A Child's Surname and What it Means to Have Their Best Interest

In the US, children often take on their father’s surname. The patronymic tradition prevails through society, stemming from past egalitarian ideals. However, these ideals become complicated for children whose parents are unwed. In cases of unwed parents, a majority of the time the child takes the mother’s surname or the parents come to a mutual decision about the name.

But what happens when unwed parents disagree about a child’s surname? That is what happened to Connor H. His parents, Blake G. and Amanda H., were not married but consented to Connor taking his mother’s name. Years later, Amanda remarried and wanted to change her son’s name to his step-father’s name. Blake refused, wanting Connor to take his name instead. Because Connor had a good relationship with both the step-father and his father, the court denied both appeals. Instead, they looked at what was in the child’s best interest.

When deciding what is in the child’s best interest, the court looks at the following:

  • Has one of the parents treated the child inappropriately?
  • Does a parent pay child support diligently?
  • Does the parent maintain consistent contact with the child?
  • How long has the child used their surname?
  • Is the child’s name different from the parent that has custody?
  • Does a child have a reasonable preference to a name?
  • What effect will changing a child’s surname have on their relationship with the parent?
  • What is the degree of communal respect connected with child’s surname?
  • Is there a potential for discomfort or difficulties with changing the child’s surname?
  • How does a child identify with family unit?

With these questions in mind, the court did not give preference to the custodial preference. Rather, they looked at what was best for Connor. They acknowledged both the stable and sound relationships he had with his father and stepfather. Not wanting to disrupt the relationships, the court upheld Connor’s existing surname, his mother’s maiden name.

There are tensions and complications that come with changing a child’s surname. However, it is always important to keep the child’s best interests in mind.