Naming Laws in Australia. 2022 Update

naming laws Australia

Child Naming Laws in Australia

Changing a child’s name is a decision that both parents should make together. But, of course in some cases, this is not possible. Commonly issues can arise where:

  • When one parent wants to alter a child’s name but the other parent objects;
  • or when one parent wants to change a child’s name but the other parent objects.

If one parent has already begun to refer to the child by a different name and the other parent objects, the dispute can be brought before the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, which will make a ruling on the child’s name. When a court order is issued, parents must use the name that the court has mandated. ​

The welfare of the child involved and how the change will effect the child both in the short and long term are the most important factors to consider when altering a child’s name.

Family law legislation is all about what’s in the best interests of the child, so the court in considering a change to a child’s name will be focused on looking at the issue through this lens. ​

In this context, a variety of reasons that you believe a child’s name should be changed, will be considered, including the child’s living situation and arrangements, the child’s viewpoint, the child’s family and relationships, and any other relevant cause that might indicate whether a name change is preferable or not.

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Child Naming Laws In Action

If one parent starts using a new name for their child, especially on documents like school reports, sporting activities and doctor’s records, the other parent can apply to the court for a ruling on the proper name to use (if there are no court orders in place).

In the case of Fooks and McCarthy, for example, the child’s father went to the court for a decision after the mother began referring to the child by a hyphenated name on his day-care enrolment forms. In these circumstances, the court stated that the only issue to consider was the “welfare of the child,” again underlining the emphasis that the court places on these types of matters.  In that case, the youngster associated with his current surname, and the court ruled that changing it would be ineffective and may generate resentment by the father. As a result, the judge decided that keeping the child’s current surname was in his best interests.

As a result, prudence should be exercised when considering the legal process of changing a child’s name.  According to section 4 of the Family Law Act 1975, changing a child’s name is a “major long-term issue” (Cth). Both parents must agree to the name change if the Court has decreed equal shared parenting responsibilities. Any change of name without permission could be considered a violation of a court order.

Accordingly, if you’re considering changing a child’s name, getting legal advice that can anticipate what a court may find is a smart move.

​The Process of Changing a Child’s Name

At the outset, you need to acknowledge that various laws across respective states of Australia can complicate the process of changing a child’s name.

For example, in Queensland, if the only issue in dispute is the child’s name change, a party may apply to the Magistrates Court of Queensland for approval of a change of name (also known as an “order 59”), which the Registrar may grant if the Registrar is satisfied that the name is not a prohibited name and that the change is in the child’s best interests.

Alternatively, a party may seek an Order on the allocation of parental responsibility from the Federal Circuit Court or the Family Court of Australia under the Family Law Act 1975. Parental duty refers to all of the legal responsibilities, abilities, and responsibilities that parents have in connection to their children. These considerations include ‘major long-term issues,’ which are described as decisions like a child’s name.

The Court must be convinced that changing the child’s name is in the child’s best interests, and written records of this should be kept in accordance with state law and practice. The welfare of the child, as previously stated, is the most important factor to consider, although additional factors to consider include:-

  • Effects of a modification in the short and long term
  • Any embarrassment to the child
  • The impact a name change would or might have on the parent whose name the child took in the marriage (or relationship)
  • Degree of affiliation with the parents and any new child that the other parent has had with the child
  • The wishes of the other parent.

If you already have a court order stating that parental responsibility is divided between the parents, changing a child’s name without the approval of the other parent may be a violation of that order. This can have serious ramifications.

Our family lawyers offer legal guidance on changing a child’s name, as well as conflict resolution and court representation.

Very importantly, even if you obtain an Order stating that you have exclusive parental responsibility for a child, this may not be enough to file a name change with the Department of Births, Deaths, and Marriages. If you plan to alter a child’s name in the future and are pursuing proceedings under the Family Law Act 1975, you should get a particular Order allowing you to record the name change. If you don’t have it, you’ll have to make an application in the Magistrates Court or take the case back to the family law courts.

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Why are Names taken so seriously!

When the royal couple Duke William and Duchess Catherine of Cambridge were expecting their baby, the people all over the world were just as excited as the royal family. Everybody wanted to know whether the baby would be a boy or girl, when it was to be born, and what the baby’s name would be.

When the baby’s name was finally announced, it turned out to be a combination of three names just like his father, Prince William Arthur Philip. The baby, born on 22 July 2013, is the third-in-line to the throne.  He was named “His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge” or simply Prince George. The name carries the emblem of royalty which is reserved only for the British Royal Family.

Normally, the parents singly or jointly provide for the baby’s name and see to it that it is registered. Obviously, babies have no means to say when parents choose their names. Therefore, parents must be responsible and give their babies a good name that they can be proud of when they grow up. Parents must realise the importance of baby names and the impact it can have on a child throughout their life.

