The general answer is no, a child does not have to take the father’s last name in Texas.
While most children take on their father’s family name, in Texas there is no legal requirement for this. Parents traditionally agree on first and middle names for their kids, with the last name coming from the paternal side of the child’s family tree. In Texas however, there is no law requiring that the father’s last name trump the mother’s last name or any other last name that could be given to the child. The public policy behind building strong, healthy families supports parents coming into agreement when naming their children, and supports giving children names that will promote inter-familial bonds. However, when parents cannot agree on a child’s name, they are left wavering between tradition and their own preferences. The current tradition in Texas (and for much of the Western world) has traditionally been to pass on the father’s last name to his children. This tradition of course has been applied mainly to children born in marital unions. The tradition has not applied so much to children born out of wedlock.
In situations where one parent names a child, what happens when the other parent wants the name changed? This scenario comes up frequently when for example a father attempts to change his child’s last name to his surname after the mother initially named the child. Or in another example, when a mother attempts to change her child’s last name to hers after the relationship with the father ends. Texas Family Code Chapter 45 deals with name changes for kids (and adults), and in it judges are permitted, upon request by a party, to change a child’s name based on the “best interest” of the child. Like other parts of Texas family law dealing with kids, “best interest” directives give judges a lot of discretion. It’s important a parent seeking a name change give good and convincing reasons to a judge in support of the name change.
Name Change Considerations
Courts won’t just change a child’s name for a father because he’s a man; gender is not a criteria Texas courts are to consider. Also, the older the child the more difficult it becomes to change the child’s name when there’s disagreement over the change. In fact, the law requires kids aged 10 or older to give their consent to the changing of their name. Lastly, when deciding a name change petition, courts have considered some of the following criteria among others:
- length of time a name has been used by the child;
- a name change’s effect on child’s identity and family and community identification;
- the degree of parental contact with the child, i.e, abandonment or parental alienation; and
- one parent’s remarriage.
Parents welcoming a child into the world obtain the great joy and great burden of choosing names for their kids. When disagreement happen and a name change debate ensues, parents should seek legal counsel to help them assess the right course of action before the courts.