In an October, 2012 decision, Kings County Civil Court Judge Harriet Thompson, in Matter of Kobra (Hossain), denied on cultural grounds the applications of a mother, Tamannatul Kobra, to change the names of her children: four and nine-year-old females. The two petitions were supported by the consent the girls’ father, Mosharaf Hossain (Ms. Kobra’s husband).

The mother sought to remove the name “Hossain” (or Hossian) because because of its association with Muslims.

Ironically, in January, 2009, Kings County Civil Court Judge Dawn Jiminez-Salta had granted an application by Mr. Hossain, on consent of his wife, to add “Hossain” to the name of his older daughter (then six). Judge Jiminez was satisfied that the interest of the child was substantially promoted by the infant child assuming the surname of her biological father.

Here, the mother sought to again change her nine-year-old daughter’s name; this time to a completely different name: from Siratul Muntaha Hossain to Oporajita Neeladri. The child would not bear any surname that would identify her with either parent. The mother also sought to change the younger child’s name from Heemika Hossian to Himika Himadri. Under the parents’ plan, neither child would have any name that would identify her as a child of either parent-not the surname of either parent, nor any name that would identify them as relatives or even sisters for that matter.

The mother asserted that in Bangladesh and India, it is customary for everyone in “a typical household” to have completely different names. Nevertheless, Judge Thompson noted that both of these children were American-born citizens and have adapted, embraced and are a part of our American culture.

Applying the American cultural norm, Judge Thompson found that “sharing the surname by the child with the parent she or he lives with is a legitimate point of concern because it minimizes embarrassment, harassment and confusion in school and social contacts.”

This court will not deviate from that which is deeply rooted in the American Diaspora which definitively supports our social customs and long standing accepted practices in New York as well as many other states for family members to share in one of the custodian’s parents name.

This common practice is to alleviate confusion in the child’s day to day life and obviate the need to explain to school administrators and teachers, doctors, insurance companies and government agencies why the children have completely different names from their parents and from each other.


Continue Reading

name tag.jpg

There is perhaps no greater opportunity for courts to state their philosophies or to become instruments of social change than in cases involving the surnames of children of divorced and unmarried parents.

Take the March 29, 2011 Second Department case of Matter of Eberhardt. In that case, Mariah, the now nine-year-old daughter of Michelle Esquenazi and John Eberhardt, was born out of wedlock.  At the time of her birth, Mariah’s parents had been in a committed relationship and for a number of years and lived together with the mother’s three children from a prior marriage. Mariah’s birth certificate reflected the sole surname of her father. The father had acknowledged paternity. The parties’ intended wedding never took place. Approximately 1½ years after the child’s birth the father moved out. The mother maintained physical and legal custody, and the father visited regularly in accordance with an arrangement sanctioned by the Family Court.

In 2008, Ms. Esquenazi petitioned to change the child’s surname to Esquenazi-Erberhardt. Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Karen Murphy conducted a hearing at which the parties disputed the extent to which the father had been made aware that the child had been using the hyphenated surnames since age 2, and the extent of his protests once the use was known. Justice Murphy denied the mother’s petition, crediting the father’s testimony. Justice Murphy found that the objections of the father, who was emotionally and financially a part of Mariah’s life, were reasonable. The name change, Justice Murphy ruled, benefited the mother, not the child. To rule otherwise would reward the mother for her self-help and her knowing violation of the proper procedures for a name change under Civil Rights Law §§60 through 63.

A Second Department panel of three women and one man reversed, holding the father’s objections were not reasonable. Rather, his objections were raised to teach the mother a lesson. Moreover, the benefits to the child would not be denied simply to punish the mother for her self-help. Distinguishing the cases in which a mother was seeking to change the child’s surname to that of the mother, eliminating the father’s surname, the Second Department disagreed with Justice Murphy, and held:

[T]he emotional and financial involvement of the father is not a bar to a change to hyphenated surnames.


Continue Reading