' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Wrong name on birth certificate?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wrong name on birth certificate?

Just when we thought we heard it all, Jane read about a new twist in the make-believe world of birth certificates. A Portland, Oregon lawyer wrote recently about a case where:

"Bio mother had child and her girl friend was at the hospital. The hospital checked the box as thought the girlfriend was a registered domestic partner and put girlfriend as parent on birth certificate. Parties were not registered domestic partners. Vital Stats says they will not correct the hospital error without a court order."

Once upon a time, birth certificates contained the child's name, date and place of birth, and the names of the child's biological parents. Then the
"authorities"--governors, state legislators, registrars of vital statistics--came up with the idea of creating amended birth certificates showing adoptive parents as the parents, the adoptive mother giving birth in a place she wasn't at a time she was doing something else. In some states they went so far as to create a fictional city of birth, one a place where the adoptive parents lived at the time of birth. The idea was to spare the child the stigma of illegitimacy and make adoption "normal." Later legislators enacted laws sealing the original certificates to protect the privacy of the adoptive family and set in cement that the child was "as if born to" the adoptive parents.

Because of this chicanery, the idea was implanted that a birth certificate was something akin to a certificate of title, a document showing legal relationships, rather than the actual facts of an individual's birth. After various court cases around the world, today birth certificates in many places show the parents as Parent 1 and Parent 2 where the adoptive parents are of the same sex rather than a mother and a father. The birth certificate then shows that one has two mothers, or two fathers, but no relationship to a parent of the opposite sex. Yet clearly...such a parent was somewhere and somehow involved.

When babies are born to surrogates, the names of the "intended parents" appear on the birth certificate rather than the names of the biological parents, thus it matters not where the actual physical matter (ova and sperm, biological mother and father) that created the child came from. Thus who one is descended from is a matter lost in the murky shadows of a fairy tale. This apparently is all well and good with the purported parents--we know of no cases where they are clamoring for change--but in reality is a cruel and unusual punishment doled out to the individual created and whose birth certificate is a tissue of lies. Yet this is the case with increasing numbers of children created for gay parents. Why they do not understand the need for an ancestral identity that is true is a conundrum that we are flummoxed to answer.

From what the lawyer quoted above wrote, it would seem that anyone could get their name on a birth certificate, just by hanging around a maternity ward. It would seem. But in the case of unmarried biological fathers, sadly this is not the case. As countless fathers have discovered when they try to gain custody of their children, they have to go through a legal maze to appear on the birth certificate--and if they don't act quickly, the baby may be adopted by genetic strangers and their identity totally lost and up to the birth mother if she wishes to reveal it. We've written about several cases here at FMF (see below) where the fathers were cheated out of the right to raise their own children when the biological mother wanted to give the child up for adoption. Many or most of the cases involved adoption agencies in Utah where state laws are heavily geared toward mothers who wish to give up their children and not involve the father. Agencies in Utah are only too happy to hurry the process to eliminate the biological father.

Another weird situation occurs when a parent named on a birth certificate allows another to adopt his child, and thus a "new" birth certificate is issued, thus negating what is true to the individual whose birth certificate has been falsified. This happens as a matter of course when step parents are allowed to adopt the children of a partner; it is often done with the best of intentions on the part of the adopting parent, but legally, it has the effect of wiping away the true parent. We know of cases where biological fathers and children later unite and wish to undo the fallacy of the new and amended birth certificate, but are stymied in their efforts. In short, the whole business of creating a false birth certificate for individuals creates legal confusion, and often, lifelong heartache.

We are sympathetic with people who obtain children through unnatural means--we understand the pull of parenthood as well as the desire to help children in need--but surely falsifying original birth certificates is not in an individual's best interests. A birth certificate should be exactly what it purports to be--a certificate with the actual information of birth: real mother and father, time, date and location of birth. Anything else is a document bearing false witness, a document that perpetuates a lie and becomes a burden for the individual. Somewhere there needs to be a document containing a child's true biological parentage. A second document, once containing all the adoptive information, should be sufficient for legal matters, such as support and guardianship. But one birth certificate ought to be just that: a true and accurate record of one's birth.--jane and lorraine
Is it a 'Birth Certificate or Certificate of Title?
Father's Names on Birth Certificate: More artifice than Fact
Unwed Fathers Can't Win Against the Mormons in Utah
Utah adoption laws becoming more hostile to birth fathers?
Adoption in Utah: No place for birth fathers
What's wrong with stepfather adoption?

