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Naming a child

Contributed by KelliFleay and current to 1 November 2017

This section deals with the law as it relates to naming children. It also contains some practical information about how to add details to registered information and get a birth certificate. The Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act (BDMRA) governs the process of naming in the NT.

Naming at birth

Under the BDMRA all births must be registered. The parents of a child born in the NT must lodge a birth registration statement, usually referred to as a registration form, with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages (BDM) within 60 days of the date of birth [BDMRA s.16]. Registration forms are available from the BDM offices in Darwin and Alice Springs, and are also distributed to new mothers who birth in NT hospitals. Mothers who birth at home can collect a form from BDM or have it sent through the post. Additional requirements apply to home births if there was no 'responsible person' at the birth (such as a doctor, midwife or health worker) to provide the necessary particulars to BDM [BDMRA s.12]. Generally BDM would require statutory declarations (see Legal documents ) from those who witnessed the birth and anyone else who had knowledge of the facts.

A person who fails to register a child can be fined a maximum of 8 penalty units.

The form requires a child to be named [BDMRA s.20], unless the child is stillborn. Both parents have to sign the registration form, unless there are compelling reasons why they can't. In some circumstances BDM accepts a birth registration statement from a person who is not a parent but who has knowledge of the facts. Parents can choose any given name or surname for their child, except for prohibited names (see Prohibited names ). Parents don't have to follow any customary naming practices, so a child could, for example, be given a different surname than the one used by siblings.

Naming by the registrar

If parents are unable to agree on their child's name or have chosen a prohibited name, the BDM assigns a name to the child [BDMRA s.20]. Before the child is named, the BDM issues a written policy, which outlines the principles that are to be followed in the naming of the child. How a name is chosen depends on the circumstances of each case. The policy takes into account any cultural naming practices, including the traditional naming practices of Aboriginal parents. For example, it is recognised that there is often a considerable time lapse between when an Aboriginal child is born and when the child is named. In addition, Aboriginal families often do not have surnames in the European sense. Parents who aren't happy with the name BDM has chosen can have the decision reviewed by the Supreme Court. Parents seeking review should seek legal advice.

Parents who can't agree on a child's name can also apply to the Supreme Court to have the dispute resolved [BDMRA s.21]. Again, legal advice should be sought.

Naming on adoption

When a child is adopted by two parents who have the same surname, the child takes that surname. The same rule is applied when there is only one adoptive parent. When adoptive parents have different surnames, the child will take the surname specified in the adoption application that was approved by the court, or another name approved in the adoption order [Adoption of Children Act (ACA) s.48].

An adopted child takes as first names, the names specified in the application for adoption approved by the court.

The court won't approve a name as a surname or first name unless it is satisfied that, as far as is practicable, the wishes and feelings of the child have been taken into account [ACA s.48].

An adoptive parent can change the name of their adopted child, although if the child is aged 14 years or older or aware of the meaning and implications of the new name, the child's consent is required (see Changing names ).

Adding information later

Under the BDMRA, details of parents can be included in the register after the birth is registered [s.19]. For example, details about a child's father can be added several years after the child's birth, and a child's name changed to accommodate the new information. An application to add father's details can be made at any time. No time limit applies. If the parents consent to adding the father's name to the birth certificate then they can collect an application form from BDM. This form is to be completed by both parents. If a father refuses to sign the application form then the BDM cannot enter his name on the birth certificate, even if parentage testing proves that he is the father. The BDM will only include the father's name if a court orders the registrar to do so or if a court makes a finding that he is the father of the child [s.19]. If a court order is obtained the mother will have to file the court order with the BDM together with the appropriate application form outlining the particulars of the father that are to be added to the certificate.

Prohibited names

The BDM can refuse to register a name or change a name to something that is prohibited under the BDMRA [ss.20, 26]. A prohibited name is a name that is considered obscene or offensive, isn't practical because it is too long or made up of symbols that don't represent vocal sounds, includes or resembles an official title or rank or is contrary to the public interest [BDMRA s.4].

Costs involved with naming

There are no costs involved with naming a child at birth. It does, however, cost to change names so for further information regarding a change of name for a child and the fees, please contact the BDM office.

Birth certificates

When a birth registration statement has been lodged, parents can apply for a certified copy of details of the registered information, commonly called a birth certificate. A birth certificate of a child can be obtained at any stage by a parent, an adoptive parent, a legal guardian, or an authorised agent, provided that the correct forms are completed and necessary identification is provided. Once a child turns 18 years of age, their consent is required before their certificate can be provided to another person. A copy of the statement outlining the access policy for the issue of certificates can be obtained from the Registrar [BDMRA s.45]. For more information about birth certificates see Legal documents .

Changing the name of a child

For information about changing a child's name see Changing names .

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