What’s in a name? Parents dispute what to call their children

The name you are given at birth reflects your background and culture. But what if your parents cannot agree what they should call you? Or what culture your name should reflect? In a recent case before a Dutch family court, the parents disputed what names their children should be called after they separated.

Name change children

The parents had three children together. At birth, the children were registered with African first names. The African names are the only first names registered on the children’s birth certificate. The relationship between the parents broke down at some point. The mother then decided to ‘rename’ the children and give them Dutch first names from then on. At home, she started only calling the children by their ‘new’ names. She also started registering the children with only their new Dutch name at school, doctors, hospital, sporting activities etc.

The father protested against using new names for the children. In his opinion, the mother was creating an identity crisis by denying their African heritage. The mother defended her decision by stating that by using Dutch given names, she was leaving room for both their Dutch and African cultural backgrounds.

The court decision

The court did not agree. At birth, the parents made a conscious choice for a certain name for the children. It is not up to the mother to unilaterally stop using the birth name altogether in favour of a new Dutch name. It is also not in the interest of the children that their parents each use different names for them. This could give them the impression that they have to change their identity depending on with which parent they are.

Whether the children’s names are African or Dutch is irrelevant as far as the court is concerned. The court states that it is as damaging for the identity of a child for it to suddenly be called ‘Tim’ instead of ‘Peter’ as against being named a foreign name. Both parents have to play a positive role in the development of identity and personality of their child. Otherwise they may cause lasting psychological damage.

Therefore, the court ruled that both parents must in future introduce and register the children using their birth names as stated in their birth certificate.

Name change for children

The court decision indicates that there is a problematic separation between the parents in the background of this case. Not only the children’s names seem to have been in dispute. One possible solution could have been to add the Dutch names to the children’s birth names via a name change procedure. However, both parents must agree to a name change or even adding an extra first name.

If your have any questions about name change for minor children, please contact us.

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