Dear Atty. Joji,
I and my siblings are legitimate children, although we were single-handedly raised by our mother. Growing up, we witnessed how irresponsible our father is and how he mistreated our mother until he left us for another woman. Now, we wish to discontinue using our father’s surname and start using our mother’s maiden name so as to avoid confusion since our school records bear our mother’s surname and we have been introducing ourselves to other people using our mother’s surname. Is it possible for us, legitimate children, to use the maiden name of our mother?
Reading Article 364 of the Civil Code together with the State’s declared policy to ensure the fundamental equality of women and men before the law, a legitimate child is entitled to use the surname of either parent as a last name. The provision states that legitimate children shall “principally” use the surname of the father, but “principally” does not mean “exclusively.”
In the case of Alanis III v Court of Appeals, G.R. 216425, 11 November 2020, the Supreme Court ruled: “The Regional Trial Court’s application of Article 364 of the Civil Code is incorrect. Indeed, the provision states that legitimate children shall ‘principally’ use the surname of the father, but ‘principally’ does not mean ‘exclusively.’ This gives ample room to incorporate into Article 364 the State policy of ensuring the fundamental equality of women and men before the law, and no discernible reason to ignore it. This Court has explicitly recognized such interpretation in Alfon v Republic.”
“The only reason why the lower court denied the petitioner’s prayer to change her surname is that as a legitimate child of Filomeno Duterte and Estrella Alfon, she should principally use the surname of her father invoking Art. 364 of the Civil Code. But the word ‘principally’ as used in the codal-provision is not equivalent to ‘exclusively’ so there is no legal obstacle if a legitimate or legitimated child should choose to use the surname of his or her mother to which he or she is equally entitled. Moreover, this Court in Haw Liong vs Republic, G.R. L-21194, 29 April 1966, 16 SCRA 677, 679, said:”
“The following may be considered, among others, as proper or reasonable causes that may warrant the grant of a petitioner for change of name; (1) when the name is ridiculous, tainted with dishonor, or is extremely difficult to write or pronounce; (2) when the request for change is a consequence of a change of status, such as when a natural child is acknowledged or legitimated; and (3) when the change is necessary to avoid confusion (Tolentino, Civil Code of the Philippines, 1953 ed., Vol. 1, p. 660).”
“Given these irrefutable premises, the Regional Trial Court patently erred in denying the petitioner’s prayer to use his mother’s surname, based solely on the word “principally” in Article 364 of the Civil Code.”
The trial court’s reasoning further encoded patriarchy into our system. If a surname is significant for identifying a person’s ancestry, interpreting the laws to mean that a marital child’s surname must identify only the paternal line renders the mother and her family invisible. This, in turn, entrenches the patriarchy and with it, antiquated gender roles: The father, as dominant, in public; and the mother, as a supporter, in private.
Hope this helps.
Atty. Joji Alonso
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