[HRM] Surnames for foreign-fathered kids

For those of you with Taiwanese wives and children:
what Chinese surname do your kids have?

I was under the impression that under Taiwanese law children take the father’s surname in all circumstances where the father is officially recognized. So I thought that meant that children of foreign fathers are stuck with whatever random Chinese surname the father picked up along the way.

But when I dropped into Taipei foreign affairs police today I was told that foreign fathers (and their wives) can choose any surname they want for their children.

Is that right?

My kids have my (foreign) family name, which was randomly picked as a phonetic translation, and have the odd feature 2 Chinese characters.
It works OK in school etc., but I am almost sure we could have picked my wife’s family name if we wanted to.

When my son was born we originally used my wife’s Chinese surname - using mine seemed a bit arbitrary but we were subsequently informed by offcialdom that he had to use mine so we changed it back on all official documents.

That happened to us too. We were forced to change my kids’ name. So I thought I’d outwit them and change my name to my wife’s name, but then they told me that would me my father-in-law’s legal heir.

The funny part came when we needed our household registration to get my son a passport. Glory be! MOFA refused to supply a document saying that the kids’ names had been changed without the name on the household registration, and the household registration could not be changed to the new name because MOFA wouldn’t release the name. *@#$^@ After a week of infighting, MOFA admitted that yes, perhaps they had changed the name, but told us not to tell anyone about the mess, and then gave us an official document. Apparently the kind official who had originally provided us with Taiwan passports in Texas had forgotten that they needed my name and not my wife’s and the screw-up was MOFA’s, so they didn’t want anyone to know.


I was wrong, and richmn is correct (at least as of 27. Dec. 2002). Below you will find a cut& paste from Richard Hartzell’s post of that date:

…the MOI representative specifically said that the child’s registration under the name of “Hsia Mei-jie” would be impossible, because that would amount to recognition that the child may choose the “surname of the mother”, which is still currently invalid under Taiwan law (although proposals are being made by various Legislators in the Legislative Yuan to change this law.)

I apologize for my blunt and un-informed assumptions,

I have two boys. They just have two names. The Chinese name that their granddad went to the temple and picked out a couple of names that we got to choose from.

Then they have their English names that appear on their passports.

I never had any problems. If they are asked in English, they give their English names. If they are asked in Mandarin, they give their Chinese names. They use their Chinese names at school.


DB: Did your kids get their Chinese surname (

If they really have to take the father’s name, then I think the best bet would be for you (the father) to change your official name to be the same as your wife’s. Seeing as once you register your marriage with the household registration, it then becomes very difficult to change (so they told me), it would be best if you could plan in advance and change your name first. Ont he other hand, if you’ve got a ‘standard’ chinese family name, would it really matter if your kids had the same name?


Sorry, you have taken this quote out of context.

The MOI official was mistaken. The laws on following the surnames of the father, when the father is foreign, do technically not apply. Unfortunately most government officials are “legally challenged”, and are unaware of this.

I did accompany Ms. Hsia-Jones to the Police Station and we did register the child’s name based on the mother’s surname. No problem.

If some government official says it can’t be done, they are mistaken. If disagreements develop, sue.

That’s what we told the damn MOFA official. But she wouldn’t listen, the bitch. She wouldn’t give her name either. We were under time constraints, so we finally knuckled under. Very annoying.


My son uses my surname in his US passport and all US and or Pennsylvania documents. He didn’t have a Chinese name until he turned 3 and we returned to Taiwan… my wife and in-laws couldn’t agree on a good name, even after consulting the spirits… We called him Zai Zai (little boy) for the longest time, and sometimes still do now.

But then when it was time for him to go to kindergarted here, he needed a Chinese name… so we finally named him. He uses his Mother’s surname on all Taiwanese documents and at school here.

My wife and I were married in the US at the JP and in a church here in Taiwan… We never registered our marriage here, but have had no problems filing joint income tax returns…

I figured that as my father-in-law is a great guy, and he hasn’t any sons, and the Chinese name means little to me, why not let to old guy’s only grandson have his surname? Everyone is happy.

[quote]Hartzell wrote:
The MOI official was mistaken. The laws on following the surnames of the father, when the father is foreign, do technically not apply. Unfortunately most government officials are “legally challenged”, and are unaware of this.
So, the law is that the child must take the fathers surname unless the father is a foreigner? Is there any way to get ‘official confirmation’ of this that I could wave at the relevant official when trying to register the name?

