The legislative paternalism of South Carolina’s name change law

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Is this requirement some archaic law that never got rescinded?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.


Put Mr. Forman’s experience, knowledge, and dedication to your service for any of your South Carolina family law needs.

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