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Take the Family › What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

Rhonda and son Ripley.Rhonda and son Ripley.

The first time I travelled alone with one of my sons, I was astonished to be admonished by a passport controller for not carrying his birth certificate. It seems that when your child doesn’t have the same surname as you – as is the case for so many of us these days – the onus is on you to prove you’re the parent.

Since then, I’ve made sure to travel with my children’s birth certificates when not accompanied by my husband, while inwardly fuming that I have to remember to do so on top of everything else – it’s just another faff to add to the big travel faff list. I’ve never actually been asked to present certificates since that first incident, but I have had to get used to border control staff asking my kids potentially disquieting questions such as ‘Who’s this lady with you?’ (cue very odd look from from my eight-year-old).

Now I’m all for stringent security measures being taken against child trafficking and abduction – beyond high-profile cases such as Madeleine McCann, it's a huge problem, as any glance at the missing children screens or posters at many airports testify. But it’s plain to see that my children are alert (not drugged) and not at all distressed or under any coercion. Moreover, with people frequently telling me how much they resemble me, it’s hard to imagine anyone doubting that they’re mine. So the questions and the suspicions rankle – as does having to explain to my kids why the man or lady is asking them odd things, or forewarn them that it’s going to happen. I can see how it unsettles them.

According to a YouGov survery, 600,000+ families have been held up by passport control over the last five years because one parent has a different surname to their child. The survey was carried out for the Parental Passport Campaign, whose proposed solution is that kids’ passports include their parents’ or guardians’ names. To my mind this is a much more sensible option than carrying birth certificates – just another expensive-to-replace thing to lose on holiday – or bewildering little kids with questions. It also seems just an overall commonsense thing to do.

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