Parents typically give great consideration to naming a new baby, but still there may be times when they change their minds. Tennessee allows parents to change the name of a minor child through the court system. The process varies slightly depending on whether the parent changes the minor’s first or middle name, or surname, and whether the parents were married at the time of the minor child's birth.
According to state of Tennessee law, parents must wait a year after the birth to make a name change. Minors may wish to change their own names, particularly if they identify as trans or nonbinary, but they’ll need to get their parent’s permission to do so.
Why a Parent Changes a Child’s Name
A parent can change a child’s name for any number of reasons, some of which include:
- Marriage: When a mother marries a man who is not the child’s father, she may wish to change the child’s legal surname to that of her husband if she takes her husband's surname.
- Divorce: When a couple splits up, the mother may seek to change her child’s last name if she is the primary custodian and resumes the use of her maiden name.
- Domestic Abuse: A domestic abuse victim may seek to change her name and that of her child for protection from the abuser. In that case, some states allow a child’s name change as part of a protective order or divorce proceeding.
- Paternity: If parents marry after the birth of a child, they may want to change the minor’s surname to that of the father. If a paternity action has been filed, the father can request the child’s name change through the court.
- Adoption: New parents typically want an adopted child to have their surname. This name change usually occurs during adoption proceedings and not as a separate action.
Some minors choose to change their own names, also for a variety of reasons, including gender identification.
In most states, when a minor turns a certain age, the court will consider their preference for a name change, but they cannot independently seek a name change until they are 18. If their parents agree, and the court believes it is in the child’s best interest, they can do so earlier.
Marital Status and Legal Name Change in Tennessee
According to Tennessee Code Annotated Section 68-3-305, if the child's parents were married at the time of their birth, they may change their child’s name one year after the child was born, as long as they both agree to it. The minor’s last name can be changed only to the mother’s last name or maiden name, father’s last name, or any combination of these.
If, when the child was born, the parents were not married, the mother has the sole right to choose the child's first and middle name. However, the minor’s last name must be the same as hers, her maiden name, or a combination of the two.
If the minor’s father acknowledges paternity, the mother can give the minor his surname. The father may also petition the court to change the minor’s surname to his own. If the court finds it in the minor’s best interest to change the name, the name change will be approved.
How to File for a Minor’s Name Change in Tennessee
To start the process for a minor’s name change in Tennessee, a parent must file a petition and pay a filing fee in the county where the child lives.
When doing so, they must show identification, such as a:
- Social Security card
- Birth certificate
- Driver's license with photo ID.
They’ll also need to show a birth certificate for the child.
Seeking Agreement of Both Parents
If just one parent petitions for a minor’s change of name, the other parent must be served with the petition for change of name. If both parents agree on the name change, a court hearing date will be scheduled to make it official.
If one of the parents does not agree and contests the minor’s change of name, a hearing will be scheduled to review the evidence from both parents and the judge will determine if the name change will be allowed.
If one parent cannot locate the other parent, the parent who wishes to change the child’s name must serve notice via publication. This means they are required to publish a legal notice in a newspaper in the last known location of the missing parent for a requisite number of weeks, depending on the county. After the publication period is completed, the missing parent is considered legally notified.
Tennessee Name Changes for Transgender or Nonbinary Minors
An individual who is transgender or nonbinary may want to change their name to better reflect their gender. If they are an adult, they do not need permission for the name change from anyone – they simply file a petition to change their name on their own.
They must, nevertheless, meet Tennessee’s requirements and cannot make a name change to hide a criminal conviction or for some other fraudulent purpose, such as avoiding a debt. The request for a name change must be made in good faith.
Minors who identify as transgender or nonbinary must have their parent’s permission to change their name. If the parents agree, they can petition the court to change the child’s name. If they do not agree, the court will hold a hearing and review evidence to determine if the name change should be allowed.
Obtaining New Child's Birth Certificate
If the court grants the name change request, it will issue an order for a new birth certificate in the minor’s new name. The parents must submit the court order to change other vital records documents, such as the minor’s Social Security records.
- If both parents do not consent to the name change, the other parent must be served with notice of the petition or notified by publication if the parent's address is unknown. Proof of service or publication must be presented to the court.
- If the birth certificate of the child lists the father as unknown, legal procedures to determine paternity must be enacted prior to the name change.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.