What happens if married parents disagree over the name of their newborn child?

What happens if the parents of a newborn baby absolutely disagree on the name of a newborn child? When my daughter was born in Massachusetts two years ago, I was furious when the nurses came in with the birth certificate and I went up to sign it after my wife did. The nurses said, “That is just for the mother fill out and sign, there is no place for your signature.” That probably pissed me off more than it should but the birth certificate is the document that gives the baby its legal name.

I am sure that it varies from state to state but what recourse does the other parent have if their spouse pulls a nutty and puts something completely different than they talked about it on the birth certificate?

BTW, my wife and I completely agreed on a name and ours worked out just fine. I am just curious about the odd situation where the parents do not for whatever reason.

The name can always be changed later, but I think that since the mother is usually the one that signs the birth certificate, she gets to decide. At least that is what my mother did with me. She wasn’t into using my grandfather’s first and middle name (though the name is fine and she liked my grandfather), there were too many already sporting that name in the family.


The other obvious reason is that you are 100% sure who the mother is.

In the Netherlands, the birth certificate has to be signed at City Hall within a few days after the birth, so usually the father does the job, while the mother is still recovering.

The birth certificate is final, spelling errors and everything included, so the father is the one who, for all practical purposes, decides. In my case, we’re talking 1967, my father gave my given name as Carlein, while my mother had insisted on Carlijn. IIRC, they have had quite a row over it, but done is done.
To change it I would have to go through an official legal namechange, and no-one thought that was worth the hassle. .

Also of interest to the OP might be the fact that in the Netherlands, in the last 10 years, both parents get to choose not only the given name, but also the surname. They can choose freely between the mothers surname and the fathers surname.

That is the way in the United States too but is even more extreme. The parents can give the baby any name including a surname of an ancestor or one that is completely made up. I can easily see a mother that is still under the influence of painkillers or just plain vindictive to just come up with something that the father never even heard of. It sounds a more than a little unfair to me and I was pissed that the authority goes soley to the mother even if the mother and father are married.

Surnames, too? :eek:

So John Baker and Sue Smith can have a baby named John McPerson?

It is all a matter of local custom. For most of the planet, in the case of a married woman what the husband says is the final word. Nobody would question the right of a father to name his child. Male domination is the rule for most of the planet. Massachusetts may be atypical based on world norms. Where in Africa or Asia if the husband wanted to name his kid “John” would anyone in charge question this? Heck, in Africa or Asia likely nobody would even think of asking the mother. Her husband would handle such a matter.

Note: this wouldn’t be just a matter of male domination in these cultures. The husband naming the child would be a public acknowledgement that this is his own flesh and blood. Officially leaving the matter to the mother could be seen as insulting her honor, and leave open the matter of the parentage of the child. A man naming the child is public statement it is his kid.


Yes, although as a practical matter this is almost unheard of. About the only case that wouldn’t cause people to laugh at you behind your back (or even to your face) would be a recent immigrant who wanted to “Americanize” his kid’s name.

In most common-law jurisdictions, especially the US, there is no regulation of names, and you can use whatever name you like (regardless of your birth name) as long as you’re not trying to defraud people or otherwise be nefarious. That includes giving whatever name you want to your child. And if you give him something really bizarre, then he can simply choose to go by something else if he wants.

One area where new surnames come up is with the hyphenators. Mary Smith and Sam Jones mary and become with Smith-Joneses. Not wanting their children to bear the burden of such ridiculous matrimonial nomenclature, they name them Peter and Paul Smones.

In every case I’m aware of (my own kids, friends, family, etc) they seem to intentionally bring in the papers while the mother is alone so there can’t be any fighting over the name.

I do know of one case where the parents disagreed. The father basically said you can name it anything except Jeffrey. You can guess what name he come home with.

Speaking only from my own experience, the birth certificate paperwork is filled out while mother and baby are still in the hospital. How is the hospital supposed to know if the mother and father are married or not? Can’t go by last names- too many unmarried people use the same last name and too many married people don’t. Can’t go by insurance coverage- some married women have the family coverage, some married couples each have their own, and some employers cover domestic partners. You’d have to bring the marriage certificate to the hospital in case of a dispute. Easier for the hospital to just have the mother sign the paperwork in all cases. How would you have the hospital decide who gets to sign the paperwork if a married couple disagree? She’s the one in the hospital and they know it’s her baby.

I can see how immigrants would want to Americanize their names. Y’in Wu’-unprouncable vowel -tsan would become Jean Wang.
But wouldn’t a great many people Americans change their kids name to something uppity, or use their kids name to express fandom? What stops John Baker and Sue Smith from naming their baby things like
Elvis Presly II
Johnny Kennedy
Johnny Marx
Johnny Vanderstein
James T. Kirk?

And, as an afterthought; doesn’t this naming practice make it virtually impossible to do any genealogy in the USA ?

We’re allowed to make up a new last name for a child, but it’s not a common practice. I can’t find any statistics right now, but you would be safe to assume that this practice happens less than 1% of the time, and so wouldn’t have much of an affect on genealogy.

In most cases, common sense and decency. Most people don’t want to have their kid be a laughing stock.

In all other cases: absolutely nothing.

Yeah, there are a handful of freaks who do things like that, but most of us want to raise children who won’t grow up hating our guts, and won’t spit on our grave after we’re gone because we thought it would be cute to name the boy James T. Bubba Kennedy.

Yes one has to look further when one hears about ‘males ruling the world’. As usually the truth lies somewhere inbetween and I think you hit it here. It is also acknowleagment that the union between female and male is universally reconized and accepted.