What’s in a surname?

Change of surname on marriage

A usual consequence of marriage is that the wife adopts the husband’s surname, together with the designation “Mrs”. She could also change her surname to a double-barrel surname.

Legally, however, she is not obliged to use her husband’s surname and may use either her maiden name or any other surname she bore before her marriage. Professional women often keep their maiden names.

Change of man’s surname

On good cause shown, Home Affairs may authorise a man to change his surname. He must apply on the prescribed form, and the name change is placed in the gazette if approved.

The husband is not permitted to take his wife’s name except after application to the Director-General.

Change of surname on divorce or death

On divorce or becoming a widow, a woman may revert to her maiden surname, retain her married name or revert to any name she bore at any prior time.

The law affecting surnames

The Births and Deaths Registration Act 51 of 1992 and The Children’s Act 38 of 2005 govern the surname a child assumes at birth and when a woman or man may change his or her surname.

Section 13(3) of the Civil Union Act, 17 of 2006, stipulates that references to a ‘husband, wife or spouse’ must also apply to same-sex civil union partners.

The surname of a child at birth

A legitimate child 

They take the surname of the father.

A child born out of wedlock

  • The child takes the surname of the mother. However, the child can assume the natural father’s surname if both parents apply jointly to enter the father’s surname in the birth register and the father acknowledges his paternity in writing.
  • If parents marry any time after the child’s birth, the law considers the child born of parents married at the time of their birth.

A child born of voidable marriage

  • The rights of a child born of a voidable marriage shall not be affected by the annulment of that marriage. A court cannot annul a voidable marriage until it has inquired into and considered safeguarding the rights and interests of a child of that marriage.
  • If a court annuls a marriage involving a child, the law puts the father in the same position as the father of a child who divorced that child’s mother.

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