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Changing baby's name on birth certificate

A mother and child are shown in this

A mother and child are shown in this file photo. Credit: Fotolia

Q. Once my baby is born, how long do I have to decide on his name? What if I change my mind? Is there a prescribed time period in which I have to make a decision?

A.Parents typically fill out the birth certificate information at a hospital after a child is born and before being discharged, says Dr. Joseph Greensher, vice chairman of the department of pediatrics at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola. The hospital generates the certificate of live birth and forwards it to local authorities. The hospital also files the information electronically with the state Department of Health in Albany.

Once that's done, that's it unless the hospital has made an error, says Carol Levatino, deputy town clerk and deputy registrar for the Town of Huntington. If there is a typo or other mistake -- the parents get the certificate and say, "That wasn't supposed to be an 'i'; it was supposed to be an 'l,' " for instance -- the state allows the hospital one year during which a corrected birth certificate can be reissued, Levatino says.

But you can't just change Mary's name to Samantha, for instance. "You can't be willy-nilly changing your child's name," Levatino says. "Albany would not tolerate that." Then you're looking at going to court and getting a legal name change, she says. The bottom line: Have a name chosen -- or at least narrowed to a couple of choices -- before junior's birth. Then embrace your decision.

UPDATE

Q. In response to a Parental Guidance column above regarding whether parents can change their minds once they choose a baby's name, a reader emailed this: "I believe your column in today's paper did not supply complete information."

A.The reader went on to explain that she and her husband left their hospital without giving any first name to each of their three children, born over a period of seven years. Birth certificates were issued with other information -- last name, date of birth -- leaving the first name blank. She and her husband decided on names when they were ready and later registered them at town hall.

That's accurate. If you choose a first name at the hospital and later change your mind, that's when you have a problem and need to seek a legal name change. But if you leave without filling in any first name at all, that rarely used loophole buys parents extra time. You later fill out a state form called a "supplemental report of given name," says Jo-Ann Raia, Huntington Town clerk. There's no time limit, Raia says.

"After we brought our first daughter home, we tried the different names we were considering and finally decided on one after she was 7 weeks old," the writer says. "Getting a new birth certificate with her 'real' name was easy. I would recommend trying out the name at home and getting accustomed to it on your baby before registering it."

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