My wife and I are 6 months away from the big event, but have already investigated and been told that we have to use my Chinese name. So, how do I go about convincing them that this is not the case? Saying “Ah, but i’ve seen this comment on the internet …” doesn’t seem to cut it.

On a related note, we’re planning on giving our baby my wife’s Chinese surname (as my chinese name is pretty meaningless to me), but my English surname; are there any laws about the official English name of the baby being a romanised version of the Chinese? (A Taiwan passport has an English name in it - but I can’t think of any other cases where Taiwan cares what you call yourself in English though …)

Does this mean that if the husband changes his surname to (or the kid is given the surname of) the wife’s, he (or the kid) becomes the legal heir of wife’s father?

Why? Wouldn’t the wife’s father have something to say about who inherits his money?

And what if more than one brother-in-law does the same thing? Does Taiwan law recognize primogeniture, or what? :unamused:

Or, I notice that there are a limited number of surnames in common use. Can husband change his name to (or kid adopt the name of) somebody else’s surname, which happens to be the same as the wife?

I’m sorry, but this is all so bizarre.

David, you’re actually in a simailar sit to me. We’re 5 months away now. When we registered our marriage here, the office xiao jie told me to choose my surname carefully, as my son will inherit it. Like most it seems, I chose my wife’s surname - Huang. Anyway, I later contacted the Australian ‘Embassy’ here in Taiwan, and they told me when our child is born, just fill in a stat dec (notary public doc) changing your childs name to his english name. Thus being registered with a citizenship in my,your country (Aus) with an english name.

funny, i was under the impression that there were no laws dictating which surname would be used. in particular i remember a Taiwanese tradition that parents when marrying might if circumstances dictated reach an agreement to have the first or second offspring have the wife’s surname.

Amos, I think you’re right that when registering the birth in your home country (England for me), you can specify what name you want to use without any restrictions. However, in some (most?) hospitals in Taipei, you can ask for them to provide an English (as well as Chinese) birth certificate. If (a big ‘if’) you can convince them to use the English name you want there, instead of a straight translation of the Chinese name, then it makes life a lot easier. I’d prefer to have the same English name in every country!

As to the Taiwanese law on babies names, I believe it goes like this. The baby must take the fathers name, except if:

  • You’re not married/don’t know who the father is (I have a feeling those two statements might be equivalent under Taiwanese law!), or
  • The mother does not have any brothers, or
  • (maybe) the father is a foreigner (which i’m hoping to confirm).

In any of those cases, the baby can take the mothers name. The reason for the ‘no brothers’ rule is so that the mothers family can continue the family name. My wife says she knows of a case where a pair of twins have different names - one was given the fathers name, one was given the mothers name!

I’d like to add that if you were forced to use the Mother’s surname, but still wanted the Father’s name, you could get a passport or the kid and there’s an option of putting an alternative name. My wife put her English name here. So the passport could have the romanised Chinese name, Zhang Wei-lin and the English name John Smith.


Here’s a story about changing your child’s name :

it says you can change a child’s name if both the mother and father consent… then again, knowing Taiwan, foreign fathers probably aren’t considered able to give consent.

I got my chinese name officially changed today at the household regisitration office. I didn’t use to use a surname, of course they can’t cope with that, so I added Mrs Fluffy’s name at the beginning. It was fairly painless because my name is a transliteration of my chinese name, and I didn’t change it much. If you already have a “proper” chinese name it might be harder to convince them. It is then possible to have your children’s names changed too, but that’s more awkward apparently.

My wife just called to tell me that they tried to register our daughter using her surname and were refused.

Sure enough, Article 1059 of Taiwan’s Civil Code apparently says that a child must take the father’s surname, except that the mother’s surname can be used if both parents consent and the mother has no brothers (or at least that’s what I’ve been told it says – I can’t read it).

Obviously it’s a ridiculously outdated law based on the idea that if she already has brothers to carry on her family name there’s no reason for her child to carry that name, and therefore no right. But I don’t give a shit about that ancient Chinese lineage crap. I just wanted to give my daughter a meaningful, not a made up, Chinese name. But apparently that’s not possible. Another area of Taiwan law badly in need of reform.