How to legally change your child’s name

You can change your child’s name at any time — so long as they are 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.

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 is a court order still in force forbidding the change of name.

Note: The rest of this page is about who has to give their consent to change a child’s name. There is a lot of information, and the rules about who has parental responsibility are quite complex.

For most people, we recommend you just go ahead and fill in the application form. The form will work out who has to give consent to change your child’s name. The information you fill in will then also be checked by a deed poll adviser.

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 will have to get a court order permitting the change of name — typically a Specific Issue Order.

It is 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 is 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 is 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 have 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.

Definition of mother, father, and second parent

When it comes to child law, the terms mother and father do not necessarily refer to the biological (or “natural”) mother and father. When the law talks about the “parents” of a child, it always means the legal parents, unless it’s written explicitly otherwise.

The legal parents of a child don’t have to be a man and a woman — it’s possible for two men to be the parents, or two women — in which case one of those parents is referred to as the second parent. However a child can’t have more than two parents.

Whether or not someone is recognised as the mother, father or second parent of a child doesn’t mean that that parent has parental responsibility — who is a “parent” and who has “parental responsibility” are two separate issues.

For the purposes of this site, mother and father are normally taken to mean the legal mother and father, which are defined as follows:

The mother

The legal mother is defined to be the woman who gives birth to the child.

It’s possible for another woman (who isn’t the birth mother) to become the legal mother if:

  • she adopts the child
  • the child was born to a surrogate mother, and the court grants a Parental Order naming her as one of the child’s parents

Note that in the case of a surrogacy arrangement, the commissioning parents — the couple who arranged for the surrogate mother to carry a child for them — need to apply to the courts for the Parental Order that allows them to re-register the birth and be named as the child’s parents.

The father

The legal father is, in general, defined to be the biological father, however there are some exceptions to this:

  • If a man has donated sperm to a licensed fertility clinic, he won’t be the legal father of any child conceived using his sperm.
  • If a man’s sperm is used to conceive a child after his death, he won’t be considered the legal father.
  • If a married woman becomes pregnant as a result of artificial insemination or IVF, then her husband is the legal father, unless it’s shown that he didn’t consent to the fertility treatment. (not in the Isle of Man or Channel Islands)
  • If a woman becomes pregnant as a result of artificial insemination or IVF at a licensed clinic, and she makes a formal agreement with a man, before getting pregnant, for him to act as the father, then that man is the legal father. (not in the Isle of Man or Channel Islands, and only for pregnancies since 6th April 2009 — before this date it was still possible, but the rules were different)

It’s possible for another man (who isn’t the biological father) to become the legal father if:

  • he adopts the child
  • the child was born to a surrogate mother, and the court grants a Parental Order naming him and the biological mother as the child’s parents

If none of these conditions apply, the biological father is regarded as the legal father. However he will only be recognised as the father if:

  • he was married to the mother at any time when the mother was pregnant with the child
  • he is named as the father on the child’s birth or adoption certificate
  • he is found to be the father in court proceedings
  • a court issues a declaration that he is the parent of the child
  • a court issues a declaration that the child is the legitimate child of his parents (not in Scotland)

There is also a presumption in law that a married man is the father of any child conceived or born during the course of the marriage. If the husband is not the biological father, it will need to be proven that he isn’t the true father, e.g. by a DNA test.

The second female parent

A woman is defined to be the second parent of a child if:

  • her civil partner becomes pregnant as a result of artificial insemination or IVF, unless it’s shown that she didn’t consent to the fertility treatment (not in the Isle of Man or Channel Islands)
  • she makes a formal agreement with another woman, before that woman becomes pregnant as a result of artificial insemination or IVF at a licensed clinic, for her to act as the second parent (not in the Isle of Man or Channel Islands, and only for pregnancies since 6th April 2009)
  • she adopts the child with another woman
  • the child was born to a surrogate mother, and the court grants a Parental Order naming her and the biological mother as the child’s parents

The second male parent

A man is defined to be the second parent of a child if:

  • he adopts the child with another man
  • the child was born to a surrogate mother, and the court grants a Parental Order naming him and the biological father as the child’s parents

Parental Responsibility

Definition

England & Wales

Parental responsibility is defined as:

all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property

Parental responsibility gives an individual legal rights in respect of the child. More than one person may hold parental responsibility for a child, and they will not lose that parental responsibility because some other person subsequently gets parental responsibility for the child.