Lethal Secrets by Annette Baran and Reuben Pannor
"Lethal Secrets" takes a long-range view of donor insemination by interviewing donor offspring, donors and parents years after the fact. Taking a hard look at the ramifications of secrecy and donor insemination is not the norm, nor is advocating for openness. Many, if not most, doctors, patients and sperm banks continue to advocate for secrecy, blithely ignoring the psychological dangers of this widespread practice. Baran and Pannor are ahead of their time. They support donor insemination, yet argue persuasively for openness: not only is it every child's right to know the truth of his or her genetic heritage, it is healthier for the parents and the donors, as well. If you are considering using donor insemination or even donor egg to have a child, this book is invaluable. I only wish the authors would write a book specifically about the psychological aspects of using donor egg."--A reviewer at Amazon


  1. Everything Jane states in this post is so true....falsified birth certificates serve NO purpose, except to possible make the adoptive parents (or whatever the case may be) feel like the child is their own? As if born to them? I really don't know.

    But it does a number on the child.

    As we all know here at FMF, I never even had an amended birth certificate. I always had one document, dated almost 4 years after my birth, stating only my new legal name. I just recently sent to the Health Dept for my certificate, and filled out all the forms asking for the long version. I received the shortened version. My AP's are listed as my parents, even though they were not present and did not actually take me home for another two months or so. There is no hospital listed, no birth weight, no time of birth. There is only a date. I am listed as having been born with a name I did not legally receive until I was a toddler. The filing date on this certificate is all out of whack, and has caused me all kinds of problems.

    What is the good of all this? It makes A-mom feel great, I assure you. When I pointed out the trouble I was having getting a passport, she actually said to me that she believes original records should be sealed. That's all she said, but that was all she had to say. I got her point.

    If I falsified a legal document, I would be arrested. So why is all this nonsense allowed to go on? Why not have an original birth certificate with all the correct information, and then a certificate of adoption? Who are we kidding?

  2. The only thing that is going to satisfy everybody (okay, maybe not EVERYBODY but most people) is to issue TWO certificates to everyone.

    The BIRTH certificate - a medical record available to the parents (all of them) and to the individual once they reach the age of majority. Who else gets it will depend on the agency's rules for release of vital records. If your adult children can get your birth certificate after you're gone, if the general public can get it 125 years after your birth - that's the rule. Said birth record will contain the full names of the genetic parents (all of them) as well as any surrogate involved. If IVF or AI was used - even if there were no donors or surrogates involved - that will be stated on the birth record. Date, time and place of birth as it actually happened.

    The second document will be an identity document - a "Certificate of Title" if you will. This is the public document you show to get a passport, get a driver's license, register to vote, sign up for Little League, apply for Social Security benefits, register the child for school. Everybody will have one so none of this "I don't want my adopted child to be singled out". This will also help anyone who thought it was a good idea to change their name upon marriage (or divorce). No more having to show your birth certificate AND your marriage certificate.

    One problem for those whose job it is to determine the validity of the birth certificates presented to them is that there are THOUSANDS of variations. Each state has its own form and that form has changed over the years. This is a golden opportunity to create a uniform document for all states.

    Not much will change. The state's Vital Records department will be the ones to issue the new "identity certificate". In most cases, they will be basing it off of the original birth record and any amendments thereto. A five year phase-in and we're done.

    Any questions?

  3. Barbara Jean Turner ScottSeptember 11, 2014 at 4:26 PM

    Absolutely true when it comes to a child adopted by a NEW spouse of the mother. It is a devastation to find out when you are SIXTEEN that you are NOT your DADDY'S daughter. You grow up to believe you are the product of your daddy and then...BAMM...your entire life up to that point has been a BIG LIE and everyone in your life to that point is a LIAR. For a sixteen year old girl you start running and never look back, unfortunately you do not know where to run or who you are running to or from.

