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Israel: Court Rejects Mother’s Request to Rename Child Against Father’s Will

(Nov. 8, 2019) On October 4, 2019, the Nazareth Family Court in Israel rejected a mother’s request to add an additional first name to her minor daughter’s name against the will of her father. The minor’s parents are divorced. (File No. 53030-09-17 C.S. v. Υ.Α. (decision by Deputy Court President Asaf Zaguri, Oct. 4, 2019, https://www.takdin.co.il , in Hebrew, by subscription.)
Arguments
According to the mother, the addition would “better express the minor’s personality” and improve her well-being at school as she is already referred to at school by her added name. Objecting, the father responded that his daughter had been named after his mother, a name selection that reflected the nexus between the child and his family, tradition, and culture. (Paras. 4, 5.)
An expert psychologist appointed by the Court to review the case supported accepting the request, having concluded that the parents’ conflict about the renaming is linked to unresolved conflicts between them. The psychologist suggested that “[f]ailure to add the name may increase and intensify the conflict … and thus the child will be required to deal with the conflict for many more years without a solution.” (Para. 11.)
A guardian ad litem appointed by the Court to act on behalf of the minor, however, objected to the request, arguing that “the minor should not be a reflection of the conflict between the parents. As long as she manages with both names there is no need to [formally] add an additional name.” (Para. 14.)
Decision
Judge Zaguri considered that, unlike disputes regarding a child’s last name, a suit for a change of a first name is unique. (Paras. 15–16.) In his view,
[t]he first name given to children by the parents at birth is the result of a set of reasons… associations, beliefs, circumstances, strategies, narratives and ideas. These are related to the personality of the parents but also to the society, tradition, and religion to which they belong. …
It is undeniable that a name has a significant weight in the development of the girl’s identity and its cohesiveness; every girl undergoes a process … [of] “socialization … in which [she] learns to be part of the society and the culture in which she lives. The process influences the shaping of [her] personality, the way she behaves, and her thoughts and feelings. This process finds expression and is certainly influenced by the choice of [the child’s] name. (Paras. 17, 21.)
Judge Zaguri further determined that the mother’s attempt to select an additional first name for the minor would in effect erase part of the child’s existing identity. In his view, adding an additional first name would not be in the child’s best interest and might also be considered a strategy to disassociate the girl from the father. The mother’s request, he held, was in fact a demand that the minor join her in a coalition against the father that the judge characterized as the minor’s “second birth.” (Para. 25.)
Judge Zaguri further stated:
It is clear to the Court that the mother in her subjective experience now feels a sense of liberation from the burden of marriage and from the connection with a person who she perceives as violent and overbearing. It is also clear to me that choosing a different name for a girl is an expression of the mother’s sense of liberation and change in her life. But this should not be at the expense of the girl! [Emphasis in original] The mother has to cope with the crisis … while reducing the damage caused to the child, not increasing it. By the same token, it could be said that the father could have made it easier for the child if he had agreed to add the name, but clearly this will not happen. … Therefore, the solution is to reject the suit and force the parents to [receive] parental guidance and [undergo] counseling to arrive at mutually agreeable ways of reducing the use of the [added] name … and returning to a more common and frequent use of the name with which the minor was born. (Para. 33.)
On the basis of his arguments, Judge Zaguri rejected the suit and held that the minor’s name would remain unchanged. He ordered the minor’s school to mainly use her official name and the mother to significantly reduce the use of the new name both at home and in the child’s immediate vicinity. In addition, the Court instructed the parents to receive parental counseling from a body chosen by the social worker and to follow the counselor’s guidance on reducing the use of the additional name given by the mother. The judge also ordered that a report on the implementation of the judgement be submitted to the Court within 90 days. (Para. 36.)

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