To change a child’s name, you need the consent of all people with parental responsibility, or a court order permitting the change of name.

Scotland

In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the law talks about “parental responsibility”, but in Scotland, the same concept is called parental responsibilities and parental rights, and it’s defined differently.

For a child under the age of 16, parental responsibilities are defined as:

the responsibility —
  • to safeguard and promote the child’s health, development and welfare
  • to provide direction and guidance to the child, in a manner appropriate to the stage of development of the child
  • if the child is not living with the parent, to maintain personal relations and direct contact with the child on a regular basis
  • to act as the child’s legal representative

For a child under the age of 16, parental rights are defined as:

the right —
  • to have the child living with the parent or otherwise to regulate the child’s residence
  • to control, direct or guide, in a manner appropriate to the stage of development of the child, the child’s upbringing
  • if the child is not living with the parent, to maintain personal relations and direct contact with the child on a regular basis
  • to act as the child’s legal representative

In Scotland, parental rights only last until the child is 16 years old.
For a child over the age of 16 (and under the age of 18), parental responsibilities are defined as:

the responsibility to provide guidance to the child, in a manner appropriate to the stage of development of the child

Thus for a child under 16, parents can (and must) provide direction and guidance to the child, but once the child is 16, they can only provide guidance.

More than one person may hold parental responsibilities and rights for a child, and they will not lose those responsibilities and rights because some other person subsequently gets parental responsibilities and rights for the child.

Northern Ireland

Parental responsibility is defined as:

all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property

Parental responsibility gives an individual legal rights in respect of the child. More than one person may hold parental responsibility for a child, and they will not lose that parental responsibility because some other person subsequently gets parental responsibility for the child.

To change a child’s name, you need the consent of all people with parental responsibility, or a court order permitting the change of name.

Who has parental responsibility

The mother

A child’s (birth) mother automatically has parental responsibility at birth.
The mother will also have parental responsibility if:

The father

If the parents were married at the time of birth, then each parent automatically has parental responsibility.
The father will also have parental responsibility if:

Otherwise, if the father is not married to the mother at the time of birth, the rules depend on when and where the child was born:

For births registered in the U.K. and the Bailiwick of Guernsey

A child’s father has parental responsibility in any of the following cases:

  • if the father is married to the mother at the time of the conception, or at any time afterwards
  • if the child has been registered or re-registered by both parents in England or Wales on or after 1st December 2003, and the father’s details are recorded on the birth registration
  • if the child has been registered or re-registered by both parents in Scotland on or after 4th May 2006, and the father’s details are recorded on the birth registration
  • if the child was originally registered by both parents in Northern Ireland on or after 15th April 2002, and the father’s details are recorded on the birth registration (re-registration does not give the father parental responsibility)
  • if the child has been registered by both parents in the Bailiwick of Guernsey on or after 4th January 2010, and the father’s details are recorded on the birth registration
  • if the father gets a Parental Responsibility Order or Residence Order
  • if the father enters into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother
For births registered in the Isle of Man

A child’s father has parental responsibility in any of the following cases:

  • if the father is married to the mother at the time of the birth, or at any time afterwards, or at the time of conception
  • if the father gets a Parental Responsibility Order or Residence Order
  • if the father enters into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother
For births registered in the Bailiwick of Jersey

A child’s father has parental responsibility in any of the following cases:

  • if the father is married to the mother at the time of the conception, or at any time afterwards, and the father has acknowledged himself to be the father of the child
  • if the father gets a Parental Responsibility Order or Residence Order
  • if the father enters into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother
For births registered outside the U.K.

If the child was born outside the U.K., but is now resident in the U.K., a child’s father has parental responsibility under the same rules as though the child were born in the part of the U.K. where they’re now living.

