April 2006 "What's In A Name?"
PLANNING FOR WEALTH & SECURITY
By attorneys Jennifer & Jeff Hawkins
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
A name is an often neglected and misused part of a person’s identity. When Jesus Christ walked the earth, people were known by their first names, places of residence and occupations such as: Lydia, the seller of purple; or Joseph, of Arimathea. Today’s phone book is so full of names that we must use first and last and sometimes middle names to distinguish ourselves from one another. This need for distinction has some interesting legal consequences also.
Parents name their child at birth and the state issues a birth certificate. A mountain of records will grow throughout the child’s life as evidence of things that the child does and places the child goes until the child’s death.
Some children’s names reflect turbulent beginnings. A child who is offered for adoption may receive a very generic birth certificate name such as “Baby Doe.” This lets the adoptive parents name the child in the court’s adoption decree.
Children born to unwed parents are usually given the mother’s name or the father’s name. Such a child has little chance to share the names of both parents without significant legal proceedings later in life.
A bride often takes the last name of her husband when she marries. A bride may keep or drop her maiden name; take her maiden name as a middle name; or hyphenate her last name with the maiden name followed by the married name. It may surprise many people to know that there is no legal authority for a woman to change her name when she marries. The world has accepted these practices through centuries of custom and practice without question.
Statutory authority for a woman to change her name appears in the divorce statutes. A woman may change her last name in a divorce decree if she asks the judge to change her name in her petition before the court. If a divorced woman changes her name, she should secure a new Social Security card and change all identifying information such as driver’s licenses, bank accounts, and phone directory listings to ensure that she receives proper notifications and benefits.
Divorcees who forgot to drop their ex-husbands names in their divorces and children of hippie parents sometimes hate their names. Such a person can change the name by petitioning the court for a name change. The process is technically demanding and requires that notice of the name change be published in the newspaper. A properly administered name change procedure will cause the Indiana State Department of Health to issue a new birth certificate showing the person’s new name as if the person had been born with that name. As with divorced women, people who have changed their names should update their Social Security and other records to stay connected with important government agencies.
It has always been important to distinguish yourself carefully in the world. Big problems can arise if your name is too similar to other people. For example, you may be a very upstanding citizen, but a similarly named irresponsible person can ruin your credit and reputation if you do not take steps to distinguish yourself. It is important to sign your full first name and use your middle name or middle initial on all important documents, and use it consistently in everything that you do. Otherwise, your business may be hampered because people can not distinguish you from less desirable people.
This discussion brings us full circle to the long awaited day of a child’s birth. Parents should consider carefully how a child will wear a name. Parents should ensure that a name serves the child equally well in the cradle, the grave, and all points in between. A bland name shared by millions of other people may be bad, but cute names that are hard to spell or expose a child to ridicule are worse. Choose well and your children will thank you.
THIS ARTICLE IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. ALWAYS CONSULT AN ATTORNEY DIRECTLY BEFORE RELYING UPON THIS ARTICLE OR CHANGING AN ESTATE PLAN.
© 2006 by HAWKINS LAW PC, Estate, Trust & Business Attorneys. All rights reserved.