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Changing Names: Is it Legal?

Christian Andrew Labitoria Gallardo[1]

Unlike in juridical entities where a clear guideline was issued for determining the acceptability of a proposed name[2], there is no law or regulation which restricts the options of the parents in determining the first name to be given to a child, more so, the nickname. Given that the imagination is the limit, some parents somehow use the dark recesses of their imagination in giving their children their names. Admit it, one way or another we have met a person with a name that sounds a bit off, say a woman named “Monay”. If the child then develops a mind conscious enough to determine that the name given to him or her sounds awful, can he or she then file to have his or her name changed legally? If so, what is the procedure?

First of all… What is a name?

The question sounds more like a philosophical conundrum, but there is a legal aspect on this issue. While the Civil Code provides a detailed discussion on determining the last name of a child, it only provides that no person can use different names and surnames, and that the same may not be changed without the requisite judicial authority.[3] It must be clarified from the onset however that the official name of a child is that given in the civil register, and not the one by which he was baptized in his church or known in his community.[4] Hence, in case of conflict between the name in the Civil Register and that in the baptismal certificate and school ID, the one registered in the Civil Register shall be the official name for legal purposes.

As stated, there is no rule confining the parent’s options in giving their children their first names. For the surname however, legitimate and legitimated children shall use the surname of their father while an adopted child shall use the surname of their adopter.[5] This leaves only the illegitimate children to adopt the surname of their mothers.[6] A separate article shall be written to determine the status of legitimacy as well as the corresponding rights to each.

Fortunately however, changing names is legally allowed provided that it is sanctioned by a judicial or administrative authority.

What then is the procedure for changing the name?

The procedure for the change of name depends on the reason for applying for such. If the change of name is sought to correct obviously typographical or clerical error in the registration of the name in the civil register, or only a change in the first name or nickname, an administrative petition may be made before the local civil registrar.[7] Otherwise, if the reason for the change of full name is substantial, such as by reason of naturalization, a judicial application for a change of name shall be applied before the Courts.[8] An administrative petition for correcting typographical errors is processed on a shorter amount of time and is generally less costly than a judicial proceedings for a change of name.

What constitutes as a typographical or clerical error?

A clerical error, as the name implies, refers to a harmless error of a clerk of the civil registrar in writing, copying, transcribing or typing an entry, which is visible to the eyes and can easily be remedied by reference to other existing records.[9] An example of this is correcting the name in the Civil Registrar from “Michael” to “Michelle”[10], or in our case, from “Money” to “Monay”. This may be availed of only once.[11]

What are the grounds for an administrative change of first name or nickname?

(I) The first name or nickname is ridiculous, dishonorable or extremely difficult to write

(II) The proposed first name or nickname has been habitually used to the point that he is publicly known in the community as such

(III) The change will avoid confusion

If the ground for the change of name does not fall in any of those grounds, such as where the change is desired to adopt a Filipino name following naturalization, or when what is sought to be corrected is the middle name or last name, an administrative petition will not suffice and a judicial case is needed.

Clearly therefore, a change of name is not just a simple matter. Safeguards are in place to ensure that it is not done whimsically, or made with the intention to evade arrest or avoid prosecution. Parents, please take note. Meanwhile, I hope that you will remember the name of the group “Business Labor Forum” for free legal updates.

Cover Photo from: Philippine Statistics Authority

[1] Christian Andrew Labitoria Gallardo is a recent graduate of the Ateneo School of Law with a Juris Doctor degree, and is currently an associate of the Sangalan and Gaerlan, Business Lawyers, a law firm specializing in labor, corporate and business law. You may reach him through a phone call or message (09157042132) or via email ( [2] SEC Memorandum Circular No. 13 series of 2019 [3] Article 376 and Article 380, Republic Act 386, Civil Code of the Philippines. [4] San Roque v Republic, G.R. No L-22035 (1968). [5] Art 364 and Art 365, Civil Code. [6] Art 368, Civil Code. [7] RA 9048 [8] Rule 103, Rules of Court. [9] § 2 (3), RA 9048. [10] Republic v Gallo (2018). [11] § 3, RA 9048.


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