It is all in the name

Apple, Princess, North are just some of the more unusual names "celebrities" have given to their children in recent years.  Unusual maybe, but harmful?  That was one of the questions the Court of Appeal had to decide when it upheld an order of the Swansea Family Court by which a mother was prevented from calling her twins "Cyanide" and "Preacher" in the case C (Children) [2016] EWCA Civ 364.

Given the numerous unusual, exotic and some may say odd names given to many children the case examined whether the Courts do in fact have the power to intervene to prevent a person with Parental Responsibility from registering a child's name and what is the correct procedural route.  Parental Responsibility is automatically acquired by a mother and means "all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and their property" - the Court confirmed the naming of a child was an act of Parental Responsibility as are decisions about religion, education and consent required for medical care.  A father can acquire Parental Responsibility by being married to or marrying the mother of the child, by agreement of the mother, if unmarried being named as father on the birth certificate (post 1 December 2003) and by order of the Court.  The father was unknown in this case.  Other family members can in certain circumstances obtain Parental Responsibility by order of the Court as can the Local Authority.  It can be common for parents to disagree over schooling, religion and healthcare and the local authorities can also intervene in these areas but it is not as common for there to be intervention with a mother's choice of name for a child.

In this case the mother had long standing mental illness, drug and alcohol misuse and chaotic home conditions.  The Court of Appeal found that naming the girl "Cyanide" would mean she would be likely to suffer significant emotional harm and could use its inherent jurisdiction to intervene.  This name went beyond the unusual, bizarre, extreme or just plain foolish.  The Court rejected the mother's view that the name was "pretty", linked to flowers and plants and a "strong" name.  It went to on say that whilst "Preacher" would not in itself be likely to cause the brother harm, if the brother was called this name it would be likely to lead to significant harm for the girl as when old enough she would ask about her brother's unusual name and, if, as was foreseeable, the answer would be it was the name given by their mother, would lead to her finding out and comparing the name she had not been allowed to have.  The Court found a distinction between being named after a notorious poison compared with a respected member of society.

Interestingly in France until 1993, parents had to choose from a list of "acceptable" names.  Whilst this is no longer the case, probably because of the tradition of state intervention in naming a child, many more cases are determined by the Courts.  Recently, Nutella, Prince William and Minnie Cooper have not been allowed although Tarzan was deemed ok!

Please contact a member of the Family team for further information on Parental Responsibility and Children generally.

Posted on: 21/04/2016

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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