The legislative paternalism of South Carolina’s name change law

Posted Wednesday, August 9th, 2017 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Jurisprudence, Legislation, Of Interest to General Public, South Carolina Specific

When my wife was a social worker at a local hospital she once acted as a case manager for a mother giving birth to twins. That mother had allowed her five year-old son to name the newborns. Thus, there are teenage twins running around the LowCountry with the names “Bubba” and “Mufasa.”

No South Carolina judge and no South Carolina administrative agency had to approve these children’s names.  Mother had the absolute right to delegate the naming of the children to her young son–who no doubt selected these names based upon his five year-old’s opinion of what sounded cool.  She had the right to give the children random names from a dictionary.  She had the right to name her son, Sue.  Absent a name that was vulgar or offensive, South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) will approve any name a parent wishes to give a child (actually I’m not sure that DHEC has the legal authority to reject vulgar or offensive names).

Yet, when it comes to changing a child’s name, South Carolina makes the procedure vastly more complicated. Even if a proposed name change is uncontested, South Carolina Code § 15-49-10(B) still requires a family court judge’s approval, and further requires the appointment of an independent guardian ad litem to represent the child’s best interests.

I’ve yet to hear any reasonable justification for this. One can name one’s children Bubba and Mufasa at birth without any oversight by judge or administrative agency. Yet to rename such children John and Susan (or to rename John and Susan to be Bubba and Mufasa) requires a judge’s approval and a guardian’s oversight. Certainly the judicial process is useful for contested name change requests, but it is unclear why even administrative agency oversight is needed for uncontested ones.

Is this requirement some archaic law that never got rescinded? Is it the product of a legal system that hopes to make money off of what should be uncomplicated matters? Is it some form of bizarre paternalism by the state? I don’t ask these questions facetiously: if my dear readers understand the logic of this law, please comment below.


3 thoughts on The legislative paternalism of South Carolina’s name change law

  1. Conrad F says:

    Well, there is an old case named Shull or Stull or something like that which says that while the parent can petition the court for the change it is incumbent on the court to make sure it is the kid’s desire to change his name, really protecting the child’s individual right, even against a parent, to his own name. I am pretty sure it also mentioned that you have to notice the father because fathers have an interest in their child’s name. I have long felt the cases that give a greater weight to the father in the child’s name are constitutionally unsound but quite frankly the idea that the child has an individual right even beyond the parent or parent’s desire is pretty cool.

  2. Alissa Danielson says:

    I disagree that a child should have the right over a parent for such a petty thing as a name change. In doing so you are permitting children to believe they are above their parents, not to mention violating a parents rights by allowing the state to intervene in parenting decisions of a fit parent! Family courts do this enough without petty cases like these adding to the problem. Children need to be children who are disciplined, and taught morals and respect so that they will have a better understanding of how to deal with life as it changes throughout adulthood, and possibly make better decision attributed to their upbringing. Allowing a child to overrun a parent through the courts, is setting a child up for failure! Children need to understand that actions have consequences and that they will always have rules to follow even as an adult! Parents are held legally responsible for the actions of their children until they reach the age of 18 so no a child shouldn’t have an “individual right” to anything without their parents approval. On another note I can see where this would be needed if a mother was trying to change the child’s last name without the biological father’s permission, because that would be a violation of that father’s rights.

    1. Gregory Forman says:

      I agree one needs court intervention, and a guardian, for contested name changes.

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