What's in a name? While a rose by any other name may smell as sweet, feelings can run deep around surnames and laws can sometimes be surprising. Fortunately, Lydia Unsworth is here to share her experience navigating the somewhat tricky process of giving your Netherlands-born children two surnames.
It was always a given for me that, were I ever to have a baby, it would take my surname as well as the father’s. It’s my name, my heritage, and I’m rather attached to it. Which surname would come first was a different matter, and a minor detail to be straightened out between me and my lucky suitor further down the line. And with that clear in my mind, I moved to Amsterdam and got on with my life.
So imagine my surprise when, at five months pregnant, a Dutch friend casually told me over coffee that double-barrelled surnames are not allowed in the Netherlands. The baby can take the mother’s surname or the father’s … but not both.
After my initial outrage, panic, (possibly-hormone-enhanced) tears, and a feeling bordering on resignation, I hit upon the idea of changing my surname to both mine and my partner’s. In the UK this is a fairly simple process, after which, armed with a new passport and a double-barrelled surname of my own, my partner and I headed straight for the Gemeente and registered the baby under my name. It worked.
I'm not saying this is the best solution – at Christmas I did need to spend quite a lot of time convincing my family back home that I hadn’t secretly got married without telling them – but it is one option, depending on your country of origin.
In the list below, I have tried to present everything I learned during this process, as it turns out I’m not the only one baffled by the intricacies of the regulations surrounding this matter. Good luck!
Nationalities of Partners
- If neither partner is Dutch, you can more or less do what you want. If it’s allowed in the country issuing your passports, then it’s allowed here.
- If one partner is Dutch and the other partner comes from a country that routinely allows two surnames (i.e. Spanish or Portuguese speaking countries), then it’s allowed here.
- If one partner is Dutch and the other partner comes from a country that allows two surnames by choice but not as standard (i.e. UK, Australia), then it is not allowed here.
- If both partners are Dutch and don’t already have a double-barrelled surname from their family line, then it is not allowed here.
- If at least one parent is Dutch and you are married, then Dutch Naming Law automatically applies.
- If the father is Dutch and you are unmarried, the father should acknowledge (erkennen) the baby before birth, at which point the baby is a Dutch citizen, and Dutch Law applies.
- If you are umarried, the baby automatically takes the mother’s surname; if you are married, it takes the father’s. However, a quick trip to the Gemeente to state an alternative preference can easily reverse this. Note that currently, parents have until the baby’s first birthday to backtrack on their decision and swap to the other parent’s surname.
- If the child is born to a woman with a partner of the same sex, then in principle, the child will take the name of the biological mother.
Once you have decided which surname you want, it is not then allowed to have the other surname as a middle name – unless you can prove that this surname is also commonly used as a first name somewhere in the world. For example, Li, Leigh, Lee would all be fine, whereas Unsworth took a bit more reckoning with.
After the first child, any and all additional siblings born to the same parents should share the same surname. This is known as the "Uniformity of Name Within the Family" rule.
- Register the baby with your own embassy first: If you can, register your baby-to-be with your own embassy first and take some official papers featuring both surnames along to the Gemeente, then the name should be accepted without any problems.
- Changing surnames after birth: This seems to be the most common route and is possible by obtaining an international birth certificate or non-Dutch passport, and then applying to the Ministry of Justice (Ministerie van Justitie) for a sweet sum of €835 for 1 or 2 children, and €1670 for 3 or more. Note: you will have to prove the laws of your country encourage double-barrelled surnames, or change your own surname prior to the application by …
- Deed poll: Changing your own surname before the birth of your first baby can be a cost-effective way of avoiding an expensive Ministry of Justice application at a later date. The deed poll itself can be free, meaning that this route costs as much as a new passport (and a couple of international postage fees).
- Middle name: As mentioned above, if you want to use the other surname as a middle name you have to prove it has been used as a first name somewhere in the world already. Your home country may have searchable online databases or someone to contact for help with this.
- Try a different Gemeente: I have heard many mamas say that the rules are more lax in different areas of the country and, according to the Gemeente Amsterdam website, it doesn’t matter in which municipality you acknowledge your baby – so if you have the time to spare and fancy a swift erkennen tour of the Netherlands, you could keep trying until you get lucky!
Lydia Unsworth is a writer / poet and editor / proofreader from Manchester, UK. She fled the isle in a timely fashion in June 2016, landed in Amsterdam, and produced a baby. Her debut poetry collection has just been published by Knives Forks & Spoons Press. You can buy a copy at their website. Check out her website for a summary of her publications and her reluctant blogging activity.