In the recent case of C (Change of Forename: Child in Care), Re  EWHC 2813 (Fam), The Honourable Mr Justice Cobb considered an application by the local authority to change the forename of a baby boy (aged 8 months old), who is subject to an interim care order and is currently being looked after by the local authority. The Judge refers to the child as “C” throughout.
The mother gave C the forename; “Mia” which he is registered as on his birth certificate. The local authority’s case was that “Mia … is likely to suffer significant emotional harm, as a result of him having been given a name that is predominantly considered to be a female name, when he is male. It is submitted on behalf of the local authority that such a name may attract ridicule or teasing and by consequence is capable of having a negative impact on his self-esteem as he grows up.”
The local authority therefore sought permission to change C’s forename to “T2”, which was the forename given to him by his mother for a few weeks following his birth, and which is a forename ordinarily associated with someone who is male. The local authority’s application was supported by the father, paternal grandmother (into whose care C was soon likely to be placed for the long-term), and, for different reasons to the other parties, the Children’s Guardian. The mother opposed the local authority’s application.
When C was born, initially, the mother referred to him as “T1”, which was the forename of her own late father. When C was then around 6 weeks old, the mother changed his forename to “T2”, however, just before registering C’s birth, the mother changed his forename once again, and gave him (and registered him with) the forenames; “Mia Adonis”. The mother explained that her reasoning for this was that she wanted C’s names in combination to reflect the phrase “my beautiful boy”.
The Judge referred to various case law when considering the local authority’s application and stated that the following principles are relevant to the facts in the case:-
The courts intervention under the inherent jurisdiction
- This is likely to happen only rarely. Indeed, only in a “most extreme” case should the court exercise its power to prevent a parent from registering a child with the name chosen by that parent for the child (Re C at );
- The issue of whether there is a power within the inherent jurisdiction to prevent a parent with parental responsibility from naming their child with a particular name is dependent on whether the court is satisfied that to allow such a name to be used would likely cause that child significant harm (Re C at [108-109]);
- Although “it will only rarely be the case”, nonetheless “the giving of a particular name to a child [i.e., like ‘Cyanide’ in Re C for instance] can give a court reasonable cause to believe that, absent its intervention, the child in question is likely to suffer significant emotional harm” (Re C at );
- The changing of a name (surname or forename) is a matter of importance, and in determining whether or not a change should take place the court must first and foremost have regard to the welfare of the child; section 1(1) and section 1(3) Children Act (CA) 1989 therefore apply;
- The decision (on an application to change a forename) is highly fact-specific;
Registration of names at birth
- Registration of a particular name is always a relevant and an important consideration, but it is not in itself decisive. The weight to be given to it by the court will depend upon the other relevant factors or valid countervailing reasons which may tip the balance the other way (Re W, A, B);
Surname / forename
- The principles to be applied to change of name casesare the same regardless of whether a proposed name change relates to a forename or a surname (Re D, L and LA (Care: Change of Forename).
- Put another way, forenames hold the same importance as surnames and the same principles should apply in considering and resolving any issue relating to a forename and surname;
Parental attitudes and attitudes of others
- The attitude and views of the individual parents and/or proposed carers are only relevant as far as they may affect the conduct of those persons and therefore indirectly affect the welfare of the child (Dawson v Wearmouth);
Link to the past
- “The sharing of a forename with a parent or grandparent or bearing a forename which readily identifies a child as belonging to his or her particular religious or cultural background, can be a source of great pride to a child and give him or her an important sense of ‘belonging‘ which will be invaluable throughout his or her life.” (Re C at );
- Article 8 ECHR is engaged. It would be “a significant interference in the ECHR, Art 8 rights of a parent right in play – a right to private and family life to prevent them from giving the child the name of their choice” (Re C at ).
Mr Justice Cobb considered the above and separated his conclusions into two parts, reflected by the following questions: –
- Are there reasonable grounds for believing that C (born male) will suffer significant harm in the school and community in which he is raised (through teasing, ridicule or otherwise), if he has the forename Mia – a name currently ordinarily associated with a female?
- Are there reasonable grounds for believing that C will suffer significant harm (by intra-family conflict, and/or confusion) if he is placed with his paternal family who are all opposed to him having the name Mia (unilaterally chosen by the mother), where the placement is vulnerable to disruption from the mother?
The Judge concluded that on point (i) above, he was not satisfied that giving C the forename “Mia” establishes reasonable cause to believe that C would be likely to suffer significant harm. This is due to several reasons as set out at paragraph 39 of his judgment, but in short, Mr Justice Cobb raised that there are a vast range of forenames used in today’s multi-cultural and diverse society, and there are many forenames in common currency now, which would not have been thought of 5 or 10 or so years ago. The Judge also raised that societies views on gender are evolving at some pace, and there are not the same fixed notions of binary female/male in society, as there was even a decade ago. The Judge raised that it is important to respect the mother’s choice of forenames, and the court should only interfere with parent’s choice of forenames for a child in care in the “most extreme” of cases and only when the choice of name goes “beyond the unusual, bizarre, extreme or plain foolish”. Crucially, the Judge did not regard the forename “Mia” as sufficiently “unusual, bizarre, extreme or plain foolish” to justify the courts intervention.
In respect of point (ii) above, the Judge raised that the forename “Mia” is strongly disliked by the paternal family, with whom C is likely to be placed with for the long-term. Mr Justice Cobb raised that to require the paternal family to call C by the forename “Mia”, for the rest of his life could expose C to an avoidable source of potential future conflict in his family, this being underlined by the mother’s position being clear that she does not wish for C to live with his paternal family. The Judge raised that if he did not formally allow C’s name change to T2 (which has the value of being one of the mother’s original choices – as set out above) now, the paternal family will simply unilaterally call C by a forename other than Mia, and if they were to do this, they may use another name to T2, which could generate considerable conflict between the mother and the paternal family, which could have a negative impact on C. In view of this, the Judge approved the forename change by the addition of the forename T2, however, he was clear that the mother’s choice of names should not be removed, so C’s name should be [T2] Mia Adonis [Surname], so that those names are available for C should he wish to use them in the future.
The Judge made clear that the approval of the local authority’s application is contingent on the care plan for C being approved by the court, and a care order being made for C to live with his paternal family. If this care plan is not approved by the court, then the change of name application is not approved.
Should you need any advice about family proceedings concerning children, we at Dawson Cornwell would be happy to assist you with this. Please do not hesitate to contact us on +44 (0)20 7242 2556 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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