the deed poll) when you update the child’s records.

If for some reason you don’t want to consult the other parent, you can apply for a court order permitting the change of name — typically a Specific Issue Order.

If the child is resident in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland

According to the law, you must get the consent of everyone with parental responsibility to change a child’s surname.  All official bodies will insist on having consent from everybody in writing.  If you have a passport issued in the new surname and HM Passport Office discovers that a person with parental responsibility hasn’t given their consent, they’ll reclaim your passport.

If you want to change your child’s surname against the wishes of someone else with parental responsibility, you should get a court order — normally a Specific Issue Order (although any order that deals with the issue of permitting the change of name is acceptable).  Official bodies will accept the court order in place of the consent.

In the past, people have been more relaxed about changing the surname of a child, but since a notable court case in 1997, the courts have been very reluctant to allow a change of surname.  In law, a child’s change of surname is fundamental and no official body should allow a child to be known by a new name without the consent of every person with parental responsibility.

On considering cases to do with changes of name the court will always consider the welfare of the child to be the most important matter.  Therefore it’ll listen carefully to the views and wishes of the child when making a decision (taking into account the age and the circumstances of the child).  However, even when the child themself is in favour of a change of surname, the court tends to resist consenting to such a change because —

  • the initial registration of the child’s name is seen to be a profound matter
  • the child’s surname is seen as a link to the father (or mother, as the case may be), and important to the child’s identity — perhaps even more so when that parent is absent
  • it’s thought to be becoming gradually more acceptable for children to bear a different surname from other members of a family, and so a desire to fit in with the rest of a family isn’t given a lot of weight
  • there must be very clear reasons, considering the child’s welfare, to justify a change of surname

In particular, it’s thought that changing a child’s surname just so that it’s the same as the mother’s (or father’s) isn’t thought to be a good enough reason on its own.  If you want to apply for a court order, bear in mind that you’re more likely to be successful if you request to double-barrel your own surname to the child’s existing surname, because you won’t break the link of identity to the other parent.

It’s quite common for an unmarried mother to change her child’s name by deed poll and then for the father later to get a parental responsibility order.  In this case, at the time the deed poll was executed, the mother was the only one with parental responsibility and therefore the change of name is valid.  If the father wants to revert the name, and the mother doesn’t consent, the father would have to get a Specific Issue Order.  However, it’s quite likely that the court will agree with the father in this sort of case.

If you choose to enrol your deed poll through the Supreme Court, you’re allowed to do so without the consent of everyone with parental responsibility, but you must give reasons as to why you’re unable to get consent.  Then the Judge will make a decision on whether to allow the change.  Thus an enrolled deed poll is acceptable evidence of a name change without need for further proof of consent, because it’s already been approved by the court.  However, the Supreme Court won’t necessarily be any easier to persuade than any other court, so you shouldn’t see this as a way around the problem.

If the father doesn’t have parental responsibility

If you want to change your child’s name, and the child’s father doesn’t have parental responsibility, it’s good practice to contact the father for his views and try to get his consent anyway, even though you aren’t legally obliged to.  This is especially so if —

  • the child bears the father’s surname
  • you want to remove the father’s surname
  • the father has regular contact, or otherwise a positive impact on the child’s welfare
  • the father shows commitment towards the child
  • there’s a good bond between the father and the child (considering the age of the child)

There have been cases where a child’s father has getting a court order to reverse a change of surname even without having parental responsibility for the child.  In cases concerning children, the courts consider the child’s welfare to be the most important matter, and if the court doesn’t consider a change of name clearly to be in the child’s best interests, it’ll probably revert the decision.

If you want to reduce the risk of the father attempting to revert a change of surname, think about —

  • compromising with the father in order to get his consent, typically by double-barrelling your surname with his, rather than replacing the surname
  • applying yourself for a Specific Issue Order to change the surname

If the child is resident in Scotland

If your child is resident in Scotland, you don’t need to have the consent of everybody with parental responsibilities and rights — it’s enough that one person with parental responsibilities and rights gives their consent, but that person must consult everyone else with parental responsibilities and rights, as far as practical, and take their views into account.  They should make a written statement that they’ve done this, and official bodies should insist on seeing the statement before accepting the change of name.

If the child is resident in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland

In law, changes to a child’s forenames aren’t protected to the same extent as the surname — the forenames are thought to be less concrete and less fundamental.  Certain official bodies will require that you get consent from everyone with parental responsibility, and this is certainly the policy of HM Passport Office.  However, other bodies (for example, schools and doctors) won’t be so strict, and it’s acceptable to give different names to those bodies from what is listed in the birth register (provided of course that it isn’t for a fraudulent purpose).

To have your child’s forenames changed on their passport against the wishes of someone else with parental responsibility, the rules are the same as with changing the surname — you’ll need to get a court order — normally a Specific Issue Order.  The only exception is in the case of a minor change of spelling (for example, changing Leslie to Lesley), where it should be enough to have the consent of only one person with parental responsibility.

Note that the law on changing a child’s forenames isn’t so clear as it is for surnames, because the rules are largely based on common law (law based on legal precedent), and because far fewer disputes reach the courts over a child’s forenames than they do over the surname.

If you do take a dispute over a child’s forenames to court, the court will take the same approach as with the surname — it’ll consider what is best for the child’s welfare above anything else.  However —

  • the forenames don’t have the same link of identity to the father (or mother) that the surname has, so in theory there’s less reason to hold on to an unwanted name, especially if the child themself wants to change it
  • it’s much easier in practice and much more commonplace to use different forenames to what is listed on the birth register.  Courts recognise that whatever they decide, a child can ask people to use their preferred name anyway, and there’s nothing the court can do.
  • forenames belong to the child only, unlike the surname which is generally shared by family members, so any reasons given for wanting to change the forenames are more likely to be accepted as being in the child’s best interests, rather than in the interest of the parents (or anyone else)

In practice, though, disputes over a child’s forenames rarely reach the courts, for exactly these reasons — it’s generally more likely to be something that parents can agree about, and even if it isn’t, it doesn’t make much difference in everyday life because in practice people can largely call themselves whatever they like.

If the child is resident in Scotland

If your child is resident in Scotland, the same rules apply as for changing the surname — the consent of one person with parental responsibilities and rights is enough so long as they’ve consulted everyone else with parental responsibilities and rights, as far as practical, and taken their views into account.