What’s in a name, expat edition

With our upcoming move back to Europe, we have been trying to get SB a passport from Home Country. While there is no doubt that she is a citizen, actually getting the document is proving more tricky than anticipated (although in fairness, I do tend to underestimate these things). 

We each kept our last names when we got married, which isn’t that uncommon. Suppose we are Conceptionally Challenged and Slow Swimmer. One of us could have been named Challenged-Swimmer, but not both, neither our children. We also knew that we’d have to settle on one last name for our kids with the birth of the first (to add a bit more salt to the wound, A&C don’t count here as they were never issued birth certificates in either country). On her birth certificate and passport from this side of the Atlantic, SB’s name is Strawberry Swimmer. When we visited the consulate to apply for her (second) passport, we were told that we’d need to formally declare our family name to be Swimmer (which would take months as it’d go through the authorities in Home Country’s capital), but that they could issue her a passport with a special sticker stating that her name was not formally set yet. However, we didn’t actually do the name declaration right there and then. In part because it required my own birth certificate, which I didn’t carry with me, in part because nobody explained the urgency. Well, two weeks later they called to explain that the special sticker was only an option if we had already sent the name declaration. And that it was now too late to get everything done before we’d leave the country. 

The city hall in H’s hometown, where were formally registered, is happy to issue a passport but doesn’t feel responsible for the name declaration. That should be Wedding City’s responsibility (which I guess kind of makes sense as in the traditional setting, the family name is determined at the wedding). Wedding City first declined due to a miscommunication. A bit more prodding revealed that any city hall can process the name declaration, however Wedding City needs to confirm it. 

What bugs me is that none of this would have happened if SB had been born in Home Country. (I assume naming her there automatically triggers the family name process, confirmed by Wedding City if applicable). And that nobody told us about it. My brother and his girlfriend had no formal issues naming their daughter despite not being married and thus clearly having different last names. The issue wasn’t mentioned on the consulate’s (otherwise very detailed) website either. Is it so rare to live abroad and have different last names?

The theoretical concern appears to be that we could apply for a passport for Strawberry Swimmer now, and for Strawberry Challenged later, and nobody could stop us. The fact that she has a passport from another country with one of those names is irrelevant. (We have a friend who’s child has the Challenged-Swimmer type of last name, and they’re essentially having the same problem with Home Country’s authorities. Plus, they’re not married, which apparently also is a problem, even though it isn’t for kids born in the country – they’re a bit backwards but not that much.)

What probably should bug me is that this all could have been sorted out in time had we only applied for the passport back in January. But, between finding a nanny, going back to work, finding out we’d need new jobs, applying and actually finding something I think I had a rather packed few months. In January we didn’t even know we’d be moving, let alone where. 

I do hope this doesn’t seriously delay SB’s registration in New Country, which is necessary for daycare and, more importantly, healthcare. We’ll be in Home Country for a few days before going to New City, hoping to be able to sort this out (and still spend some time with family). Until then, many boxes to pack.  

My name is Strawberry. Can I have more pineapple now? 


18 thoughts on “What’s in a name, expat edition

  1. Oh, wow, what a hassle. Gwen was born abroad, and I remember looking up all sorts of things about citizenship (coming to the conclusion that if she (a) never lived in the US before she turns 18, (b) has a child out of wedlock with someone who (i) doesn’t acknowledge the child or (ii) has citizenship in a country that doesn’t automatically transmit to a child born out of wedlock, I could potentially end up with a stateless grandchild!). But the most complicated part about names and passports was that we couldn’t buy plane tickets back to the US for Christmas until after she was born (early Nov.) because we wouldn’t know what name would be on her passport until then!

  2. That’s crazy. I never took M’s last name so I’ve been told that there might be hassles if Q and I ever travel without M (Q has M’s last name) and people think I’m a baby kidnapper or something. Passport Canada used to have a thing where you could have your common law or married surname listed in the “observations” section, but they took that away now and only let you have your legal name, so I’d have to change mine if I cared enough. Which I don’t. That may change after my first travel problems. Hope you guys can get it straightened out in time for health/daycare purposes!

    1. I’ve heard about the travel solo thing, too, and that the other parent can write a letter stating that they’re fine with the trip.
      When SB’s passport arrived one of the parents got to sign it (as she can’t do that herself yet), so I signed, hopefully adding another line of evidence. Maybe Canadian passports have such a signature section too?

  3. Ugh, I hate bureaucratic run-arounds like that. I’m sure it’s easy to blame yourself for not starting sooner but you are right, there is so much to do it’s hard to think of everything! we still haven’t applied for AJ’s birth certificate because we let ourselves forget about it, no other reason. She has her health number and social insurance number, so the important stuff, but I suppose the birth certificate never seemed that urgent. Except we were thinking of flying (in country) in the next few months and went, whoops, what will she use for ID? so we better get on that. Some countries just really, really don’t do bureaucracy efficiently either; that doesn’t help. Many years ago I tried to get my Greek citizenship ratified and it took months and months; I never actually finished although I still have the letter they gave me and am theoretically a step or two away from a passport. But by the time I got that far I no longer cared. Still travel and living in different places is a wonderful privilege so it’s good to have those things resolved. Good luck!

    1. Argh. Here, for domestic flights one doesn’t need any form of ID for infants – at least nobody has cared so far. Which can lead to funny discussions on whether your kid really is under 2 and doesn’t need to pay for a seat, but otherwise it was easy.
      That’s too bad about your Greek citizenship! Does AJ qualify, too? Maybe if you start the process for her now, it’ll be done by the time she wants to travel… ;)

  4. Yeesh, that sounds complicated! My husband has a hyphenated name and I only took one of them, and our children only have one of his surnames as well. It confuses people, for sure. But anyways – love the picture. Looks like a beautiful day!

  5. Wow, that sounds impossibly (and unnecessarily) complicated! And I thought they were beuracracy-crazed here, but your story makes it sound progressive!! Our daughter has a hyphenated last name, I have my surname-at-birth, and even though she was born in a third country, there’s never been a problem.

    I’m just catching up on your blog, and am so excited for you with all the changes taking place. It would be great to hear more about what’s in store for you guys!

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