When a child is born, the hospital generally allows the mother to choose the child's name. In cases where the child is born out of wedlock, the mother is almost always allowed to do so. So what happens when the father doesn't agree with the mother's choice and wants the child to have a different name?
Well, the father can petition the Court to address this issue, but such cases have generally been thought of as an action for a “name change.” In such cases, the burden of proof was on the father to prove that the name change was in the child's best interest. However, I now believe that it may be incorrect to look at this issue in that manner.
In a case decided earlier this month, the Iowa Court of Appeals recently pointed out the distinction between a “request for a name change” and a “challenge to the initial determination of a surname.” In its very insightful opinion, the Court pointed out
When a parent unilaterally chooses a child's name, the other parent may request the court to examine the name issue–as “the mother does not have the absolute right to name the child because of custody due to birth. Consequently, [she] should gain no advantage from her unilateral act in naming the child.” Therefore, when the court first entertains an action between the parents to determine their legal rights and relationships with each other and the child, the court may also consider the legitimacy of the child's original naming as part of its determination of the child's legal status and custody.