A person’s name may be given against the backdrop of parentage, typically surnames, or many considerations that produce personal or given names. Owning a name is a fundamental human right enshrined in international and regional legal treaties. According to Ordinance No. 81/2 of 29th June 1981 to organize Civil Status Registration, in as much as parents enjoy the right to name their children, it is forbidden to accord the latter a name that is improper or obviously ridiculous.
The Law offers someone who considers that his given name is inconveniently legitimate, prejudicial, injures his dignity or honour, the possibility to get rid of it. For instance, Miss X dislikes her given name “Ekunidi”, which is an insult to a woman’s private part in parts of Momo Division of the North West region. Also, the name “Ngeh”, meaning “suffering” in Donga Mantung Division of the North West, is believed to cast a spell on its bearers. To this end, the afore-mentioned Ordinance gives both persons the latitude to effectuate a name-change. A person’s name can also be changed if he or she is adopted by another or a couple. Adoption is the establishment by a judgment of an exclusively voluntary relationship of affiliation between two persons who normally have no physiological relationship. Given that adoption establishes a relationship of affiliation between the adopter and the adoptee, it is acceptable that the consequences of biological affiliation be extended to them, one of such consequences being the addition of the name of the adopter to that of the adoptee. Such addition applies both to simple adoption and to adoptive legitimisation. Going forward, there is a common procedure to be seized in any action of change of name. Section 18 of Law No. 69/LF/63 of 14th June 1969 provides as follows: “All applications concerning the change or cameroonization of name and first name, the restoration of a name or the use of a pseudonym shall be addressed to the Minister of Justice by registered letter.” A simple registered letter is a letter dropped at the postal service destined to the Minister of Justice, Keeper of the Seals in person.
How to Apply for Name Change
Documents required for an application for change of name are as follows: a copy of the applicant’s birth certificate or his official identity card or a civil status certificate in lieu thereof, a copy of his criminal record and any other paper requested by the authority in charge of the procedure. Once seized, and after verifying whether the applicant’s documents comply with the regulations in force, the Minister of Justice, Keeper of the Seals, issues a public notice of change of name including: the full names of the applicant at the time of submission of his or her application and the names he or she wishes to bear, and an indication of the period of six months granted any person having a legitimate interest to oppose such change of name, by petition addressed to the Minister.
Furthermore, copies of the notice of change of name are sent to the Procureur General of the place of residence of the applicant. The Procureur General then proceeds with notification of the person concerned and publication at the entrance of the Court of the applicant’s place of residence. He also calls on the applicant to proceed at his own expense to the posting at the entrance of the Council Office of his domicile and the publication in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Cameroon.
Having fulfilled the above process, the applicant for change of name sends to the Keeper of the Seals a couple of papers. These include: the original copy of the Official Gazette containing the notice of change of name, the certificate of publication for a period of 6 months of the said notice at the entrance of the Council Office of his domicile, and the certificate of no objection to the said change of name within the same period, issued by the Mayor. If there is neither opposition by a party nor objection by a Court, the Minister of Justice, Keeper of the Seals, forwards the
application of change of name to the Prime Minister, Head of Government. The file sent by the Minister of Justice should include his opinion and the draft decree of change of name. According to Sections 25 and 26 of Law No. 69/LF/63 of 14th June 1969, in case the Prime Minister grants the request of applicant, he signs the decree of change of name. It should be borne in mind that, the prerogative of signing a name-change decree is vested only on the Prime Minister, Head of Government, by virtue of Decree No. 92/089 of 4th May 1992, specifying the duties of the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister doesn’t accede to the request of the applicant, its rejection shall be communicated to him or her by the Minister of Justice, Keeper of the Seals. There exist different types of change of name.