The second female parent

If the child was conceived through artificial insemination or IVF, and has a second female parent under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, then she has parental responsibility if:

  • she was in a civil partnership with the mother when the mother became pregnant

and for births registered in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, if:

  • she entered into a civil partnership with the mother at any time before the child’s birth
  • she is resident in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, and enters into a civil partnership with the mother after the child’s birth

Note that this assumes the second female parent is recognised as a second parent according to the definition above.

A woman who is a second parent will also have parental responsibility if:

The second male parent

A man who is a second parent will have parental responsibility if:

Adoptive parents

If a child has been adopted, all parents named on the adoption certificate have parental responsibility. Anyone who had parental responsibility for the child prior to adoption loses their parental responsibility upon adoption.

Parents appointed by a Parental Order (e.g. after a “Surrogacy Arrangement”)

If a child has been carried and born by a surrogate mother, then another couple (at least one of whom must be the child’s biological parent) can apply to the court for a Parental Order, which declares them the legal parents.

The making of a Parental Order is legally very similar to an adoption — it completely breaks the legal link to the legal parents before the order is made (including the surrogate (birth) mother), and it revokes any court orders that were in force up until that point. Anyone who had parental responsibility for the child prior to the making of the Parental Order loses their parental responsibility when the Parental Order is made.

Once the Parental Order is made, the parents can re-register the child’s birth as their child, and the parents named on the child’s birth certificate will each have parental responsibility.

Note that surrogacy arrangements are not enforceable by law. The birth mother (and anyone else with parental responsibility when the child is born) are entitled — if they wish — not to go ahead with the surrogacy arrangement, and to keep their child.

Guardians

A guardian (or testamentary guardian) is someone who has been appointed to have parental responsibility of a child on the death of a parent (or guardian). A guardian can be appointed by any parent with parental responsibility, another guardian, or a special guardian in the event of their own death. Guardians can also be appointed by the court in certain situations.

For children resident in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (at the time of the guardian’s appointment), the guardian will not always have parental responsibility for the child. A guardian only has parental responsibility in one of the following cases:

  • the child has no living parent who has parental responsibility for them
  • the person who appointed the guardian held a Residence Order at the time of their death
  • the guardian was appointed by the child’s only (or last surviving) special guardian

For children resident in Scotland (at the time of the guardian’s appointment), the guardian has parental responsibility on the death of the parent, even if there is another parent or guardian with parental responsibility still available.

Special guardians (England & Wales, and Isle of Man only)

If a special guardian has been appointed for a child, the special guardian has parental responsibility as long as the Special Guardianship Order is in force. The special guardian can exercise parental responsibility to the exclusion of all others with parental responsibility (including parents and holders of Residence Orders) except for another special guardian.

To change the child’s forenames, all special guardians of the child must give their consent; no-one else with parental responsibility need give consent.

However, to change the surname of the child, every person who has parental responsibility must give their written consent, or the court must give their leave.

Who can get parental responsibility

The father

A father who doesn’t have parental responsibility can get it by:

  • marrying the mother (not if the birth was registered in the Bailiwick of Jersey)
  • registering the child’s birth with the mother and recording his details in:
    • England or Wales (on or after 1st December 2003)
    • Scotland (on or after 4th May 2006)
    • Northern Ireland (on or after 15th April 2002)
    • the Bailiwick of Guernsey (on or after 4th January 2010)
  • re-registering the child’s birth with the mother and recording his details — after the appropriate date as above — provided that:
    • the birth was originally registered in England, Wales, or Scotland (not Northern Ireland or Guernsey)
    • no other man is legally recognised as the father, and the original birth registration shows no father’s details (or they have been removed)
  • getting a Parental Responsibility Order or Residence Order
  • entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother

Note that if another man is wrongly registered as the father on the child’s birth certificate, the wrong father’s details must be removed before the child’s birth can be re-registered with the biological father’s details.

