Periodically I am asked questions about name changes for children or whether a mother is obligated to use the biological father’s last name for the child (answer: she’s not). A child’s last name is obviously an important and complicated issue that relates to the child’s identity and understanding of their history and parents. Mishandling a child’s last name can have emotional and legal repercussions for the child later in life.

A recent case out of Lawrence County in Pennsylvania highlights the standards used to consider whether changing a child’s name is in their best interests. The case In Re: Jessica Benegasi Foore involved a petition by the mother to remove the last name of the child’s biological father (“Foore”). The Court agreed on the basis that the child did not have a relationship with her father, thus there was no risk of alienation or interference with that relationship, but also because the name change would mirror that of her mother and half-sibling. The court considered that sharing the same name as the other members of her family would make the transition into school easier and provide her with better emotional security. The court also recognized that the father’s name carried with a negative connotation and poor reputation.

The considerations made the court in this case are not exhaustive, but provide a good insight into what facts make for successful name change petitions.

In Re: Jessica Benegasi Foore, C.P. Lawrence County, No. 70097 of 2011, M.D. (C.C.P. July 17, 2013).