    1. I have heard other stories like this, though that does not make this any easier. I heard from one women who found out on her wedding day (!) that her mother...was really her step-mother. The bride now understand why she was so not like her sister...or her "mother."

      Lies are always a bad idea. and people say--well, there was never a time. Like the person being lied to is supposed to say--BTW, are you my real mother? I don't seem like your daughter, we are so--different!

  4. I am illegitimate and have no problem with that. I do have a problem with why this is still a "stigma" in the 21st century. It's not like my mother or I defrauded the government or drove homeowners from their property. Oh, wait.....

  5. As an adoptee, I would have been perfectly happy with a certificate of adoption - I mean, that shows what actually happened, and is a true document. It would have my adoptive parents names on it, and my new name, and the date the adoption was finalized. Seems it would be a very treasured document by my adoptive parents. But you are right, the altered birth certiicate feels more like a certificate of transfer of ownership - and while we use it for all legal purposes, it isn't accurate. When I first saw it as a child, about ten, I had always known I was adopted, and mom happened to show it to me and explain it to me. It had all the information I knew surrounded my life - you wouldn't think anything was "strange" about it until you looked at my birthplace - over 130 miles from where my mom had always lived - and the name of the doctor - someone we didn't know - and the date filed - Almost a year after my birth -- must've been the date the adoption was finalized and my name was legally changed. But back then, I didn't put it all together, or think about what the other names should have been - and the hospital wasn't listed, either. It's weird now to think that legally, I had another name than the name I was called by my adoptive parents all that time. They weren't even told that I had been named. The game was total secrecy, as little information as possible, everything sealed, you can never find them or vice versa. That was the whole point - that we would never find each other, never know the truth. It was all agency and legal protocol at that time, with such horrible ramifications. At the very least, why couldn't we have our names, at least some small thing of ourselves? My adoptive parents were wonderful people, very middle class (not wealthy) and from the rural Midwest; they certainly didn't know what was going on behind the scenes of the BSE, and with all the legal and agency/social work protocol of the time; they just followed their pastor's recommendation, attended church-sponsored classes provided by the agency, and jumped through the hoops as they were presented to them, feeling like they were giving a home to a poor abandoned baby. They were kept in the dark as much as my first mom. They did what they were told, so they could have a family. I shudder when I think about it now, how much they were both lied to, my first mom and my adoptive parents. Fortunately, my parents always talked about adoption with me and even helped me get started on my search, and welcomed my first family to our family when I found them at 23.
    Some days, I really want my original name back. I love that name, Marianne. It's part of who I really am. It would be confusing, at age 53, to completely change my name, but maybe at least it could be a legal part of my name, a middle name, perhaps. It makes me sad that legally, my sister is not my sister, my mother is not my mother; I am not legally considered her daughter. A piece of paper containing lies destroyed that. But it can't destroy relationships we have now.

    1. Marianne: The number of adoptees who wish to change their name after they find out the original one must be quite high, for I have heard about both this happening, or a desire to do so, many times over the years. The original name must feel so much more authentic. Adoptive parents would do well to understand this and keep the original name if one is given. My daughter was baptized Mary in the hospital by a priest, but it was not a name I chose in any real sense--just agreed with the priest an hour after birth--and it was her adoptive mother's name. My daughter never mentioned wantingto change it to that, she only played around with the spelling of her name, as many teenagers do.

      Yet I am in contact with a grown, married woman with children who wants to change her "maiden" name to what it would have been (and thus have it on her college diploma) but does not because it will have to be published in the local paper and her adoptive parents might see it and it would hurt their feelings.

      You are right: papers can destroy legal relationships, but not the ones that are stronger than paper.

    2. My husband and I couldn't decide how to handle our daughter's last name. We didn't want her to feel isolated out or grow up feeling not part of the family. We considered it as a middle name, but we went with her mother's name for her middle name instead. There is an issue with the last name on the OBC that I wish with all my heart we could go back and fix in hindsight, but it was all so rushed and hectic at the time... it had to do with not getting her father's last name into her name on the OBC.

      In the end, we decided that for young children, it is likely best to use the same family name. It's not an easy decision to make for someone... We decided that when our daughter is older, we will support her through the process of legally changing her last name if she wants to.