Administrative Change of Name
Apart from the change of names and surnames per se, the Law has provided for specific cases of the use of a pseudonym
by a person. A person may wish to change his name or first name for reasons of dignity, integration in a religious community, honour and morality or on other legitimate grounds. The administration in charge of justice is the main stakeholder in processing these changes. Talking about change of name for preservation of dignity, Section 8 of Law No. 69/LF/3 of 14th June 1969 says, “Any person may apply to change his name provided that such name has a meaning which is widely held to be ridiculous, vexatious, or humiliating as regards concepts or objects to which it alludes”. In essence, these provisions prohibit the giving of a name or first name that is obviously ridiculous with respect to the Law, public decency, customs and beliefs. For example, someone called “MEBINA”, meaning “testicles” in the Beti dialect may validly apply for the change of this name. Similarly, an individual with one of the components of his name as “Hitler” or “Judas” may legitimately apply to change it.
Change of Name by Legal Procedure
This is not an autonomous procedure, likely to be initiated as a main procedure. It is the consequence of change of individual personal status, in a well-defined case, namely, adoption. Adoption is the establishment by a judgment of an exclusively voluntary relationship of affiliation between two persons who normally have no physiological relationship. Given that adoption establishes a relationship of affiliation between the adopter and the adoptee, it is acceptable that the consequences of biological affiliation be extended to them, one of such consequences being the addition of the name of the adopter to that of the adoptee. Such addition applies both to simple adoption and to adoptive legitimization.
Change of Name by Simple Adoption
First and foremost, Section 344 of the Civil Code says: “adoption shall be granted only to persons of either sex aged more than forty. However, it may be jointly requested by spouses who are not under judicial separation, one of whom is above 35, if they have been married for more than 10 years, and do not have children born of the marriage. On the date of adoption, adopters shall have neither children nor legitimate descendants. The existence of legitimate children through adoption does constitute an obstacle to adoption. Adopters shall be 15 years older than those they intend to adopt, except the latter are children of their spouse. In this case, the required minimum age gap shall be ten years; it may even be reduced by waiver of the President of the Republic”. Simple adoption occurs when the adoptee remains in his family of origin. In this scenario, the adoptee remains subject to impediments of marriage, resulting from his initial, relationships of parentage and alliance. He keeps his previous rights to succession, by cumulating them with those he acquires through adoption.
Conditions for Change of Name through Adoption
Section 350 of the Civil Code provides the following as prerequisites for change of name through adoption: “Adoption shall confer the name of the adopter on the adoptee by adding it to the name of the latter. If the adopter and the adoptee have the same surname, the name of the adoptee shall not be changed.” Simply put, conditions for change of name through adoption include the automatic adoption of the surname of the adopter to that of the adoptee, the possibility for the adopter to apply for the change of the adoptee’s first name and specific conditions applicable to adopting married woman. Everything being equal, where all conditions are met, the Court seized is required to order the addition of the name. Note that the Court may decide otherwise if there are reasons to do so.
Change of First Names
The adopter may wish to change the first names of the adoptee. Unlike addition of surname, change of first names is not automatic. The adopter must apply to the Court. This lap is backed by Section 350 (2), which states that, “at the request of the adopter, the Court may modify the first names of the adoptee by an approval judgment.” It goes without saying that, the non-automatic nature of the change of first names gives the Court the discretion to grant or reject the request.
Adopting Spouses Child
According to Section 350 (3) of the Civil Code, if the adopter is a married woman and wishes that her husband’s name is added to that of the adopted child, the husband’s consent is required. Where such consent is obtained, the Court may grant the adoption. In other words, the husband’s consent does not make the addition of his name automatic. If it happens that the husband cannot give his consent either because of death or inability to express his opinion, the Court decides on the appropriateness of such addition.
Change of Name by Adoptive Legitimation
Adoptive legitimation is that which completely splits the adoptee from his family of origin. His legal past is annulled. In his new family, he is subject to impediments to marriage, claims to alimony and inheritance and succession rights as a legitimate child. Section 368 of the Civil Code stipulates that adoptive legitimation shall be granted only for children of less than 5 years, abandoned by their parents or whose parents are unknown or deceased. Adoptive legitimation results from an interlocutory judgment rendered at a public hearing, after investigation and deliberation in camera. The judgment confers on the child the name of the husband.
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