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The Idea of Changing Your Name

Throughout our lives, the names bestowed upon us by our parents tend to stick with us. While there are no concrete statistics available, it is safe to assume that most individuals retain their original names. However, there is a growing trend of people opting for a different moniker than the one given to them at birth. This decision can be attributed to various factors, such as embarking on a creative journey or enduring childhood bullying. In this captivating article, we delve into the Spanish regulations that embrace this personal choice and delve into a myriad of captivating scenarios that shed light on this intriguing phenomenon.

A lot of Spanish names used as an example
Figure 1: Many names in a spherical shape

In Spain, the possibility of changing its own name was regulated by the law BOE-A-1957-7537 until the year 2021 when the law 20/2011 replaced it. This new regulation had the intention to improve the previous one as that one was adopted in 1957 and the political and social context of that time was completely different to today's context. In all these 60 years of difference between both versions, the world had changed and within these changes, all the individuals had gained many personal rights related to their genre, sex, and free personal decisions. For these reasons, the law in reference above needed to be updated. Regarding the topic that is under analysis today, the main points that were improved with the 20/2011 law are the followings:

a) The historical prevalence of the paternal surname over the maternal surname is dispensed with by allowing both parents to decide the order of surnames.

b) At the request of the person concerned or his or her legal representative, the registrar shall replace his or her proper name by its equivalent in any of the Spanish languages.

c) The registrar shall impose a first name and surname in common usage on a child whose parentage cannot be established.

d) The proper name shall be freely chosen and shall only be subject to the following limitations, which shall be interpreted restrictively:

- No more than two simple names or one compound name may be given.

- Names that are contrary to the dignity of the person may not be imposed, nor those that make identification confusing. For the purposes of determining whether the identification is confusing, the correspondence of the name with the person's sex or sexual identity shall not be considered.

- A name held by one of his or her brothers or sisters with identical surnames may not be given to the newborn child, unless he or she is deceased.

With the considerations set out above, it is possible to visualize the changes inserted in the regulations regulating the name of persons and how this legal update has given more freedom to choose one's own name. In the following cases will be shown different interesting scenarios that contain this theme.

A blank Spanish DNI
Figure 2: An example of a Spanish DNI

In 2022 a judge in Spain did not allow parents to use the name they had chosen for their daughter. The name was "Haiza", from the Basque language Euskera, which means "seed", but the judge considered that it could be pejorative. This was contrary to one of the exceptions included in the law which states that names cannot be nouns. As a solution, the judge decided that parents have to choose the name "Zía" which comes from Latin and had the same meaning as "Haiza" but with no more meanings than that one. The problem was that one of the translations of the parents' choice could be "semen". Faced with the refusal received, the parents went before the judge, and the minister maintained her position and urged them to choose another name otherwise, she would do it herself. In the end, after consulting with the Spanish Real Academy and receiving no concerns regarding the name chosen, the parents states that they would search for another instance to settle the matter. Through this case, we can see how, despite trying to regulate the greatest number of people's actions through legislation, many decisions are left to the free interpretation of individuals, as can be seen in the case of the discretionary power of the judge. And although the 20/2021 regulation sought to expand people's rights to choose their name, the law still has its limits and ultimately depends on a personal interpretation.

The other case exposed occurred in 2021 and is related to a change of surname in Spain. A father wanted to give his second surname to his recently born daughter as the surname was in danger of extinction. After research, the father found out that only 20 people had his surname and it was in danger of disappearing. Upon requesting this change, he received a negative decision from the Dirección General de los Registros y del Notariado (Directorate-General for Registers and Notaries General) and after presenting a legal option he received a negative too. Finally, and before lodging an appeal in cassation with the supreme court, the request was approved. The arguments used by the supreme court were the followings: On one hand the surname had a real risk of disappearing and this is a legal option to preserve it; while on the other hand, the surname in question rightfully belongs to the petitioner. It is also worth mentioning that the request does not constitute a fraud of law and is not affecting third parties. This is another example whrere we found that, despite the greater freedoms obtained through legislation that is more adapted to today's times, everything ultimately depends on a personal interpretation as seen in the case above where the petition was rejected three times before it was finally authorized in the end

The Justice represented in one picture
Figure 3: Image of various typical objects of justice

This article showed the progress that has been made in Spain in relation to the freedom of choosing one's name and the choice of the order of surnames. To analyze the applicability of legislation 20/2011, which is quite recent, two cases were presented which contained certain particularities given that it was not a simple choice of name or the choice of the maternal surname over the paternal surname. The first case showed an election of a name that was polemical and perhaps was contemplated in one of the exemptions of the name choosing that states that names that are contrary to the dignity of the person may not be imposed. While in the second case, we demonstrated how a parent who wanted to give his newborn his second surname to prevent its disappearance. Through these examples, our intention was to show how, despite the broad rights and freedoms to choose one's name and order of surnames, this right may eventually clash with subjective interpretations or with specific situations that are not fully covered by the different legislations and need further analysis of the law. Perhaps some interpretations still contain old conceptions that might be updated due to the social changes that keep moving faster than the different regulations. And as more and more cases of this kind arise, the law will eventually be readjusted and adapted to today's times.

Bibliography references

Cambronero Escobar, A (2022) Cómo cambiar de nombre y apellidos

Costa, A (2023) Nombres prohibidos en España: la ley impide poner estos

De Miguel, H (2022) Una Jueza elige el nombre de una niña en contra del criterio de sus padres

Noticias Jurídicas (2021) El Supremo autoriza el cambio de nombre de una niña para evitar que se extinga el segundo apellido de su padre

(1957) Ley de 8 de junio sobre el Registro Civil

(2021) Ley 20/2011, de 21 de julio, del Registro Civil

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Author Photo

Baldomero Villamil

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