Parents often spend a long time choosing with love, care and attention the name that will appear on their baby's birth certificate. Just in case you change your mind later, Tennessee law allows you to pick a different name, but you'll have to go to court to do it. The process varies depending on whether you're changing the child's first name or surname, and whether the parents were married or unmarried at the time of the child's birth.
If the child's parents were married at the time of the baby's birth, there is a one-year period when both parents can mutually decide to change the baby's name. You can make any changes you like to the baby's first and middle names, but under Tennessee name change law, the child's surname can only be changed to the mother's surname, the mother's maiden name, the father's surname or any combination of these.
For children of unmarried parents, the mother has the sole right to choose the child's first name and middle name. By Tennessee law, the baby must be given the same last name as the mother, the mother's maiden name or any combination of the two. The mother is also allowed – but not required – to give the baby their father's surname if the father acknowledges his paternity.
Rights of an Unmarried Father
Tennessee law permits the child's biological father to ask the court to change the child's surname to the father's surname as long as the father has sworn a declaration of paternity. But the odds may be stacked against him. If the mother objects, Tennessee courts will not change the child's surname unless it is in the child's best interest. The father must show that the mother had done something sufficiently wrong to forfeit her right to pass on her surname. When both parents are of equal character, the mother's surname will trump.
Procedure for a Legal Name Change in Tennessee
Regardless of marital status, the parent or parents seeking the name change must file a petition in the county court where the child lives. Start the proceedings by visiting the courthouse to request a Petition for Change of Name of Minor form from the court clerk. Fill out the details and sign the verification in front of a notary public. The petition may require supporting evidence, such as the child's birth certificate, Social Security information and photo IDs for the petitioning parents. File the appropriate documents with the court clerk and pay the filing fee.
Attend the Court Hearing
After filing the petition, the court will schedule a hearing date. At the hearing, the judge listens to the facts and determines whether the name change is in the best interest of the child. If the other parent files an objection to your name change request, the case will be contested. At this point, you might think about consulting an attorney or you will have to represent yourself in a contested hearing.
After the Court Hearing
If the name change is approved, the judge issues an official name change order. You will need this document to legally amend the child's birth certificate, Social Security record and other vital documents.