The second female parent

For a child born as a result of fertility treatment at a licensed clinic, where:

  • the mother became pregnant on or after 6th April 2009
  • the mother made a formal agreement with the second parent before becoming pregnant for her to act as the second parent

then the second parent can get parental responsibility by:

  • registering the child’s birth with the mother and recording her details
  • entering into a civil partnership with the mother — provided that:
    • the birth was originally registered in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland (not Scotland)
    • the second parent and the child are both resident in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland
    • the original birth registration shows no father or second parent’s details
  • re-registering the child’s birth with the mother and recording her details — provided that:
    • the birth was originally registered in England, Wales, or Scotland (not Northern Ireland)
    • the original birth registration shows no father or second parent’s details
  • getting a Parental Responsibility Order or Residence Order
  • entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother
A step-parent

If a child’s parent already has parental responsibility, and they are married or in a civil partnership with someone else — that is, the child’s step-mother or step-father — then the step-parent can get parental responsibility by:

  • entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the child’s parent (if that parent has sole parental responsibility) or both parents (if both parents have parental responsibility)
  • getting a Parental Responsibility Order or Residence Order
  • adopting the child

Note that in the past it was much more common for step-parents to apply to adopt their step-child. The law was changed (in England & Wales) in 2002 to allow step-parents to get parental responsibility much more easily — that is, through an agreement with the other parents, or by a court order.

Adopting your step-child is generally more difficult to do. The court will only agree to it if they believe it is in the best interests of the child. Normally you would need the consent of everyone with parental responsibility — including the other birth parent — but the court may decide to award the adoption regardless, if it is in the best interests of the child.

Adopting your step-child does not affect your spouse’s parental responsibility. After the adoption, you would have joint parental responsibility. However, the child’s other birth parent (and anyone else with parental responsibility) would lose their parental responsibility. It also cancels out any existing orders, such as Contact Orders, Residence Orders, and Special Guardianship Orders.

A local authority
England & Wales

A local authority in England & Wales can get parental responsibility if the court makes:

  • a Care Order under section 31(1)(a) of the Children Act 1989
  • a Supervision Order under section 31(1)(b) of the Children Act 1989
  • an interim Care Order under section 38 of the Children Act 1989
  • an interim Supervision Order under section 38 of the Children Act 1989

A local authority does not get parental responsibility:

  • by looking after a child under section 20 of the Children Act 1989
  • if a court makes an Education Supervision Order under section 36 of the Children Act 1989

If a local authority has parental responsibility for a child through a Care or Supervision Order, this doesn’t mean that anyone else loses their parental responsibility (unless the court so orders). However, the local authority can decide the extent to which anyone else with parental responsibility may meet that parental responsibility. Changing the child’s surname, though, is an exception — everyone with parental responsibility still has to consent to it.

To change the child’s forenames, only the local authority needs to consent; no-one else with parental responsibility need give consent.

However, to change the surname of the child, everyone who has parental responsibility must give their written consent (that is, the local authority, plus everyone else with parental responsibility), or else the court must give their leave.

Scotland

A local authority in Scotland can get parental responsibilities and rights if the court makes a Permanence Order under section 80 of the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007. The court will decide to what extent the local authority will have parental responsibilities and rights, and it can also decide to:

  • partially or completely revoke the parental responsibilities and rights of anyone else who holds them when the order is made
  • partially or completely award parental responsibilities and rights to any other carer of the child

A local authority does not get parental responsibility:

  • by looking after a child under section 25 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995
  • if a court makes a Child Protection Order under section 57 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995

However if the court makes a Child Protection Order, it may decide to make a direction as to how parental responsibilities and rights should be exercised or fulfilled, if it’s necessary to safeguard or promote the welfare of the child.

Northern Ireland

A local authority in Northern Ireland can get parental responsibility if the court makes:

  • a Care Order under article 50(1)(a) of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995
  • a Supervision Order under article 50(1)(b) of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995
  • an interim Care Order under article 57 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995
  • an interim Supervision Order under article 57 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995

A local authority does not get parental responsibility:

  • by looking after a child under article 21 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995
  • if a court makes an Education Supervision Order under article 55 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995

If a local authority has parental responsibility for a child through a Care or Supervision Order, this doesn’t mean that anyone else loses their parental responsibility (unless the court so orders). However, the local authority can decide the extent to which anyone else with parental responsibility may meet that parental responsibility. Changing the child’s surname, though, is an exception — everyone with parental responsibility still has to consent to it.