      I kept my maiden name in part because it is very important to me and a part of my identity as I view myself. I think names are very important, and we would completely understand and support our daughter if she decides she feels a connection to her genetic surname (from either or both parents) and wants to change to using that.

      Love isn't bound by names- I don't share my husband's and daughters' last name, but we still love each other and are just as much a family. If our daughter changes her last name to one of her parents', it won't change her love for us, our love for her, or our connection as a family anymore than her getting married and deciding to change her name to her husband's would do so.

  6. My daughter's documents from China are a birth certificate listing her natural parents as unknown and an adoption certificate listing her new name and me as her single mom. The documents have been accepted everywhere. The only comment ever made has been while pointing to her picture and saying "how cute".

    She also has a "Record of Foreign Birth", from the state, listing me as the mother. I have never needed this lying piece of paper in all the 14 years of school registrations, citizenship paperwork, international travel, social security office, etc.

    Also, daughter uses here original name for Mandarin class and Chinese culture activities. It is more like someone, mostly women, changing their names after marriage.

    All states should change to this type of honest paperwork.

    1. I think birth documents being filled with untrue information is so obviously wrong that it is a very useful issue for getting non-adopted people to understand that there is something deeply problematic about adoption, that behind the unicorns and rainbows there is some deep injustice going on against adoptees (and, additionally, to their natural parents).

      It's so clear cut wrong. Informing people of this fact, and then asking how they would feel if it was done to their historic records, might be a way in to getting people to start to understand the deep faults in adoption.

  7. We actually asked if we could maintain the OBC and were told that no, it is not legally possible. It does feel like a lie to me- I didn't give birth to my daughter who is adopted, so I do not belong on her BC. I do have a copy of her OBC for her to have, but I am upset that legally, it is sealed from her and she has to depend upon me to give it to her. She has a right to that document.

    I do not agree that information should be filled out according to the whims of the parents. It should be an accurate reflection of a person's genetic heritage. I understand that a mother can refuse to name the father, or put in a false name, and this is something that cannot be enforced, as wrong as it may be. But with mixed families and the legal process of parentage (both parents must have legal ties to a child to be able to make legal decisions, and this is provided through the BC in many cases), we need to figure out another document or way to provide this parental relationship without altering the record of birth to be a false document. When surrogacy is involved, it should be legally controlled to ensure the correct genetic parentage is on the OBC so that the baby, when he or she grows up, can have that valuable information.

    Personally, I think to do otherwise is selfish, but I have learned that you cannot expect people to be unselfish when it comes to getting what they want. So, I heartily support legalizing this process, opening records, investigating another document instead of issuing amended BCs, and putting into place a process for documenting biological parentage in the case of surrogates.

  8. " This happens as a matter of course when step parents are allowed to adopt the children of a partner; it is often done with the best of intentions on the part of the adopting parent, but legally, it has the effect of wiping away the true parent."

    Jane & Lorraine:

    For many being adopted by a step-parent is a blessing.

    Many times the reason why step-parent adoption happens is because the bio-parent ( usually the father) is absent and does not have any type of relationship with the child. So why not allow a person who has embraced the child as his/her "own" be adopted? Also, it serves as a safety net to ensure that if something should happen to the child's bio mom/dad, then the absent parent cannot reclaim them.

    1. We wrote a post about this sometime during the summer. You'll have to scroll back to find it but you would find it interesting.

  9. " This happens as a matter of course when step parents are allowed to adopt the children of a partner; it is often done with the best of intentions on the part of the adopting parent, but legally, it has the effect of wiping away the true parent."


    I don't know if your last question was addressed to me, but to me there is nothing wrong with step-parent adoption. I thought you /Jane were against it based on your quote above.

  10. Lorraine:

    Sorry about the last post I thought you were questing my agreeing with step-parent adoption. I did not know your question was a link to the article your had written.


    1. The only problem we have with step-parent adoption is that the birth certificate is then changed to reflect the fiction of the individual's birth.

    2. Lorraine:

      In regards to your statement, if the the bio-parent has not been in the child's life what difference does it make? They ( bio parent) choose not to be in the child's life, it's a choice they made, and a choice the step-parent made when they accepted the said child as their "own" ( as born to). I think TOO much is placed on biology when some people don't want to/cannot step to the plate and raise their child.

