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Baby Name Legal FAQ

Some commonly asked questions are addressed below.

Please note that since state and territory laws are not uniform these answers are not definite. Contact your local government to get specific detailed answers to your questions.

If your name choice is very unusual, be sure of the law in your area before naming your baby.

  • Q
  • What do I need to know about my baby's birth certificate?
  • A
  • The birth certificate will be filled out by the hospital. If you have a home birth, you will have to contact the appropriate authority and file on your own. Check the birth certificate thoroughly to ensure its correctness before signing. Once it has been officially recorded by the government you may request copies as needed. Generally the full name does not need to be determined prior to registering the birth certificate but the amount of evidence required to change the name later will vary greatly depending on the amount of time since the birth. The amount of evidence required to correct the certificate also varies, so again, remember to check it thoroughly before signing.
  • Q
  • Are there any restrictions on the choice of names?
  • A
  • Possibly. In the U.S. we are fairly free to choose any name with the exception that the name must be composed of letters (and not symbols and or numbers). This freedom of choice does vary in other countries however.

  • Q
  • May I choose my baby's surname?
  • A
  • This is dictated by state regulation. Some states still dictate that the father's surname is used if the parents are married, otherwise the mother's name is used. Other states allow the parents to choose the child's surname. Check with your local government office.
  • Q
  • How can a baby's name be legally changed after its birth is registered?
  • A
  • This varies from state to state and within the state by the amount of time since the birth. It can be as simple as a signed affidavit or as complex as a formal court procedure. Check your local jurisdiction for specific information.
  • Q
  • How are adopted children named?
  • A
  • An adopted child's name is recorded in the adoption decree. The adoptive parents select the given name and the surname is added in accordance to the laws of their locality.
  • Q
  • How may a child's name be changed by a stepfather or foster parents?
  • A
  • In most states, individuals are required to follow the same procedures as for an adoption or a legal name change.

  • Q
  • How do I get a social security number for my baby?
  • A
  • Babies born in the United States or born abroad to a United States citizen are eligible to get a social security number (SSN). You may obtain a SSN for your baby in one of two ways.
    (1) At the hospital, at the same time that the paperwork for the birth certificate is done. Parents can request that the birth certificate issuer forward the relevant information to the Social Security Administration.
    (2) You can also later apply directly to the Social Security Administration. You will need to fill out an applicaton (form SS-5) and provide proof of your child's citizenship, age and identity as well as your own. Forms are available online, or at your nearest Social Security office, or by calling Social Security's national toll free number: 1-800-772-1213.
  • Q
  • Why do I need a social security number for my baby?
  • A
  • Social Security numbers are required for many transactions and services. For example, in order to be claimed as a dependent on your income taxes, open a bank or other financial account, be part of a medical coverage policy, or be eligible for a number of government services your baby will need a Social Security Number.