To change the child’s forenames, only the local authority needs to consent; no-one else with parental responsibility need give consent.

However, to change the surname of the child, everyone who has parental responsibility must give their written consent (that is, the local authority, plus everyone else with parental responsibility), or else the court must give their leave.

Anyone else

Other people can get parental responsibility of a child by:

  • getting a Residence Order
  • getting an Emergency Protection Order
  • being appointed a guardian by a will or by the court, on the death of one of the child’s parents
  • being appointed a special guardian (England & Wales, and Isle of Man only)
  • adopting the child

Who does not have parental responsibility

The following groups of people will not have normally have parental responsibility unless they have got parental responsibility in some other way:

  • foster carers, or anyone acting in loco parentis (in the place of a parent)
  • holders of Contact Orders

How parental responsibility is lost

Parental responsibility cannot be given up, transferred, or delegated to anyone else. Parental responsibility is only lost:

  • in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland — when the child reaches the age of 18 years (although they can legally change their own name at 16)
  • in Scotland — when the child reaches the age of 16 years (after this point, parents lose their parental rights, and the only parental responsibility they keep is the responsibility to provide guidance to the child)
  • if the child is adopted
  • if the court issues a Parental Order with respect to the child, appointing two other people as the legal parents
  • if parental responsibility is taken away by the court
  • for a person who holds a Residence Order but isn’t a parent or guardian — when the Residence Order comes to an end
  • for a person or local authority who holds parental responsibility because of a Care Order, Supervision Order or Permanence Order — when the order is revoked or comes to an end

Parental responsibility is not lost solely because:

  • someone else gains parental responsibility
  • the parents (or a parent and a step-parent) get divorced, or dissolve their civil partnership
  • it is shown that the father is not the biological father, for example by a DNA test report
  • the wrong father’s details are removed from the birth registration (unless done by a court order such as a Declaration of Parentage, and the court also removes parental responsibility)

If you want to remove someone’s parental responsibility, you should apply to the court for a Specific Issue Order. This application can only be made by someone who has parental responsibility, or the child themself (if they are considered mature enough by the court). However, parental responsibility is only revoked in exceptional circumstances — you will have to show that it is in the best interests of the child. Absence of contact is not thought to be a good enough reason on its own to remove parental responsibility.

Anyone can apply to the court for a for a Declaration of Parentage, provided that they have sufficient personal interest in the outcome, but this does not guarantee any decision about parental responsibility.

One common situation is when a child’s legal father has parental responsibility, but he is not the biological father. If the mother wants to change the child’s name in this sort of case, the "wrong" father will nevertheless need to give his consent, even if his non-paternity is proven by a DNA test. A person can only lose parental responsibility by order of the court.

Note that if the birth certificate is corrected to remove the wrong father’s details — and even if the biological father’s details are later added — the originally registered father will not lose his parental responsibility. It must be removed by a court.

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 has not given their consent, they will 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 will 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 is 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 is not 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 is thought that changing a child’s surname just so that it is the same as the mother’s (or father’s) is not thought to be a good enough reason on its own. If you want to apply for a court order, bear in mind that you are more likely to be successful if you request to double-barrel your own surname to the child’s existing surname, because you will not break the link of identity to the other parent.

It is 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 is 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 are allowed to do so without the consent of everyone with parental responsibility, but you must give reasons as to why you are 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 has 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 is good practice to contact the father for his views and try to get his consent anyway, even though you are not 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 is 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 will 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 do not need to have the consent of everybody with parental responsibilities and rights — it is 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 have 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 are not 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) will not be so strict, and it is acceptable to give different names to those bodies from what is listed in the birth register (provided of course that it is not 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 will 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 is not 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 will consider what is best for the child’s welfare above anything else. However:

  • the forenames do not have the same link of identity to the father (or mother) that the surname has, so in theory there is less reason to hold on to an unwanted name, especially if the child themself wants to change it
  • it is 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 is 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 have consulted everyone else with parental responsibilities and rights, as far as practical, and taken their views into account.