CHANGING ONE’S SURNAME IN ZIMBABWE
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” is a popular quote from William Shakespear’s Romeo and Juliet play. The quote is generally used to indicate that the names of things do not affect the nature and the character of those things. Notwithstanding this quote, people often desire to change their names. There is a plethora of reasons which trigger change of surnames and names generally. These include but are not limited to ease of migration with minors, general dislike of the name and its meaning, religious reasons and instances where a minor’s paternity is ascertained. This list is however not exhaustive.
Changing one’s surname can prove to be a mammoth task when one is ignorant of how to navigate the legal turf let alone tackle the seemingly menacing Registrar General’s office. Oftentimes women are faced with a hurdle when they set out to change their minor children’s surnames. The frustrations associated with the denial to change a minor’s surname cannot be overemphasized. This article shall outline the procedures attendant to change of surnames in Zimbabwe.
“The procedural requirements for an adult’s name change and that of a minor are the same except that a minor’s application is made by a responsible person. “
Procedure for change of surname
In terms of section 18(3) of the Births and Deaths Registration Act (Chapter 5:02), registration of change of surname in the Registrar-General’s register is effected upon application by the concerned person and payment of the prescribed fees. Further, the Registrar- General has to be satisfied that a notarial deed of change of name has been duly registered with the Deeds Registry and that the change of surname has been advertised in the Gazette.
The procedural requirements for an adult’s name change and that of a minor are the same except that a minor’s application is made by a responsible person. It is common cause that minors execute their rights and obligations through their legal guardians.
It is important to state that the Act defines a responsible parent as the mother in circumstances where the father of the minor is dead, or the mother has been given custody by virtue of operation of law, or if the child is born out of wedlock. The father is also considered as a responsible parent in any other case falling outside these specifically mentioned circumstances.
Death of a minor’s father and instances where there is a court order for custody need no further clarification. However, it is critical to explain who qualifies to be termed as a child born out of wedlock. A child who is born out of wedlock is one who is born of parents who were not married to each other at the time of his conception and have not subsequently married each other.
In order to have a change of a minor’s name registered, the mother ought to make the required application, furnish the Registrar General with a notarial deed of change of name and proof of publication of the notice.
There is a misconception that women ought to secure the consent of a minor’s father when changing the surnames of minors who are born out of wedlock. The mother does not need to obtain the father’s consent when changing that minor’s surname. A customary law marriage accords to a father guardianship rights for customary law purposes only. The procuring and application for changes of information on a birth certificate is not an exercise of a father’s customary law guardianship rights and as such his consent thereto is not needed.
In the case of Rumbidzai Cleo Katedza v Adrian Tulani Chunga and Another HH 50/03 the court held that a mother of a child born out of wedlock does not need to obtain a father’s consent when changing a minor’s name. It was further held that acquisition of a birth certificate, a passport or a visa cannot be regarded as part of customary law or custom relating the status, guardianship and custody of children.
The mother of a child born out of wedlock is the responsible parent who has the right to procure the minor’s birth certificates and apply for change of names to be affected. These are her common law rights.
Notarial deed of change of name
This article will not be complete if we do not outline what a notarial deed is. A notarial deed of change of name is a deed that is attested by a specialised lawyer who is called a Notary Public. The Notary Public prepares the deed setting out that an individual desire to change the surname for good and sufficient reasons. The deed further outlines that the person is renouncing the previous surname and will therefrom be identified by the new surname in all transactions,actions,suits and proceedings and all occasions and dealings.
Prior to filing the deed for registration, it is mandatory that the notice of application for change of the surname is published in both the Government Gazette and a widely read newspaper in the region where the Applicant resides in. For example, if an Applicant resides in Harare, the notice will be published in the Government Gazette and either The Herald or Newsday.
Publication of a legal notice for change of name is essential in order to notify the public of the changes in one’s name and allows for objections if there are lawful reasons thereto. After the expiry of 14 (Fourteen) days from the date of publication, the notarial deed of change of name will be lodged with the Deeds Registry for registration.
From the on-going, it is clear that the change of one’s surname is not a complicated process. One ought to place reliance on the expertise of a notary public and the process smooth flows therefrom.
All writers’ opinions are their own and do not constitute legal or professional advice in any way whatsoever. We recommend readers to perform their independent research and/or seek legal advice from legal practitioners. We accept no responsibility for any loss or damage of whatsoever nature which may arise from reliance on any information published herein.