      Yes, biology is important but what about the emotional, psychological and physical presence of a hands on parent? They ( the hands on parent) are the backbones of the child's mental and physical state; it has to "count" for something.

    3. Nobody saying it doesn't but the person adopted is made up of both and they know it. Its really sad when the "hands on" don't want to understand it. It is the reasonability of those parents to respect the child's biology as theirs and theirs alone in order for a child to grow up and feel totally integrated in this world.
      The hands on parent takes the biological strengths and weakness that the child is BORN with and attempts to bring up a healthy child. By denying any of it is denying who the child REALLY is. Raising an adopted child is not a competition on who the real mommy is , its about who the REAL CHILD is...

  11. You would think so,Cherry. It's common sense. But my experience is that people do not want to hear it. No one wants to admit there are problems with adoption, and, if it doesn't affect them, they don't care. Sad, but true.

  12. I fully agree that original birth certificates should be maintained for all people, but this document has a long history of being 'legal' rather than 'biological'. A shockingly high percentage of people have the wrong father listed on their birth certificates, for a number of reasons. It is also true that if a woman is married, her husband is assumed to be the 'legal' father of any children she has during their marriage, including those who might have different biological fathers. Now with modern technology parentage can be determined unequivocally, but this too would bring up tons of ethical dilemmas. If every parent had to file a DNA sample for both themselves and their children, I can see at least two things happening: everyone would know who their genetic parents were, and the loss of privacy (genetic predispositions to disease being known to your employers, for example) would outrage many people.

    1. So , I see no problem with people knowing who their genetic parents are, and i see know problem with people knowing their medical issues based on DNA. They just may be able to save themselves by knowing what runs in their family. IMO thats more important then worrying about loss of privacy. Employers could get you now just by going to the doctors and listing the wrong medical history..the one you think you have because you don't have the right information. If they can get your DNA info, they can certainly get your medical records...wrong ones at that.

  13. I don't quite understand your point about there being scales on people's eyes. Of course politics change with the times. So what?

    Humans--as you point out--are skilled in shaping ideology to suit their own particular sense of contextual reality. Note positive adoption language. We can, however, speak out to change or resist that reality if we find it repugnant. For many people (including myself), speaking out is a moral imperative. Most people don't speak out unless they have an iron in the fire or as you say, are "adversely [affected]" by the ideological tinkering that goes on. I would not be so cynical as to say that change is impossible. I will grant you that it's part of the swing of the pendulum, perhaps.

    This post is merely part of ephemera? I see it rather as part of dialogue of resistance to mainstream ideology.

    I don't think we're quite at the tipping point where it comes to adoption reform (not enough people with power or in great numbers upset about rubbed-off skin), but I hope we will get there in my lifetime.

  14. Mya Wells: Did you actually read the link to the previous FMF posting? Don't sound like you understand what we said. If you do, then we are going to have to disagree. When a step parent adopts, the birth certificate should not be altered. The step parent DID NOT GIVE BIRTH OR CONTRIBUTE SPERM TO CREATE THAT INDIVIDUAL. Thus, the "birth" certificate is a paper that lies.

  15. From reading everything written here, I conclude that the "birth certificate" was indeed intended as a legal certificate of ownership, not of biology. The fact that unmarried mothers were not allowed to list the father for many years, and that married mothers had to list the husband, whether or not he was the biological father, makes this clear. Perhaps the legal birth certificate was never really meant to be biologically true, just legally true.

    Not that any of this makes sealed records or legal secrecy for adoptees right, but the argument that birth certificates were meant to record biology may be flawed.

    1. Because someone does not know the birthfather does not make the premise of "birth" certificates flawed, it makes the people that are inputing the information liars. "Birth" certificates are about biology and i can't for the life of me wonder why people are even arguing that. They started to record BIRTHS...not parents. The child was biologically born to...no matter how much back and forth there is on it( actually to make them less important so the non bio's have something to hang on to...who can really argue "ownership"?)it is about a person being born...not who the parents are!

