Naming a new born child is one of the first joyous responsibilities a new parent will face. This decision should not be taken lightly as it provides the bundle of joy with its first sense of identity into the world. Over the years, it has become some sort of trend to name children unusual and somewhat bizarre forenames. Apple, North and Blue Angel are just some of the celebrity baby names which have set the trend. Refusing a mother’s right to name her child is not a decision the Court has taken lightly. In fact, the Court of Appeal had to primarily confirm whether they even had jurisdiction to do so. Essentially, are the Court allowed to prevent the registering of a child’s name and if so, what are the grounds to which they base they decision?
The Swansea Family Court in C (Children)  EWCA 364 heard a mother of twins wanted to name her new borns “Cyanide” and “Preacher”. When a mother gives birth to a child, she automatically gains parental responsibility of that child. This in effect provides her with a bundle of rights and responsibilities enabling her to make important decisions concerning the child’s best interests in regards to education, health and their general upbringing. Choosing a name for a child falls under the brackets of the certain responsibilities you hold. In this particular case, the local authority was also provided with parental responsibility due to the children being taken into care a day after being born. Essentially therefore, the mother shares parental responsibility with her local authority who did not allow her to name her twins.
The reason behind why the local authority had been involved is a sad affair. The mother has a psychotic disorder and has been a schizophrenic for many years. Her ability as a parent was additionally questioned due to her history of alcohol and drug misuse, chaotic home conditions, domestic violence occurrences and her inability to work with professionals in an honest manner.
The Swansea Family Court believed the local authority had been allowed to restrict the mother’s exercise of her parental responsibility in order to prevent naming her twins Preacher and Cyanide. Thereafter an injunction was ordered by the Judge prohibiting the children being registered under these names. This extended to the mother being unable to informally refer to the children or call the children by these names. The mother appealed this decision and it was passed to Lady Justice King in the Court of Appeal.
Firstly, Lady Justice King confirmed the Court have indeed the power to restrict parents naming their child certain names if the child was likely to suffer significant emotional harm. However it was outlined these decisions should only be justified in extreme and concerning cases. As a result, Justice King had to decide whether this case fitted the bill.
Considering the name Cyanide to begin with. Lady Justice King confirmed that certain decisions made by parents in exercising their parental responsibility, will have such crucial consequences that there is no other choice but to have the matter before the Court for its consideration and determination. Lady Justice King believed this was necessary in this case. She continued:
“In my judgement this is one of those rare cases where the Court, in the exercise of its inherent jurisdiction, should intervene to protect the girl twin from the emotional harm that I am satisfied she would suffer if called Cyanide”.
Consequently, the Court ordered for the baby girl not to be called Cyanide. This then left the decision as to whether her brother should continue to be called Preacher. Whilst an unusual name, it was not overtly offensive. Did the Court have reasonable cause to believe the boy would be likely to suffer significant emotional harm if he were to be called Preacher?
Lady Justice King concluded that there would become a time in the children’s lives when the children would question how their names were chosen. This is ever more inevitable when a child has an unusual name and is not living with their natural parents. As a result this foreseeable conversation would lead to the daughter undoubtedly discovering what her initial name was going to be, had it not be disallowed. Lady Justice King explains this:
“…would be to expose the girl twin to a significant part of the very harm the Court seeks to prevent; she would know not only that her mother had chosen to call her “Cyanide”, but also to have to come to terms with the fact that she was to have been named after a notorious poison, whilst her twin brother was to be given the name of a respected member of society “Preacher”.”
As a result, it was concluded that neither child should be registered under the names their biological mother had chosen for them.
Although some may question the unwanted attention a child may receive in school if given an unusual name, the threshold for emotional harm needs to be satisfied before a Court can intervene. Evidently this case was far more complicated than simply the local authority not being content with the name chosen. There were grave parental concerns within this family. The best interests of the child will always be the primary consideration in applications concerning any minor of the family. If parents cannot agree how to exercise their parental responsibility an application can be made to the Court. A Specific Issue Order can be applied for to enforce a parent’s decision or conversely a Prohibited Steps Order can be applied for to restrict a parent from doing something. This includes decisions regarding the child’s school, religion and area of living. The Court will intervene as an objective third party in order to aid parents to come to an agreement amongst themselves. If this cannot be reached the Judge or the Magistrates will make a decision themselves. Parents are always encouraged to come to an arrangement however when matters are close to the heart this is often very difficult to achieve.
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