Cultural and religious reasons

The court will give weight to cultural and religious reasons, especially in the context of a community that attaches great weight to them.  In the end, it isn’t up to the court to judge whether it is right or wrong for the community to attach importance to such reasons — it just has to judge what the effect will be for the child’s name to be changed, in the context of the family and community which they live in.  If the welfare of the child will be improved, practically speaking, then it should be allowed according to the section 1 criteria.

The case of Re S (Change of Names: Cultural Factors) [2001] All ER (D) 30 (Jul) was a dispute about a boy whose mother was Muslim and whose father was Sikh.  The boy — who lived with his mother — had been registered with an distinctly Sikh first name and surname.

In that case, Mr Justice Wilson ↗ gave the mother leave to use a Muslim name on a day-to-day basis, within the (Muslim) community of the boy’s home, arguing that —

… in order that the child and the mother, whose well-being is inextricably linked with his, should be enabled to integrate into the obviously appropriate environment for them, namely the Muslim community, he must be known on a day-to-day basis by Muslim names.  … He must be registered at school and at the medical and dental practices in those names.  I doubt whether there is a practice of actual registration at the mosque; but in my view he must be known by those names there.

However, he agreed with the Children and Family Reporter that keeping his Sikh birth name (while being known by his Muslim name in the community) would “represent the reality of his parentage,” and that the child could choose to formally remove his Sikh name at a later date — as an adult — if he so wished.

Thus Mr Justice Wilson reckoned it to be better, on balance, to retain his link to his Sikh heritage through his name, and that completely taking away his Sikh name could have a harmful effect.  He held that —

The disadvantage of a formal change of the child’s names by deed poll is that it would contribute to a comprehensive elimination of his half Sikh identity.  … I see no benefit for the child in his names being formally changed by deed poll and I see substantial dangers for him in the long-term of the type to which I have referred.