Islamic Law in U.S. Courts: In re Wing (N.Y.C. Ct. 1956): Changing Names After Conversion to Islam

Holding: The Court granted the adult petitioner leave to change her name from Eloise McCloud Wing to Zakiyyah Ashraf after her conversion to Islam, but denied leave to change petitioner’s eleven-year-old daughter’s name from Cheryl Ann Wing to Hafsah Ashraf. The Court held that it would not be in the best interests of the child to have a foreign-sounding Muslim name that would “set her apart and seem strange.”

Procedural Posture: Petitioner applied to the City Court of the City of New York for leave to change her and her daughter’s names. Islamic law is not directly relevant, except that the petitioner wished to change her and her daughter’s names to names from what she understood to be the Islamic tradition.

Judgment: Petitioner was granted leave to change her name, but not her daughter’s name, in an opinion authored by Justice Baer.

Facts: Eloise McCloud Wing converted from Christianity to Islam. Her eleven-year-old daughter, Cheryl Ann Wing, lived with Eloise following Eloise’s separation from her husband two years before the name-change petition. After Eloise’s conversion, Cheryl attended religious classes at a mosque and played with Muslim friends, and her mother said Cheryl wanted to be a Muslim and have a Muslim name. Eloise petitioned the court to change her and her daughter’s names to Zakiyyah Ashraf and Hafsah Ashraf, respectively. The Court stated that while an adult’s name change should be approved, a child’s name change should be approved only if it is in the child’s best interest. The Court found no compelling need for Cheryl’s name change, and noted that such a change might actually have an “adverse effect”: the proposed name would “set her apart and seem strange and foreign to her schoolmates and others.” The Court stated that the petition for Cheryl’s name change could be renewed when Cheryl turned 16, and was therefore old enough to make a mature decision about it on her own.

Read the case.