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Half a name plus half a name doesn’t add up

Jim Hawkins • Dec 17, 2015 at 7:02 PM

“I have trouble remembering three things: faces, names, and – I can’t remember what the third thing is.” — Fred Allen, American comedian and radio show star

One of the duties of Tennessee’s attorney general is to issue advisory opinions on legal questions posed by elected officials.

Recently, state Rep. Charles Sargent, of Franklin, asked an interesting question. Sargent asked whether it is legal for married parents to create a new hybrid surname (last name) for their child, using half of the father’s surname and half of the mother’s surname.

On Aug. 14, Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr. provided his official opinion in answer to that question:


This succinct one-word opinion was then followed by an analysis and explanation.

Q. What exactly is a “hybrid surname”?

The attorney general offered an example of a hybrid surname, which is not allowed by Tennessee law:

“For example, if the father’s surname were “Johnson” and the mother’s surname were “McAllister,” the child’s surname could be “Johnson” or “Johnson-McAllister” or “McAllister-Johnson” or “McAllister” by mutual agreement of both parents. But it could not be “Johnister” or “McAllinson.” 

Q. What is the Tennessee law that governs the surnames of children?

Cooper explained Tennessee Code Annotated section 68-3-305(a)(1) limits the choice of surnames for children of married parents:

“(a)(1) If the mother was married at the time of either conception or birth, or anytime between conception and birth, to the natural father of the child, the name of the natural father shall be entered on the certificate and the surname of the child shall be entered on the certificate as one of the following:

(A) The surname of the natural father; or

(B) The surname of the natural father in combination with either the mother’s surname or the mother’s maiden surname.”

By law and by custom, of course, parents are still free to choose or create whatever first name and middle name they wish for their child. 

James B. (Jim) Hawkins is a general practice and public interest law attorney based in Gallatin. This column represents legal information, and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. All cases are different and need individual attention. Consult with a private attorney of choice to review the facts and law specific to a case. To suggest future column topics, call 615-452-9200.

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