      As an adoptee, an older adoptee, a self sufficient adoptee, an adoptee whose moms and one dad has died...I can't believe that people thinks its ok to make false legal documents so the "parents" feel better. It makes no sense to me.

    2. "I can't believe that people thinks its ok to make false legal documents so the "parents" feel better. It makes no sense to me.

      I think that at the time the practice was implemented it was for pragmatic reasons.
      In the the light of what we know now, it needs to be changed.

    3. What do you think needs to be changed?

    4. Probably more or less the same as you.

  16. My first son is engaged to be married. My first son want's his last name changed but doesn't know what he wants his last name to be. He does know he no longer wants to continue the lies. His first adoptive father relinquished his rights so that the adoptive mother's second husband could adopt. The second adoptive father physically and emotionally abused my first son which is the major factor in why my first son wants his last name changed. This would also mean he would have to change the last name for his four children. But the lies have to stop somewhere. I hope his changes his name before getting married but have not said this to him. It is his decision. When I showed my cousin (whose granddaughter is adopted) my first son's OBC, she was shocked that I had a copy and asked how I got it. I told her my first son gave it to me. Which was true but it was because when he first signed the request for his OBC in Kansas, I had prefilled out the request form and requested and paid for 2 copies using my personalized paper check. He received only 1 OBC on the day we first met in person 36 years later. After our initial reunion, I was so emotional going back home that I left my copy of the OBC in the hotel room and it was lost. Later I mailed the Kansas Dept. of Statics a photocopy of the original request and cleared check and postage paid envelope and they sent me a copy of my first son's OBC! Just lucky probably but I like to believe in Karma! The OBC listed Unknown for father and no name for our son. That hurts everybody and yet the lies aren't enough to cover up the real connections thankfully.

    1. Karen: I think you should make your feelings (and hope) known to your son. That may be just the thing he is asking for, without specifically asking. I was reading about Joni Mitchell the other day and when she married Chuck Mitchell--while she had not yet formally relinquished her daughter--he kept saying the decision was up to her. She took this to mean he was not supportive of her keeping her baby.

      So tell him that you will love him and respect his decision no matter what, but that it would please you immensely if he changed his name to the one that would have been his...if only...
      Good luck!

    2. Thank you Lorraine. It helps so much to get yours' and Jane's views in your blog. Hope you are feeling better. I imagine you can't wait to give your boot the boot!

  17. Scales?
    Everything changes, yet we always suit ourselves, right down to our fairy tales. I found it interesting that the 1812 version of "Rapunzel" had her as an unwed mother who suffered along with her twins (the prince's children), and the 1857 version removed the overt sexuality. The story reflects a cultural shift. Laws and legal documents also reflect such shifts. My suspicion is that America began documenting births because of immigration and health concerns, and that now those documents have become much more personal.

  18. Those comparisons of Rapunzel are fascinating. Thanks for including the link.

  19. I don't believe that we suit ourselves. I believe that there are political apparatuses that fulfill the charges of the time, run by people in power. I would refer you to Jane Caplan's and John Torpey's fascinating edited volume, "Documenting Individual Identity" (Princeton, 2001). It contains essays that discuss control of identity as part of imperial projects of the 19th century, as well as how passports grew out of the Great War. Yes, probably in the U.S. there were intersections between identity control and immigration concerns, related to the xenophobia of the early decades of the 20th century. Too many teeming masses from Southern and Eastern Europe for some people.

    Adoption and identity change had much to do with social mores about illegitimacy, the desire to create families that looked as though they were *not* formed by adoption for the comfort of adoptive parents (primarily), as well as other concerns. Once children were no longer in orphanages but part of nuclear families, this became a pressing issue (political or otherwise). http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~adoption/topics/confidentiality.htm

    Cultural shifts are absolutely fascinating. I cannot say that the fascination outweighs the urgency for change or the problems inherent in it (having studied Oscar Wilde, I think his life story is gripping, but I can acknowledge his suffering, as well). I don't believe I have the adoption or life I deserve, simply because I was born when I was. It doesn't suit me at all.

    The changes in Rapunzel are interesting, especially when seen within the contexts of Prussian politics (social and political) of the 19th century, romanticism, etc. Yes, the pendulum swings.



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