The problem lies mostly with the choice of first names, where parents choose fanciful names for their babies like Lucifer, Majesty, 4Real, Christ, H-Q, and many others without realizing the impact it will have on the child in later years. Justice Robert Murfitt of New Zealand explained it well when he said, “an unusual name makes a fool of the child and sets (them) up with a social disability and handicap.”

This problem was also addressed by New South Wales lawyers General John Hatzistergos, who urged parents to use common sense in choosing a name for a child. He reminds parents that a child’s name is their identity, and that “A person’s reputation will forever be linked to it and I would remind parents of this special significance when choosing a name for their child.” In one of his media releases, he further said, Naming a child is a special event for parents and the name they choose will be with them for life. Naming and registering your child’s birth also legally establishes your child’s identity, helps in providing access to health and social services, and lays the foundation for future needs such as driver’s licences and passports.

Australia’s Child Naming Regulations

In Australia, the rules in relation to names are set out in the Births, Deaths and Marriage Registration Act. The law gives authority to the Birth Registrars to refuse to register baby names that are obscene, offensive, or that sound ridiculous and to assign a name to the child if no agreement can be reached.

Like a lot of countries, Australia has adopted the three-name concept of registering names, which consists of a first or given name, a middle name, and a surname. The surname, by law, has to take the surname of the parents, while the given name and middle name are at the parents discretion. Some parents adopt the maiden name of the mother to be the child’s middle name. Interestingly, this convention is not practiced in China and Japan, which require the use of a given name and a surname only.

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Restrictions on Baby Names

To protect children against careless and harmful names, the government had set out rules in registering baby names in Australia. The rules state that a child’s name must:

  • not be obscene or offensive or contrary to public interest;
    (no racial slurs or infringements on the rights of another;
  • be short and easy to write (In NSW, under 50 characters);
  • not include symbols without phonetic significance such as [email protected], Da!sy, J#ke) or use numerals;
  • not include or resemble an official title or military rank recognised in Australia such as King, Lady, Father, Prince, Sir or Admiral.  This was after a law was passed sometime in 1995 prohibiting the use of titles as part of the baby’s given name.
  • use English letters only;
  • not be similar to a recognised body, organisation or trademark; and
  • In Queensland, the name can’t include a statement, like Save Mother Earth or Down with Capitalism.

Registration of birth within 60 days from the child’s birth date. Normally, the hospital will provide you with the Birth Registration Statement (BRS). Parents must complete the form and submit to the State Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages and apply for a birth certificate.

The use of mother’s surname. A child born to unmarried parents will be registered using the mother’s surname, unless both parents agree to use the father’s surname.

The use of hyphenated names.  A hyphenated surname contains both the surname of the mother and father (e.g. Michelle Brown-Fox). The naming combination is becoming quite common, however it can be impractical when the family names are long.

Changing name. A child’s name may be changed through filing an Application for Change of Name before the Family Court.  Complications can arise if one party disagrees and lodges their disagreement with the court. In such an instance, the court will consider changing the name of the child only if it will be in the  childs best interest.  In some Australian jurisdictions, the changing of names is only allowed twice.

Why Some Baby Names Are Considered Illegal

According to one child psychologist, Andrew Greenfield of Australia, a name can affect a you from childhood right through to adulthood. An undesirable name can even sometimes lead to depression. “One in five parents live to regret the name they gave their kids,” Greenfield said.

Just recently, The New Zealand Government has released a list of 77 names parents can no longer give to their children.  The list was released after the court ordered that Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii’ have her named changed. The names barred include Number 16 bus shelter, and Midnight Chardonnay’.  Laws were also passed prohibiting the use of royal monikers since 2001 like the “King” and “Princess” and the use of numeric characters, such as “III” and “89.”

Some countries strictly monitor child naming conventions, for example:

  • Sweden has rejected the registration of “Superman,” “Metallica,” and “Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 (pronounced Albin).” First names should not be offensive or cause discomfort to the person using it;
  • In Germany, the first name must be descriptive of the child’s gender. The name chosen must not negatively affect the well being of the child. They also prohibit the use of last names or the names of objects or products as first names.  Moreover, registration of names is not free;
  • Denmark, their naming laws are very strict and protect children from having odd names. Parents can only choose from a list of 7,000 pre-approved names (for girls and boys). If parents want a new name not included in the list, they must get a special permission from the local church and have it reviewed by governmental officials.
  • Iceland also provides a National Register of Persons where parents apply and pay a fee for the registration of a child’s name. The name must not be embarrassing for the child in the future and must be aligned with Icelandic traditions.
  • The Dominican Republic has banned the use of names derived from cars or fruits.
  • China requires names to be readable by computer scanners and available on national identification cards. The government now encourages the use of simplified characters over traditional Chinese characters.

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Need legal advice on changing a child's name?

You can book a free, initial consultation with a family law expert.